Can We Do Without Grass Lawns?

How much bay contamination would we eliminate if we were to eliminate lawns, their fertilizers, and their watering? How much water might we save? Could we change our mindset?

Do we “need” grass lawns?

Background: My wife and I often go hiking and rafting in the high desert of the Southwest. We always get into a discussion especially as we fly in/out of Las Vegas or Albuquerque of why people would move to the desert and need to have green grass. All that watering is fed by the Colorado River that is now at a historical low. They are in a severe drought.

The same could apply now to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. We now should not be as free with our water use and certainly not with our runoff. It would seem to me that if we were to eliminate by substitution a good portion of our green lawns, we could greatly improve the bay. It would require change and publicity to cause it to become popular. It would require a mass change in mindset.

Proposal: I would like to begin a trend toward no mowed grass and change the complex of the communities surrounding the Chesapeake Bay to indigenous plants, more natural settings, rain gardens etc. In short, I would like to create the perception so that a green grass yard causes the same reaction as do smokers when viewed by non-smokers. To achieve this, I would like to focus on the properties bordering on the bay as a circle and increase that circle concentrically as a percentage of success can be measured.

 I would like to bring together a small group of motivated representatives of key organizations (River Watches, Community Groups, HOA’s, etc.) to discuss the feasibility and the gain if the goal were achieved. That meeting would determine the next step.

(Note: I have caused similar “impossible projects” like this in the past and had complete success. When the goal is worthy, the task can happen. They all began with an idea and a small group of messengers)

 As principal parts of the process,

  •  I would suggest a strong effort to get HOA’s to relax their grass requirement.
  • We would need to develop and illustrate grass options that are acceptably pleasing
  • Rainwater, in addition to barrels would be diverted to gardens.
  • Rainwater distribution methods would be developed and the information disseminated to barrel and garden owners.
  • Awards would be given to complying communities
  • Media would play a strong part and relevant publicity would be as important as any other element of the process.
  • A new group should not be formed but rather coordinate the existing interests and groups with a commonly evolved plan, goal, and requirements.
  • We would need to find who gains commercially from our success to enlist their help.
  • We would need to anticipate a strong opposition from those companies who would lose sales and, where possible, illustrate replacement sales. Perhaps a measurement of our success would be the drop in the sale of fertilizers for home use.
  • It would be best if this “movement” were not attributed to an individual or individuals or single organization but rather to the collective of which there could be many spokesmen.


  •  If your neighbors came together to vote on this, would you support the effort?
  • Do you think your neighborhood or HOA would support such an effort?
  • Should your town encourage such an effort?
  • Do you have knowledge that this, if it were significantly accomplished, would it have a measureable effect on the Bay?
  • Have you considered xeriscape for your yard? (Info on Xeriscape: http://landscaping.about.com/cs/lazylandscaping/g/xeriscape.htm )
  • Do you know of an existing organization whose goals this change would help them meet?
  • Do you know of such a movement as this already underway?


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sally Hornor June 25, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Sorry, you need a www in front of rainscaping. http://www.rainscaping.org
Missy H June 25, 2012 at 11:42 PM
Hello, Just wanted to chime in here. I live in a town home in Crofton and decided this year to do away with the "Lawn" I now have a front and backyard with a base of pea gravel, marble chips a few stepping stones and some native plants. Of course there was about 2 weeks worth of planning regarding design but I have to say now that it is complete it is very low maintenance and has a tropical feel. I love it....probably a good thing. :-) My point here fear not the grass-less yard. Happy Summer All!
Helen L Van Gelder July 05, 2012 at 11:55 AM
I love the idea of no grass lawns and a cleaner bay! I doubt it will go over with the McMansions along the Chesapeake, but I support any actions in that direction. I hate to see the properties along the waterways with little flags in the lawn indicating they have been treated with chemicals -- so close to where our kids are swimming!
Rusty Vaughan July 06, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Changing our mindset is not difficult if we were to collectively agree on the need. I understand that the Sherwood Forest community near Annapolis has moved in this direction and is already showing results by lowering the bacteria rate in the surrounding part of the bay. I am looking for photos of that. This will help http://www.lawnreform.org/ to develop ideas of how property can look and help. We don't really need to irradicate grass as long as the run off from grass is contained and does not reach the bay. I believe that much was learned from the Sherwood Forest experience. Perhaps someone knowing it better than me can relate the details.
Rusty Vaughan July 06, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Montgomery County has their own Sherwood Forest area as well as an ongoing plan and they don't border the bay. They are in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed thus their work is important too. Here are some examples of their successes: http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/dep/downloads/rainscapes/rainscapestour2012.pdf


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