University of Maryland Extension

Reduce Lawn Area

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no turf

A lush green lawn is American as apple pie but it comes at an environmental cost. Our actions at home are directly connected to the health and quality of not only the Chesapeake Bay but our larger environment as well.

Best Practices for maintaining less lawn 

Why should we reduce lawn areas?

  • Unmanaged turf leads to pollution of our natural resources.
  • The quest for the perfect lawn has led to high nitrates and other pesticides in our water supply through runoff and leaching.
  • Watering your lawn with drinking water in a drought is wasteful and unnecessary.
  • You have better things to do than try to unsuccessfully manage a perfect lawn.
  • You have better things to spend your money on than a lawn care service.
  • Lawnmowers and other power equipment pollute more than cars.
  • Everyone in the Chesapeake Bay watershed lives within a 15 minute walk of a water source that eventually reaches the bay.  We need to take responsibility for our own actions.

Benefits of reducing your lawn size

  • Reduce time spent on lawn maintenance
  • Reduced money spent on fertilizers, pesticides, gasoline
  • Reduced noise and air pollution
  • Reduced pollution through runoff and leaching of nutrients and soil into waterways
  • Reduced strain on our drinking supply by watering during drought
  • A diverse landscape is more pleasing and provides encourages wildlife and pollinators
  • Everyone in the Chesapeake Bay watershed lives within a 15 minute walk of a water source that eventually reaches the bay.  We need to take responsibility for our own actions.

Question: Doesn’t a thick lawn help to filter out pollutants and reduce runoff?

Answer: Yes! A thick lawn is a much better alternative than bare soil. But the environmental cost is high. 

Did you know? There are 3 million acres of turf in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Half of all lawns are fertilized, mostly with synthetic chemical fertilizers; half of those lawns are over fertilized. (Source: Center for Watershed Protection survey)

Change your expectations about lawn

ferns along walk in shade

  • If grass won’t grow there, plant something else that will. Groundcovers, ferns, grasses, perennials, etc. do well on slopes and under trees. See Alternatives to Lawns.
  • Maryland’s climate is so varied that you would need two completely different turf types with completely different requirements in order to have the “ideal” lawn. Low growing groundcovers can grow to fill large spaces and can tolerate traffic.
  • Don’t sneak out at night to water your lawn during drought restrictions! Plant drought tolerant plants in the sunniest, driest areas and save on your water bill.
  • Reduce the excruciating visits to the garden shop looking for the perfect fertilizer.
    Question: Do I get fertilizer with weed killer or with insect control? 
    Answer: Neither! (PDF) How to Fertilize your Lawn Responsibly
  • What do we typically do with our lawns? In our front yards typically, we do absolutely nothing!
  • The perfect lawn comes at a cost...a big cost. Just say “NO.”

You may qualify for a Credit or Reimbursement for your landscaping improvements from your county government.

In 2012, the State of Maryland passed a law requiring each County to develop a program to better manage stormwater and to create a fund to pay for those projects. Stormwater Remediation Fees in Maryland (PDF) (House Bill 987). Projects on your property to create rain gardens, plant trees and other vegetation, etc. to reduce runoff may qualify for reimbursement through this program. This law affects ten jurisdictions. 

Understanding Watershed Restoration and Stormwater Protection Fees.

Even if you hire a professional landscaper, you and they may receive credits or reimbursements.

Please note: We are not advocating a turf-less landscape! But…we can all do with a little less lawn.

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