Don’t Hate My Lawn! It’s A Good Thing

May 17, 2013 | By | Comments (20)

This beautiful lawn sets the stage for beautiful flowers. Design: Troy Rhone, Birmingham. Photo by Steve Bender.

Other than having the last name “Monsanto,” nothing is more likely to get you reviled in the blogosphere than to say you like lawns. It just isn’t PC, especially on the Left Coast. Grumpy doesn’t care. He LOVES lawns. And if you live where having a lawn makes sense, here is why you should love them too.

Lawns make sense in areas where it rains enough that you don’t have to go broke watering. In north-central Alabama, where Grumpy lives, we get about 54 inches of rain a year. In many years, Grumpy doesn’t have to water the grass once. However, in low-rainfall areas like Austin, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix, you should either eliminate a grass lawn or make do with a teeny one.

Benefits of Lawns
1. Aesthetics. A lush, green lawn is beautiful. In garden design, it supplies vital, “negative” space around which all other plantings are organized. Without some empty, negative space, the yard looks like a jungle. With it, the your garden now has a frame or a stage.

2. Comfort. Ever walked barefoot a cross a bluegrass lawn in summer? It felt good, didn’t it? A picnic on the lawn is so much better than a picnic on the mulch. The comfort doesn’t stop there. In summer, grass plants act as tiny natural air conditioners. As they transpire moisture, they cool the air. That’s why suburbs with lawns are often 8-10 degrees cooler on a hot day than the concrete and asphalt cities they surround.

3. Recreation. A nice lawn in the front or back yard provides the perfect place to toss a football, jump through a sprinkler, throw a party, or garden without getting muddy. Where would you prefer your kids play? The street? The sewage treatment plant? Your cactus, yucca, and agave collection? Or the lawn? Grumpy opts for the latter.

4. Water quality. Despite what you’ve probably been told, a properly maintained lawn does a great job of filtering nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus before they pollute streams, lakes, rivers, and groundwater. Grumpy has nothing against farmers, but the fact is that farms contribute the lion’s share of nutrient pollution to these bodies of water, not lawns. Lawns also do a great job of controlling erosion. After a heavy rain, compare the color of the water running down the gutter from an empty lot to that coming from a healthy lawn and you’ll see what I mean.

5. Air quality. Grass is a plant, just like a tree. It releases oxygen and absorbs carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Grass absorbs other air pollutants as well. It also traps dust particles. I’ve never seen a dust storm in any place covered with grass.

6. Ease of maintenance. The biggest lie in gardening today is that lawn care is too much work. What baloney! The amount of work it takes to maintain a lawn pales beside that it takes to maintain the same size vegetable garden or mixed flower border. With a lawn, all you basically have to do is water and mow. And mowing is good aerobic exercise.

Coming This Sunday!
In Sunday’s blog, “Don’t Hate My Lawn — Part Deux,” I’ll discuss how to be an environmentally responsible lawn owner and combine grass with trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables without killing the planet. In the meantime, I have a question for you. In which of these front yards would you rather hang out?

This one?


Nothing but gravel. Another day in paradise. Photo by Steve Bender.

Or this one?


Love their grass, but need to discuss the crepe murder. Photo by Steve Bender.

I rest my case.


  1. Steve Bender

    Everyone should listen to Kylee. I do.

    May 28, 2013 at 6:45 am
  2. Kylee Baumle

    Can I add just one more thing? We’re in need of rain here and my gardens are suffering. The effect of spring rains has worn off and I’ve actually lost a couple of things because I didn’t notice they needed watering. So we’re off and running – once again providing supplemental watering because darn it, I want big, juicy strawberries in a few weeks! And I want my vegetable seedlings to GROW! But my grass? Not a drop of supplemental watering and it’s still lush and green and feels good when I walk on it. What’s being a water suck now??

    May 22, 2013 at 6:29 am
  3. Steve Bender

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    May 22, 2013 at 6:07 am
  4. denise schreiber (@MrsKnowitAll)

    I’m with you Steve. I don’t want to spend my time dividing and deadheading perennials, native or not and mulching. I live in an area of Kentucky bluegrass and the feel of it between my toes reminds me of loafing in my youth. Sure I have plenty of trees and shrubs and lots of flowers and I have plenty of rain most of the time. No Mow is not me.

    May 18, 2013 at 5:03 pm
  5. home, garden, life

    I like your thoughts on this matter. If lawns are managed sans herbicides, et al, I can attest to the beauty of the lush spring lawn in central Virginia. Mowing is good exercise too, even with a self-propelled. And how can we get a law established to stop crepe murder…?

    May 18, 2013 at 12:54 pm
  6. Kylee Baumle

    Amen, Steve, and Nell Jean, thank you for saying, “… it isn’t practical to have every inch planted in groundcover and perennials if the area is measured in acres rather than square feet.” That is absolutely true in many cases, including mine. No supplemental watering of the lawn here (or chemicals), but we have to water the gardens. They sure wouldn’t survive the ridiculously dry summers we’ve had in recent years as well as the lawn has, without watering. And grass grows so easily here in Ohio that right now I’m cursing how aggressive it is at encroaching on my gardens.

