When I first got to Olympia, Washington I went on a rain garden tour led by a local environmental non-profit and noticed that many of the residents that had installed these gardens were also replacing their lawns with alternative, lower maintenance landscapes that hardly contained a blade of grass. These Olympia residents had found replacing grass in their landscapes with native, low growing ground covers such as strawberry, moss, thyme or salal, meant that they could help reduce stormwater runoff and spend less time mowing, watering, and controlling for unwanted weeds and pests.
According to The Lawn Institute, “[t]otal acres of turf in the United States is estimated to be 46.5 million acres.” This would equal “…a land mass greater than that of Pennsylvania, Delaware,and Rhode Island combined…” Though grass is a permeable surface that allows for stormwater infiltration, many landowners have to go to great lengths to maintain a green turf. In a suburban environment vast lawns are commonplace, and with increasing urbanization in the Puget Sound, pesticide and fertilizer use has resulted in increasing nonpoint pollution from urban areas.
In certain environments lawns, with non-native grasses, also require a vast amount of water to stay healthy. The EPA Partnership Program, WaterSense has found that “[t]he typical suburban lawn consumes 10,000 gallons of water above and beyond rainwater each year.” Without even considering the danger to our water resources posed by the chemicals we put on our lawns, “[r]esidential outdoor water use in the United States accounts for more than 7 billion gallons of water each day...” Moreover, the EPA finds that over 50% of the water used to irrigate our landscapes is wasted due to inefficient watering methods.
Increasing the amount of sustainable, permeable surfaces, in urbanized areas will be key to reducing the amount of polluted runoff making its way to our water resources and wastewater infrastructure. Installing non-grass, lower maintenance, native alternatives, however, would lead to a further reduction in nonpoint pollution from landscaped areas. Selecting the correct ground cover for your site and climate is key to establishing a water-efficient landscape. In the Northwest, various Washington State University Extension offices have resources landowners can use to select the appropriate groundcovers. Each State also has land grant universities with Extension offices and websites with planting recommendations and suggestions.
If groundcovers are correctly planted, they are attractive, cost-effective, aid in capturing stormwater, and reduce erosion and pollution. With a little research would you be willing to give up your time-pesticide-fertilizer-water consuming grass lawn?
Credits: Image and data linked to sources.