A Green Perspective on Grass

The California drought has put our lawns on the hot seat. Government wants the new California landscape to look very different…

Even with the many rebates available, it can be costly to tear out your lawn. Some have embraced the new order and installed drought tolerant landscapes. Many more are infuriated that the government is taking away their precious lawn.

Historians believe we brought our desire for lawns when we immigrated from Europe, where only the royalty and the wealthiest could afford green expanses. You needed excess land that could be used for beauty, not food production, and many servants and livestock to keep it in shape. But few Americans had the resources to take care of large, beautiful lawns.

Although the first lawnmower appeared in 1830 in England, the first human-pushed lawnmower was patented in Indiana in 1870. It was lightweight, and a commercial success. No longer would we need servants and livestock to have a lovely lawn. Later came gas-powered mowers, and self-propelled riding lawn tractors.

In addition to the technical advances, a number of influential groups -among them the Garden Club of America, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Golf Association played major roles in both finding grasses that would do well here, and in marketing grass as a symbol of the American dream. Now, with beautiful green lawns, we were all royalty. At one point, 80 percent of U.S. homes had lawns.

But these days in California, we need to end our romance with our lawn. It’s over. It’s time to breakup.  The status of grass lawns has been plummeting. Perhaps before long, that beautifully manicured lawn will join the fur coat as a symbol of politically incorrectness.

Live grass takes approximately 55 gallons of water per square foot annually. So as water available for lawns becomes scarce, what can you do to keep your grass green? You could set up a greywater system, but this is a big commitment (and some think it’s a little icky.)  Rainwater capture is another way to go, but can be even more expensive and you will need a lot of rain to have enough, and the drought’s already four years old.

You could try artificial turf. The fake stuff is growing in popularity but has many environmental questions still unanswered. And besides being expensive, it gets quite hot. Our local high school football field, made of synthetic turf, has to be hosed down on hot days just so the kids can practice. Advice if you care about your feet—don’t walk around on synthetic turf on a hot July day. Oh and make sure your when your dog Buddy sees your new turf as his new bathroom, you’d better be quick with the hose–I mean really really quick to reduce the lingering smells and flies. It’s just not the same as real grass.

Some people are spray painting their lawns. But what does that do to the grass and the insects living in it? The paint doesn’t kill the grass completely, and back it will come—possibly somewhat damaged—next winter. What about the environmental impact?  And you are going to have to repaint it often to keep it green. Who’s going to clean up the mess when the dead grass starts flying around? And will your Mr. Whiskers show up on your indoor carpet with green stains on his paws?

The big question is this: Should we have even have lawns in a place where our water is imported and there is not enough for everyone? I say, one size doesn’t fit all. You have choices. But embrace the change and look to a landscape that both conserves water and protects the environment.

60 Comments on A Green Perspective on Grass

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