Lawns – What?

lawns - what?

What do you really know about lawns?  I ran across some interesting statistics a few days ago.  This discovery prompted me to do a bit more research and what I found turned into an eye-opener, even for me.

The Problem with Turf

You should know by now if you follow my articles, blogs, and newsletter (if you don’t, you can sign up here.) that I am no fan of huge manicured monoculture turf spaces.  We call them lawns.  Suburban America is obsessed with them.  You don’t think so?  Then read on and see if you look at your lawn a little differently.

In 2005 a NASA study found that in the U.S., there are approximately 63,000 square miles of turfgrass.  To give you some idea, the state of Georgia is about 58,000 square miles.  In fact, 63,000 square miles is bigger than 30 of the U.S. States.   Imagine the entire northeastern part of the U.S. as one huge lawn.  You get the idea.  It’s a lot of turf.

Too Much Turf

lawns - what?

All that turf takes a lot of care.  NASA estimated that to keep all that grass healthy, it would take between 180 and 240 gallons of water per person per day to manage that turf.  That is more water than the entire U.S. farming industry uses to grow wheat or corn. 

In addition to the water costs, there are costs associated with other maintenance.  Fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide use is estimated to be in the tens of millions of pounds per year.  The sad part of this is that most of these products are either applied inappropriately or are washed off or out of the ground and into our lakes and streams where they become a toxic mess. That is the water that eventually becomes our source of drinking water.

The Hidden Costs

I won’t even go into the problems associated with the use of products such as glyphosate, the primary active ingredient in Roundup.  There has been enough publicity to date about the health effects of exposure to this “safe” product.

And there are other costs.  Take the cost of running gas-powered lawn equipment.  EPA studies show that in a single year, users of gas-powered lawn equipment spill, not use, 17 million gallons of gas while refilling their equipment.  Multiply that by $2.50 per gallon and you come up with a number about 42 million dollars that worth of gasoline poured on to the ground and driveways across America.

lawns - what?

By the way, that gas-powered lawnmower you use on Saturday is a highly inefficient piece of equipment.  If you run that mower for one hour, you produce the same amount of emissions as if you drove your car 257 miles.  Think about how many hours lawnmowers are operated each week in the US.

An Attractive Alternative

Now consider what would happen if all that space devoted to lawns, which produce nothing and eat money like it was fertilizer, were converted to food forests or even allowed to go back to a natural state.  A typical size lawn in the US can produce enough food to feed the average family. There was a time in the country where every household had a garden and the produce from that garden was a mainstay of their food supply.  Of course, this is an unachievable goal considering how many people in the US live in urban areas where they have no access to space for a garden.  On the other hand, if just half that 63,000 square miles of turf became some form of a permaculture designed landscape, think about the changes that might bring about.

I hope that this information makes you pause and take a different look at your lawn.  If you don’t do anything but adopt a more organically based turf management system (which you can find on our website), it would be a step in the right direction.  Reduce the amount of turf and add xeriscape designs. Plant edible landscapes or take those first steps toward turning your little piece of heaven into a food forest that will require less maintenance, less cost and put vegetables on your table.  Do something! 


West Texas Organic Gardening –

Spilled Lawn Mower Gas costs you and the environment, The Christian Science Monitor, August 27, 2008.

How much pollution do gasoline-powered lawn mowers cause?  Cecil Adams, Washington City Paper, Nov 12, 2010.

A strategy for mapping and modeling the ecological effects of US lawns.  C. Milesi, NASA Ames Research Center,

Links and Resources

For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.

If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.

Organic Growing Myths

Toss Your Tiller


If you have more specific questions or problems, you can contact us using the contact form on our website. You can also post your question to our community forum at this page; West Texas Organic Gardening Community Forum.

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