    May 17, 2013 at 10:56 pm
  7. Indygardener (@Indygardener)

    We get 45 inches of rain a year in central Indiana. Occasional watering in late summer is sometimes necessary, but for the most part, lawns make sense here, too. Plus, mowing is good exercise.

    May 17, 2013 at 9:14 pm
  8. Lana Short

    I love the green of a beautiful lawn, living in Los Angeles I have to pay for that green Lawn. I want to move somewhere, where the lawn gets watered from heaven not the DWP

    May 17, 2013 at 7:10 pm
  9. Leanne Cox

    And fresh mowed grass is one of my favorite summertime smells!

    May 17, 2013 at 4:25 pm
  10. Steve Bender

    Mr. Vogt,
    You SERIOUSLY want to argue that lawns in the U.S. use 4 times as much pesticide as agriculture? SERIOUSLY? Ever seen a plane crop-dusting a lawn? Anyway, this piece is not written for Nebraska. As I stated in both the first and second paragraphs, lawns aren’t for low-rainfall areas. We get 54 inches of rain a year where I live. I never water my lawn. The grasses you suggest are prairie grasses. Does the yard above look like “The Little House on the Prairie?” That isn’t Michael Landon on the porch.

    May 17, 2013 at 3:13 pm
  11. Candace Seaton

    PS. I have lived in the desert and it was brutal and depressing. Yes the English garden is my dream, I just can’t afford it and neither can the environment.

    May 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm
  12. Candace Seaton

    I don’t think the anti-lawn people are advocating gravel! They want neatly maintained vegetable and herb gardens. I live in N. Alabama and I find it impossible to keep a lawn alive in summer without spending hundreds of dollars on water, which I don’t do…hence I have an acre of nasty weeds and bare dirt all summer. I used to reseed, fertilize etc each fall, but gave up. My flower beds and veggie patch get watered only. I hate to look at brown zoyzia all winter, and bermuda should be illegal! I am slowly getting the size of the lawn widdled down. True a nice lawn is pretty, but also pretty expensive…this is not the prairie!

    May 17, 2013 at 2:42 pm
  13. Benjamin Vogt

    Can we at least say in some parts of the country lawns can be an energy suck and really aren’t adapted unless you have heavy inputs of water and fertilizer? Lawn is an English landscape ideal, and in England the temps are cooler and the moisture more plentiful — not the case out here on the Plains, or 50% of the U.S. anyway.

    May 17, 2013 at 11:08 am
  14. jen

    Here’s another one for your list: lawns can have a positive effect on one’s emotional state LOL! I’ve lived in Las Vegas for the last 6 years and if I had to pick a single thing I miss most about the South, it’s the grass, the green. I would never have guessed that the lack of green here would wear on me the way it has, but frankly, it gets depressing at times. I don’t think lawns are bad. I do think you have to consider your region and be responsible in your choices when growing one, but they absolutely serve several positive purposes, so I would never write them off completely. When we were in GA, I don’t know that I ever had to water the lawn; the rain was sufficient. Here in the desert that would be a different story, obviously. Enjoy your lawn and know that I’m jealous!

    May 17, 2013 at 11:02 am
  15. Annemarie Long Wilson

    We are on our second lawn, as our St Augustine died on us twice!(Obviously we were slow learners!) After laying sod our selves (if I did this for a living I would be a size two) we put in emerald zoysia and an irrigation system. While it is still a battle to maintain a decent yard on our heavily treed lot, you just cannot beat the overall curb appeal! And yes like Nell Jean, our snakes are much more visible in the grass!

    May 17, 2013 at 10:39 am
  16. Benjamin Vogt

    I could not disagree with you more on #6. If I want to keep up with my neighbors, I have to mow once a week on my .2 acre lot. Takes me 45 minutes. My garden — full of native plants adapted to Nebraska weather extremes — requires maybe 6-8 hours in March when I cut it down (and that’s all I to do with it the whole year). So, folks start mowing here about April 1 and keep going until October 1, which is nearly 1,100 minutes compared to my 500 minutes “gardening.”

    And as for #5 lawns don’t clean the air anywhere near as much as a healthy and diver garden. Oh heck, #4 seems nuts, too, since lawns in the U.S. use 4x as much pesticides as agriculture. But I’ll agree on negative space — yet the 1st photo’s space looks too small to play in, resembling my smalll front lawn — so why not put in a simple spread of blue grama or sideoats grama (shortgrass prairie) that’s far more drought tolerant and needs no fertilizer? And why don’t you mention that fertilizer sitting on the lawn releases greenhouse gasses?

    Have at you! “Tis but a flesh wound.”

    May 17, 2013 at 10:29 am
  17. Steve Bender

    I was hoping for an Amen!

    May 17, 2013 at 10:27 am
  18. Vonda Moore Burroughs

    Amen, Grumpy! Amen!
    I love my lawn.

    May 17, 2013 at 10:26 am
  19. Steve Bender

    Tell it, Nell Jean!

    May 17, 2013 at 10:15 am
  20. Nell Jean

    Thank you for this post. In the coastal south, it isn’t practical to have every inch planted in groundcover and perennials if the area is measured in acres rather than square feet. I want grass paths wide enough to walk AROUND the black snake stretched out there. Carefully chosen grasses need no fertilizer and go dormant when water is scarce.

    May 17, 2013 at 8:38 am

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