The Real Cost of Lawns

In her book “Edible Landscaping,” Rosalind Creasy, who has been practicing what she preaches for some 40 years, encourages us to calculate the “real cost of lawns” and consider converting part or even all of our lawn area into an attractive sustainable landscape that features numerous plantings that are edible, both by us and our wildlife neighbors.

 “A lawn area, when grown organically, can be wonderful for frolicking children,” says Creasy, “but those large, ‘well maintained’ areas of verdure generally are the landscaping equivalents of gas guzzlers parked in the driveway.  Mowers, blowers, fertilizer and pesticide runoff, habitat loss—today’s lawns are primarily about wasting non-renewable resources and contributing to many of our planet’s ills.”

 To demonstrate the potential of her “edible landscape,” Creasy converted a mere 100 square feet of her front lawn into a well-designed planting of seasonal edibles that provided the makings of countless meals throughout the growing season, as well as plenty to share with friends and neighbors who stopped by to see what all the commotion was about in her front yard.

 Creasy asks that we consider these documented facts about the real cost of lawns:

°  “According to NASA, in the United States, lawns cover almost 32 million acres—an area the size of New England.

°  “Americans spend $17.4 billion a year on everything from pesticides (70 million pounds) to lawn tractors.

°  “Lawn mowing uses 300 million gallons of gas and takes about 1 billion hours annually.

°  “ estimates that Americans spend $5.25 billion on petroleum-based fertilizers and $700 million on lawn pesticides—annually.

°  “According to the EPA, running the average gas-powered lawn mower for 1 hour can create the same amount of pollution as driving a car 340 miles.

°  “Nationwide, home landscape irrigation accounts for nearly one-third of all residential water use—more than 7 billion gallons per day.  Lawns drink up over 50 per cent of that.

°   “Lawns require 1 inch of water a week; at that rate, using irrigation only, a 25- by 40-foot (1,000-square-foot) lawn can suck up about 625 gallons of water weekly, or approximately 10,000 gallons of water each summer.”

Creasy notes that given all these environmental problems a lawn creates, we should ask ourselves if we really want or need one.

“If you decide that your lawn is a waste of money and resources, you have hundreds of redesign options,” Creasy says.  “For example, you can craft an area of paving stones with thyme or alpine strawberries growing in between, plant a geometric mini-orchard of fruit trees, or create a series of raised beds for vegetables and flowers around a small decorative playhouse.”

If you feel you do still need areas of lawn, she advises that you carefully “select a grass variety suited to your climate and location—one that grows well and requires the least amount of water and fertilizer—and restrict it to level ground.  Choosing the right grass species for your yard is a complex task,” Creasy adds, “To make an informed choice, see “The Organic Lawn Care Manual” by Paul Yukey, visit, or consult your local Cooperative Extension Service.”

Guest Author                                                                                                                            Randy Peele

Lawn Alternative Edible Landscape

A lawn-alternative edible landscape can be both beautiful and bountiful as is evidenced by this inviting arbor of grapes and espaliered apple and apricot trees at Gethsemane Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand.