Let Your Lawn Die

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Over in USA Today, writer Laura Vanderkam has a shockingly un-American suggestion: kill your lawn. In the middle of what’s shaping up to be the hottest year on record, Americans are still spending time, money—and water—to keep their lawns green and trim. By Vanderkam’s numbers, 21 million acres in the U.S. are covered by grass that wouldn’t be there without human help, and we use 78 millions lbs. of pesticides a year to keep weeds in check. And for Vanderkam—who recently wrote a book on time management called 168 Hours—all the time we spend mowing and managing our lawns could be spent better:

In short, lawns are incredibly inefficient, and not just from an environmental perspective. Maintenance requires time and money, which people usually claim are in short supply. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey, the average father of school-aged kids spends 1.6 hours a week on lawn and garden care — more time than he spends on reading, talking, playing or doing educational activities with his kids combined.

Just because you skip the green, lush lawn all homeowners are supposed to want—even ones who live in dry climates—doesn’t mean you can’t make your landscape look nice. A couple of years ago I wrote about the xeriscaping trend, where people who live in hot, dry climate can craft landscapes that belong in the desert, without using water. And some dry cities in the West have even begun actively supporting climate-appropriate landscaping—Las Vegas will actually pay residents $1.50 for every sq. ft. of lawn or turf they remove from their homes. According to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, that policy helps save more than 8 billion gallons of water a year.

Thanks to climate change, growing populations and growing consumption—especially in naturally dry cities—we can expect the water crisis to get worse over time. Given that challenge, maybe losing the lawn isn’t the worst idea ever.