April 16 2012

Establishing a Lawn-Less Landscape: Designing Without a Mower in Mind in Olympia, Washington

ground covers Forget the typical grass lawn.

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.

Akua Nyame-Mensah

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A but raised in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire and Tunis, Tunisia, Akua Nyame-Mensah holds an A.B in Growth and Structure of Cities from Bryn Mawr College and a Masters in City Planning (M.C.P) with a concentration in land use and environmental planning from the University of Pennsylvania. Akua is currently serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer for a community-based watershed and riparian restoration education program at a Conservation District in Tumwater, Washington. As a Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) Green Associate and National Association for Interpretation Certified Guide, Akua enjoys learning about and sharing her knowledge of green infrastructure and low-impact development techniques with others.

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This entry was posted on Monday, April 16th, 2012 at 6:55 am and is filed under Environment, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


2 Responses to “Establishing a Lawn-Less Landscape: Designing Without a Mower in Mind in Olympia, Washington”

  1. David Hymel Says:

    Hello There,

    Here is what homeowners in Puyallup, WA are doing with rain gardens and green infrastructure – establishing a Street of Green. Please feel free to use and credit the local rain garden photos from our this and other links on our website.


  2. Akua Nyame-Mensah Says:

    Dear David Hymel,

    Thank you for sharing your link. Homeowners all over the Puget Sound are doing amazing things related to managing stormwater on their property. Have these Puyallup homeowners had a chance to register their gardens on the 12,000 Rain Gardens in the Puget Sound campaign website: http://www.12000raingardens.org/register.html?

    Thank you for reading,

    The GRID Blogger, Olympia

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