Can Having a Lawn be Green?

This spring my family moved into a new rental home and some of you might remember how I told you about a few ways we made small changes for going greener.

Between moving, celebrating two kids’ birthdays and having a third baby, I knew starting a new garden wasn’t very likely to happen this year. Someday, I’d like to primarily have our backyard used for growing food and entertaining, but for now we were simply concerned with weeding the extremely overgrown landscaping.

Soon we realized that –aside from the overgrown, weedy areas– the yard was great for entertaining. It has three different patio areas with a lushly planted center area full of greenery, ferns and flowers. Surrounding are brick pathways and various succulents (even a few cacti!) though, and as pretty parts of the yard are, it’s not the most small-child-friendly space.

Dreaming of a Kid-Friendly Yard

I love gardens and love water-wise, succulent-filled suburban yards, but what we needed for our current life stage was someplace for our kids to crawl and run around a little… a surface soft enough for little knees and wider than a simple pathway to accomodate picnicking and all-around hanging out.

We needed some grass.

But large lawns require lots of water and maintenance, not to mention they are usually treated chemically to keep them looking verdant.

So what’s a green girl to do?

Grass might not be the greenest option (no pun intended) for a yard, but we’ve found that we were able to make a few simple choices to lessen our impact as we planned our lawn.

Size it Up

We realized that we didn’t need a huge space for our lawn. We ended up clearing a nice 320- square foot rectangle in the front yard that was filled with gravel, rocks and oddly-arranged flowers. The rectangle gives enough room for a nice picnic or for the kids to kick around a soccer ball, but it doesn’t “waste” as much water or potential garden space as a large lawn would.

Back or Front?

If we stay in this home for several years, I could see much of the backyard becoming garden space eventually, but the front yard seemed like the perfect area to put in a little grass. It’s protected by some plants, trees and a little fence (that I’m not crazy about, but it does keep little ones out of the street).

Putting our grass in the front also leaves us with a backyard that can someday be for gardening and entertaining, like I dream of.

Doing it Right the First Time

My husband and dad did some serious prep work, reworking the existing sprinklers so that the watering will work as efficiently as possible. With a timer on them, we can schedule our waterings so we don’t over- or under-water.

Prepping the soil by raking and tilling made it more suitable to sustain the grass long-term without having to revive it later with harsher methods.

And starting with fresh sod means nice, thick grass which helps prevent weeds without chemicals. The thinner the grass, the more weeds can pop through, so starting it off thick means we will hopefully deal with this issue less in the future.

I’ll have some more green tips for you next week for taking care of lawns and the non-vegetable-garden areas of your yard.

What’s your yard like– mainly a vegetable garden? A large lawn? A water-wise yard? A patio with potted plants? Or some combination thereof? How do you take care of your yard with green methods?

19 Comments

  1. Maria Shaw

    We are quite lucky (or unlucky) because we get some rain even in the summer and we store as much of it as we can. There is a lot of manual work involved but it has become a routine for us to be lugging water around the yard on hot days.

  2. Rea

    We have a grass lawn, but we really don’t water much. I think maybe 3 times this summer and then only the front yard, which is small. As far as weeds go, the only ones that are a problem are the thistles and I go through every now and then and dig them out. The grass is thick enough that there aren’t that many. (And then I just laugh at the chemical guy who tells me that 2 will grow back in that spot if I dig them out.)
    The back yard has a small veggie garden that will hopefully grow bigger next year.

  3. Kara

    Our yard is all grass with the exception of a flowerbed in the front (not that we can changed that since we live in a rental). The front has nice thick, green grass that never needs water (or chemicals). The side yard is thinner under the big tree, but not weedy. The back however…is pretty much all weeds and no grass. We think all of the leaves from last fall killed off the grass, even though we raked every few days. Lawns are a lot of work and I thin your dream of garden/entertaining space sounds lovely!

  4. Sarah G

    We are lucky because we live in a neighborhood that takes a very practical approach to lawn care. If it doesn’t rain, everyone’s grass dies. Yup, everyone has a nice brown lawn right now. Amazingly, it comes back again doing just fine next spring and I appreciate not feeling pressured to waste water just so the lawn looks green like everyone elses.

    • Lisa

      sounds like my sort of neighborhood. Right now I too have a brown yard. We have been on water restriction since the first part of July.

