In the United States, home landscaping has traditionally followed a particular theme. Many homeowners desire a lawn of lush green grass, accented with trees and flowerbeds. In some areas of the country, like the southeast U.S., this type of landscaping is easy to achieve and requires little maintenance. Lawns are nice because they provide outdoor space for recreation and they allow us to feel like we own our own little corner of the world. The tradition of growing lawns of green grass has some significant drawbacks, however, and homeowners in other areas of the country should consider alternative landscaping options.
Growing Grass in Dry Climates
In the southwest region of the United States, the climate tends to be hot and dry in the summer and very cold and dry in the winter. What's more, global climate trends indicate that the heat and dry conditions have been increasing over the past several decades. This type of environment can make it very difficult to create and maintain old-fashioned green grass lawns. Dry areas of the country receive little annual rainfall, so lawns have to be constantly watered in order to stay lush and green. Even then, soil conditions are not natively hospitable to many types of grass, so aeration and fertilization are necessary, and these processes take up even more time and resources.
The Culture of Lawns
In general, Americans are happy to incur the costs associated with maintaining nice front and backyards because having a nice lawn is a culturally ingrained symbol of a good life. As we learn more about the widespread long-term effects of our cultural habits, however, we are finding that some of our habits do not make as much sense as we once thought. Our insistence on lush green lawns is a prime example of this trend.
How Much Water do Lawns Use?
The biggest problem with lawns is the amount of water they require. Estimates on just how much water Americans use for their lawns vary widely. Some accounts say that 30% of all residential water use goes toward watering lawns, but others say that number is much higher, up to 70%. Either way, it's clear that we use a lot of water just to have green grass surrounding our homes. This water use creates a strain on the nation's water supply, and that strain is turning out to be quite unsustainable.
The Growing Water Shortage
In recent years, many of the nation's water reservoirs, especially in the central and western U.S., have experienced declines in volume. A classic example of this problem is Lake Powell in Utah, which has become significantly lower than it was in the years after it was created in 1968. The Colorado River, which supplies much of the water for the western U.S., has run out of water before it reached the sea in most years since 1960. This is a problem because, as population increases, so does the demand for water. Watering our lawns contributes to the decrease in the amount of water available for consumption.
In order to protect water supplies, individuals with green grass lawns can consider converting part or all of their property to xeriscaping. Xeriscaping is the practice of landscaping property in ways that take the local ecosystem into account and do not require watering or irrigation. The creative use of landscaping materials like decorative rocks, woodchips, and patio space is a hallmark of xeriscaping. Homeowners don't need to give up greenery in order to xeriscape, however. They can choose plants that are native to their location and that can flourish in the local conditions without the use of excess imported water.
With the help of a professional landscaper or by consulting books and websites on xeriscaping, Americans can create beautiful outdoor areas that can be used for recreation without damaging the U.S. water supply.