Turf Wars I: Is that Lawn Really Necessary?

Find out where and why turfgrass may not be the best choice.

landscape, turf


Ruth Stafford


Mami Hara


Anna Ishii

Which is true about US lawns?

Occupy 20M acres (the size of South Carolina)
Consume 30-60% of urban potable water
Generate $a 25B lawn care industry
Use 580M gallons of gas a year to mow (enough to drive 15B mi.)
All of the above




For many, a luxurious panel of turfgrass is practically a landscape staple. Turf has a familiar look and feel, it provides an excellent recreational surface, and for some of us, it represents a civilized treatment of the land. However, widespread use of turf lawns has created significant environmental problems: irrigated turf reduces water resources, use of fertilizers and pesticides can contaminate water and soil, turf use and maintenance can compact soil and affect hydrology, maintenance practices utilize powered equipment that pollute the air, and turf monocultures have replaced much natural habitat and associated ecosystem functions, and sense of place.

Instead of being specified as the default surface for our built landscapes, turf should be carefully evaluated as to its appropriateness for any project. There are certain uses for which turf is a good choice, such as playing fields and other active recreation surfaces, passive recreation areas in parks (e.g., picnic or gathering spaces), and even limited areas for private residential use to accommodate play. However, other areas that often end up as turfgrass could readily incorporate other landscape treatments without compromising their function, and could provide other benefits such as improved appearance and reduced environmental impacts and maintenance costs. These areas include “turf for turf’s sake” (not for active use), as well as parkway and roadway median strips.