  5. Alicia

    We had a lawn when we moved into our house over 15 years ago but over the years we’ve transitioned more and more of it to gardens and other fun. One thing I found is that clover in your lawn is much greener — in more ways than one! It requires less water and less mowing (it stays pretty low), it’s soft on the feet, and it tolerates drought way better than grass. Herbicides kill clover, so organic lawn care led to our huge patches of low-maintenance clover over the years.

    Here in MN, we tend to get enough rain that we almost never have to water. Keeping the lawn a little longer and letting the clover thrive have both resulted in our lawn staying green even when the neighbors’ lawns start to get brown and prickly. 🙂

  6. Kevin

    I think the most important green aspect of having a lawn is simply using it. If you’re picnicking and playing on it regularly then it’s worth using a few more resources. It’s when it’s only there for show that I think a lawn becomes a problem.

    • Nicole

      Great point, Kevin! I agree.

  7. Becky

    We have a heavy clay soil in my area, so our lawn also does not require watering. If we have a dry summer, most people in our neighborhood let their grass die off. It will come back in the fall when it gets cooler/wetter.

  8. Kathryn

    We have a huge lawn, almost 1/2 acre, which is extremely rare for our older urban neighborhood. We didn’t plant it–it came with the house. Over time, we’re hoping to swap out a good portion of it for gardens, permeable hardscape, etc. Meanwhile, however, we’ve found that using a mulching mower on it makes a huge difference, in terms of reducing the need for watering, weeding, and fertilizing. (I know that uses gas, but there are hand-powered mulching mowers, too.) That, and we just maintain low expectations. We’d rather put up with some brownness and weeds than water it and use a lot of chemicals.

  9. barak

    Hi nicole!
    You guys did a great job. Its so importnent for you children to grow in a wide green area. They probably have good time, and will have good memories.
    When i was a child i grew in a green enviorment, and now i moved to the big city and i have some flowers and herbs outside the window 🙂 hope to move soon to the village. Thank you for the post. barak.

  10. Kika

    We are transitioning over to Sheep’s fescue – a drought tolerant, slow growing, weed resistant, grass variety (if anyone is interested, I learned about it from a book entitled, “eco-yards” by Laureen Rama – a Canadian, Calgary-based author/owner of an eco-lawn company.

    • Nicole

      Thanks for the book rec!

  11. Jane

    I really appreciate this article. You shared how you had your yard arranged. This gives the readers a good grip or whether to have a lawn or otherwise. Considering that the area is quite spacious, you can really do a lot. Considerations must also be taken like ur usual activiites and the certain needs such as for vegetables, flowers or other sorts of plants. Thanks for sharing this article.

  12. Lorarian89

    Great idea!!! waiting for your green tips!
    thanks!

  13. Ruth Lopez

    Where there is a will there is a way. I do not have a lawn but I have small veggie plots. I just love vegetable gardening. Actually, I am considering expanding it. I guess I’m trying.

  14. clothespin

    We also have a grass lawn… but for a totally different reason. We live near Austin, TX in the pine forest. It is VERY VERY dry this year (think worst drought in over 50 years, if not the century)… our grass lawn is our green buffer for any potential wildfires. So, in addition to being a place for our daughter to play, it also has a practical purpose. Plus, watering the grass is helping to keep the trees alive – and this summer, they need all of the help that they can get.

    As far as finding the best low water usage grass for your lawn… it’s going to be regionally specific. There is no one grass that will perform as needed in all parts of the country. And, there are new varieties coming out or are recently out that are more drought tollarent… We have a St. Augustine called “palmetto” that is doing pretty well, all things considered. The best place to determine grass type for your lawn would be your county ag extension agent or the nearest ag university.

    And yes, my husband is a grass breeder and has worked/is working on some turf grass… though his main focus is biofuel grasses…

  15. sonya

    The backyard looks so beautiful weeds aside. I can definitely see the potential. Our grass in the front is so dead outside. We finally got a cheap lawn sprinkler system in the back and it took aout a couple of weeks of watering before it got nice lush and green. I feel like it is a bit of a waste to water but we do it on a timer for 20 minutes in the early morning so that we aren’t using too much water. Would love to see after pictures!

  16. Javi

    I have never used any chemicals to treat my yard. I found organic methods to basically displace weeds and diseases. I rely heavily in compost and compost tea. In just a couple of years the soil changed and after 5 years the lawn is now self sustainable, and the grass grows dense and green, almost weed free. It is funny how my neighbors can’t figure out why they are still spraying all types of pesticides every year to kill weeds and grubs, and I don’t have any pests on the property at all.

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