Removing the grass lawn has become the poster child to creating drought tolerant landscapes in San Diego. Landscape professionals now recognize that reducing or complete removing lawn is a huge incentive to people wanting to renovate their outdoor environments. Residents who have purchased new homes on lots of bare dirt are not subscribing to the idea of the traditional lawn either. Local governments in regions of water scarcity actively discourage the planting of lawn, actually paying homeowners to remove it. Like the low-flow shower head of the past decade, it seems that the public has accepted the notion of little or no lawn as the new norm.
Despite its villainous portrayal, lawn can serve both aesthetic and functional purposes. Yet lawn alternatives do exist – from dozens of low-growing plants to rock and gravel surfaces – that make eliminating lawn from the landscape a viable option. Some folks are even choosing to mimic the look of lawn with artificial turf – a green synthetic surface that does not require one drop of water. Lawn has become one of the dilemmas of ethical and sustainable building: reduce the size of the lawn or eliminate it altogether?
Why install lawn at all? To be sure, this is an individual choice. Turf adds a horizontal component that visually provides horizontal space, allowing plants and other landscape components to be seen. The rich green surface is cooling to the eye. It literally cools the temperature a few degrees on hot summer days when compared to hardscape surfaces including artificial turf. As for function, it is a living surface that can be walked upon repeatedly. For a family with children and dogs, lawn can be an important space for recreation and play. And in fire prone areas, it serves as a non-flammable border around a home.
Lawn is not going to totally disappear from most neighborhoods, even in dry regions, because it offers families with children and pets a functional surface for activity. But those folks should specify a few hundred square feet of turf for the landscape plan, not the wide expanses of lawn common in the past. Those days are gone. The kids can walk to the local school to kick and throw a ball; the money saved on the water bill can go instead to their college fund.