At its best, your lawn is a beautifully dense, vibrantly green...um, patch of grass.
One which often demands an extraordinary amount of maintenance (mowing, edging, raking, weeding, and more) and does very little to return the favor. What’s more, depending on how you care for it, that little emerald oasis may actually be harmful to the environment.
“Huh? But it’s…nature!”
Hear us out.
While the American obsession with lawns goes way back (and is bizarrely fascinating), traditional lawn care requires a little something called fertilizer, and it’s pretty harmful to our environment. According to Greener, Greener Washington, “Most fertilizers are petroleum-based bags of negative environmental impacts. The herbicides run off into our waterways, contaminating the water we drink and the fish we eat.”
Halibut a la herbicides, anyone? Yikes!
Even if you opt out of classic fertilizers, the amount of water required to maintain that lush landscape can hit natural resources--and your wallet--hard.
Whether you’re looping your lawn into your efforts to make your home more environmentally friendly or you’re just plain tired of the upkeep--read on! We’ve got the 411 on a little thing called xeriscaping, which -- aside from being a trend that gained significant traction in 2020 (and isn’t going anywhere any time soon) -- can actually earn you eco-conscious points and save some money, too!
What is Xeriscaping?
Xeriscaping is the practice of designing landscapes to reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. It’s particularly good for areas prone to drought, but can effectively reduce need for natural resources, like water, everywhere because it uses only plants native to your territory, which don’t need a lot of extra TLC to thrive in their environment. While xeriscaping first became popular in dry areas (think cacti and rocks anchoring the look), it’ll look different depending on your climate: wildflowers might be abundant in the prairie region, whereas moisture-loving plants might thrive in Seattle.
First, you’ll need to kill your lawn to prepare it for a rebirth. (Aggressive, but we do what we must!) The quickest and easiest way to kill off your grass is with an herbicidal solution, but, again...environmentally harmful. (Not to mention that whole potentially cancerous thing).
You could go the more organic route with horticultural vinegar, but depending on the size of your lawn, $26/gallon may be a bit spendy.
Another idea--which is completely non-toxic and pocketbook-friendly, but may require a bit more heavy lifting--is to cover the area with heavy-gauge black plastic for a couple of weeks, and weigh it down with bricks or large rocks.
To stay entertained while you wait for the grass to die, check out the Freakonomics podcast episode How Stupid is Our Obsession With Lawns?
While your lawn goes through its metamorphosis, you’ll want to be mastering your landscaping plan. Do your research to discover which plants:
a) are native to your area
b) will play nice together
c) will make for the most beautiful scenery.
Upkeep of your personal natural wonderland will never be totally hands-off, so make sure you know what you’re getting into maintenance-wise. Take time to learn what your new floral friends will need to live their best life, and they’ll return the favor in spades!
Check out some of these great resources for budding (lol) xeriscapers:
Xeriscape: A to X (A comprehensive guide that debunks misconceptions about xeriscaping and provides very helpful how-tos!)
All the Benefits
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tells us, “the average American family uses 320 gallons of water per day, about 30% of which is devoted to outdoor uses. More than half of that outdoor water is used for watering lawns and gardens. Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons per day.”
Holy irresponsible hell.
The good news: xeriscaping can reduce your water usage by 50 to 75%.
We said it before, we’ll say it again: fertilizer and herbicides are huge stressors to your lawn and to the environment. Xeriscaping helps to reduce the use of these chemicals because it features plants that are already happy in your immediate environment. (Just don’t forget the mulch to help keep things steady)
Perfectly manicured lawns might keep us inspired on our daily walks around the neighborhood, but they’re a lot of work. Xeriscaping cuts down on (or eliminates) the need for mowing, watering, fertilizing, and more!
Good for the Environment
In addition to the positive impact xeriscaping makes on water consumption, there’s another benefit you may not have thought of: if you go truly lawnless--no gas-powered mowers in sight! You breathe a little easier and spare your neighbors the hour(s) of clamoring vroooooooooom on a Saturday morning. You get one less chore, they get peaceful mornings. Everybody wins.
The initial investment might be a little high (depending on your area and execution), but the cost for upkeep is low. Cutting down on maintenance means no need to buy lawn accessories and treatments or pay for lawn services--and your water bill will be lower, too.
If you’re reworking your lawn on a budget, don’t forget to tap into your Sparetoolz community. Find tools and tips from people in your community, and save some money by renting—another sustainable alternative!