Why experts say lawns should become a thing of the past

Why experts say lawns should become a thing of the past

Lawns in the western United States have been banned, and replaced with drought-friendly alternatives, due to dry conditions. Does this have to happen everywhere? Credit: Matthew Modono/Northeastern University

Grass is under siege in the western United States.

A new Las Vegas law requires homeowners to get rid of their lawns by 2027, and some cities in California are even paying residents to cut down their lawns and replace them with drought-friendly alternatives. These measures are intended to help save water, which is becoming increasingly scarce in drought-stricken states such as California.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts experienced its fourth driest summer on record this year. Most of the state has a Level III critical drought, and all non-essential outdoor water uses — including watering lawns — are prohibited. While the northeastern climate usually accommodates herbExperts say these weather patterns could become more common, and it’s time for Americans to reconsider their love of lawns.

It can be difficult, though, thanks to the cultural strength of well-rounded people the lawn. Lawns appeared in England in the seventeenth century, when they became an aesthetic standard for the landscape as well as a status symbol. It became popular in the United States from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, when the country experienced a suburban boom, says Sarah Jensen Carr, associate professor of architecture at Northeastern University. Lawns provide a balance between contact and control with nature, she says; Instead of having private, chaotic or agricultural spaces, lawns were tamers.

“This American natural look is what everyone is striving for,” says Stephen Schneider, chief afforestation expert at Northeastern University’s Boston campus. “It’s part of the culture, and it’s really part of the culture that needs to change.”

There are a few pluses to a promoter other than appearance. They are important for recreation, especially sports and other activities where communities can gather. They’re also good to look at, and they can increase a home’s value, says Daniel Douglas, associate professor in the Northeastern University School of Science. Owning a lawn can also be easier than planning and maintaining a new landscape, Schneider says, and “there are situations where grass grass It can be helpful in controlling erosion.”

However, the biggest drawback is the use of water, especially in drier climates. Grass is the most irrigated crop in America and uses up to 75% of the average American household’s water, CNN reports. The grasses commonly used in meadows are from England and Northern Europe, and are not adaptable to the drier climates of the West. “These grasses are biologically adapted to cold, rainy climates, and when you start to see droughts or move to warmer climates, or move west where things are drier, it takes a lot of work to maintain that,” Douglas says.

Drier conditions mean more water is needed, which means that in the current drought state in the Northeast, “this is not a good summer to have grass.” Meanwhile, the application of fertilizers causes the soil to need more water.

The cooler and wetter climate in the northeast is more suitable for grass. However, maintaining these spaces still requires a lot of water, and there are other problems that come with it, such as the use of pollutants. “Laws are also a problem when it rains heavily,” says Carr. When turf soil is oversaturated, she says, chemical fertilizers can seep into the water supply.

Meadows don’t help create a diverse ecosystem either. “Biologically speaking, they’re monocultures, and nature loves variety,” Douglas says. “New England, if left to its own natural devices, will return to a kind of forest.” Instead, meadows limit the biodiversity of the space, as few animals eat the grass.

Schneider sees this contradiction first-hand in his work on preserving green spaces at the university. “When you grow a lawn or lawn, you are severely limiting the biodiversity of that space,” he says. In non-grass spaces, he grows a variety of species that attract bees, moths, and butterflies, along with what he calls “creepy crawlies.”

It also works to keep gas-powered gadgets away, another pollutant. Douglas points out another unlikely consequence of lawn conservation: vehicle pollution. Douglas explains that as the size of spaces increases due to lawns, homes are spaced more and more apart, and transportation distances become larger as well. “It makes it more difficult to walk, bike or public transportation,” he says, leading to dependence on the car.

Does this mean that homeowners in the Northeast should get rid of their lawns? While the current climate is good for the lawn, climate change could change this.

“The expectation is that what would have historically been considered a really hot day will become more common,” Douglas says. “As temperatures rise, the rate at which water evaporates from the soil goes up.”

In 30 years’ time, Carr says, the climate in Massachusetts could be similar to that of the Carolinas, meaning it’s much warmer and wetter.

The idea of ​​a pruned lawn is so ingrained in American society, Carr says, that it’s hard for people to envision a lawn alternative. “It just takes a little rethinking of what a personal outdoor space looks like.” The area is likely too far away from lawmakers regulating lawns as they do in the West.

But there are other ways, if only people are aware of it. As the New York Times reported in June, Pennsylvania sage and wild strawberries can make beautiful, comparable substitutes for the herb. Schneider notes that even if backyards are used for play, many of the front yards are “just there,” and this is where the greatest potential for substitutions is.

For his part, on the Northeastern University campus in Boston, Schneider is working to clear the lawn of space, as other plants begin to take over, and as part of a concerted effort to “soften” the campus’ appearance and increase biodiversity. Schneider says that only two of the 11.5 acres of green space are grass. This includes the Centennial Common and Krentzman Quad, which “we consider somewhat sacred as non-arable spaces,” he says.

He’s been dealing with drought, but he’s been preparing for it, too. “If you’re a vegetarian, you’re always concerned with dehydration,” he says.

He and his team make sure the soil is healthy so the plants aren’t stressed at first, and place the plants carefully based on what kind of environment they can handle — if a spot is likely to get less sun, for example, he might put a transplant there that doesn’t need Lots of sun.

In order to save water, the crew waters at night, so little water evaporates in the sun. It is also used drip irrigationwhich provide a slow and steady stream of water to the roots, while little water flows into the pavement and is lost.

He says his efforts have created a more diverse space, supported biodiversity, and eliminated some of the threats to the environment. As Schneider said, it’s “something everyone should really do.”


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