This Drought is an Opportunity to Think About Replacing Lawns with Gardens


Written by Ramon Gonzalez

George Washington’s Mount Vernon was the first house in North America to incorporate a lawn as part of the landscape design. According to some estimates, 40 million acres of America are covered in turf grass, in the 48 contiguous states, making turf grass our largest irrigated crop.

The Sobering Statistics

During the growing season, if lawns are watered and fertilized as recommended, we pour 238 gallons of water per person, per day onto all that turf during the growing season.

The EPA says, that in the United States 26 billion gallons of water is consumed on a daily basis. Approximately 7.8 billion gallons of the water consumed on a daily basis is devoted to irrigation. Your typical suburban lawn consumes 10,000 gallons of water above annual rainfall.

That is a lot of water when you consider that humans can use less than 1% of all the water on Earth.

How much water can you conserve by replacing your lawn with a garden?

A couple of years after starting my outdoor garden the water connection to the outside broke and I never fixed it. It turned out to be a blessing because up until then I did not realize how much water I wasted.

It wasn’t until I was watering grass with a watering can that the severity of the situation dawned on me. Little by little, I replaced the drying turf with plants until there were only a few square feet of it left.

Surviving on Rainfall

Today, everything that grows in the ground in my garden has to survive on rainfall. That includes the annuals, perennials, spring blooming bulbs and the summer blooming bulbs-and even a healthy dose of weeds. I didn’t set out to be a water conservationist — it just happened.

America’s obsession with lawns has unfortunately made victims of some who have purposefully set out to conserve water.

When Removing Your Lawn is a Crime

In 2010, Quan and Angelina Ha were charged with a misdemeanor violation and ordered to appear in court. Their crime? They removed their lawn in Orange, California and replaced it with woodchips and drought-tolerant plants like lavender, rosemary, horsetail and pittosporum. According to the Los Angeles Times article, they reduced their water usage from 299,221 gallons in 2007 to 58,348 gallons in 2009.

How much water you are wasting keeping a lawn depends on the region you live in and what type you are growing.

Kentucky blue grass, the most common turf outside of the Southern United States, requires a lot of water. St. Augustine grass is prone to succumbing to pests and diseases, and Bermudagrass need constant maintenance to keep it looking clean and can be invasive.

Instead of trying to keep a lawn alive during this drought why not plant a garden? Either an ornamental garden that beautifies your neighborhood and provides habitat for wildlife, or a vegetable garden that you can feed yourself from are better alternatives.

Take advantage of the effects of our current drought to examine where you can remove turf on your property and you’ll start to see a reduction in the amount of water you use.

You have to wonder if George Washington knew that the trend he was starting would lead to so much wasted water if he would have opted for something other than an expansive lawn at Mount Vernon.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


Related Stories:

US In Worst Drought Since 1956

More Americans Believe Climate Change is Real

Should We Just Let The Dead Sea Die?


First photo: brianjmatis/flickr; second photo: edgeplot/flickr


Cheryl B.
Cheryl B.4 years ago

great idea

Cheryl B.
Cheryl B.4 years ago

great idea

Eric Lees
Eric Lees4 years ago

Good idea, lawns are such a waste of space. Who wants to water and mow all that lawn. We currently fight wars over oil but in the future we will fight wars over water as the human population reaches the critical point.

Patty B.
Patty B.4 years ago

I live in a a drought .
I have native rock pebbles as a lawn..and some native plants planted themselves ...and they planted themselves in exactly the areas I had been planning for plants .What to do to make it more interesting ? I have a friend who will give me a native tree that is still very small ...and then I will buy a few boulders that one can actually sit on instead of plastic chairs .And that is it...simple and native and no hassle.

Wim D.
Wim D.4 years ago

Planting far more trees is the solution.
The worldwide destroying of forests is a main reason for the worldwide climate chance and that's quickly getting worse as we all can see.

Veronica Rundell
Veronica Rundell4 years ago

I've never been one to water the grass--but living in Illinois we usually have enough rainfall to sustain it. This year I let the lawn fail with the drought, and I did expand my garden--which I water 2x daily. Still it's a significant savings over watering the other 8000 sqft of my property.

I'm in the process of tearing out more dormant turf for a stone path. It's my hope to expand the patio soon so we can have more outdoor dining/relaxing space.

Faye S.
Faye S.4 years ago

If there isn't enough water to take care of the lawn, there won't be enough to water your garden. Solve the problem...pour concrete or put in artificial turf.

Faye S.
Faye S.4 years ago

If there isn't enough water to take care of the lawn, there won't be enough to water your garden. Solve the problem...pour concrete or put in artificial turf.

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola4 years ago

thanks for sharing

Finica Daniel Radu

I don't have a lawn but I tell you that in Europe you consume like 250 gallons of water yearly for 2-5 persons.