The icon indicates free access to the linked research on JSTOR.

There’s no better time to start planning next year’s lawn than the fall. According to the new breed of lawn environmentalists, one of the first things you could try is raking and composting your dead leaves.

JSTOR Daily Membership AdJSTOR Daily Membership Ad

Lawn environmentalists? That’s as good as any name for the critics of the monocultural grass swath they call the “industrial lawn.” That may be a rough characterization, but look at the amount of  synthetic fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, and the polluting power to run mowers and leaf-blowers used to make our lawns look rich and green.

Janna Palliser wants to know how green your lawn actually is. She’s not referring to its color. She details the environmental costs of lawn care as it is generally practiced in the U.S. So does Christopher Uhl, who was in on the first wave of “freedom lawn” thinking in the 1990s. The U.S. uses more synthetic fertilizer on its lawns than India uses on all its crops; American homeowners use up to ten times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than American farmers do on their fields.

Among other examples, Palliser cites a Toronto Public Health report that found that a commercial gas-powered leaf blower emits more hydrocarbons, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide than a car model from the year 2000.

There are alternatives. In just a few pages, both Palliser and Uhl detail your options. Essentially, it may be time to let nature take its course: grow a meadow. Folks in the arid Southwest should concentrate on native cacti and other plants native to a desert setting.

Some of these ideas are still frowned upon, if not actually banned, in certain municipalities, so educational efforts are vital to changing people’s perspectives. Uhl is so radical he suggests muscle power, in the form of push mowers and rakes, to get closer to the earth. He writes:

“When we give the land at our doorsteps the freedom to develop its own character, we in a sense give ourselves freedom. When we use simple, hand-based technologies to care for our yards, we forge direct, visceral connections with the land.” Affection for the earth, he says, “is a necessary foundation for living respectfully within the confines of our planet.” And it starts right outside your door.


JSTOR is a digital library for scholars, researchers, and students. JSTOR Daily readers can access the original research behind our articles for free on JSTOR.

Science Scope, Vol. 33, No. 9, Summer Reading (SUMMER 2010) , pp. 8-11
National Science Teachers Association
Conservation Biology , Vol. 12, No. 6 (Dec., 1998) , pp. 1175-1177
Wiley for Society for Conservation Biology