5 Ways to Reduce Mowing

While having some lawn is great for playing, walking on, or sunbathing, there are serious problems associated with the overabundance of lawn in the United States. Learn about these problems and consider 5 simple ways to reduce mowing, add beauty, and help the environment.

Problems with Lawns

  • Lawns support minimal wildlife
  • Lawns do not manage stormwater runoff
  • Noise pollution from mowers and leaf blowers
  • Air pollution and fossil fuel use from gas mowers
  • Water pollustion from fertilizers and pesticides used on lawns
  • Lawns do not connect people with nature

Gasoline-powered landscape equipment, including mowers, trimmers, blowers, and chainsaws, accounts for 16 percent of hydrocarbon emissions and 21 percent of carbon monoxide emissions from mobile sources nationwide.” -US EPA, 2003

Below are 5 simple steps you can take to reduce mowing. Try one, or better yet, try a combination of all 5!

1. Add Gardens

Adding gardens reduces mowing, especially on slopes. Photo by Nick Yates.

Installing gardens is our favorite way to reduce mowing because of the color, texture, and habitat value they provide. And if you don’t have a green thumb, there’s help with that. Shrub borders and bullet-proof perennials perform well year after year. Ask a knowledgable landscaper or garden center for suggestions. Or hire a gardener or designer to help.

Benefits Challenges
Reduces carbon emissions produced from mowingRequires maintenance and understanding of site
Lots of options for shape, color, texture, & fragranceCan be expensive to install depending on source & size of initial plants
Supports wildlife & pollinators 
Increases property value 
Creates a more inviting or restful space for people and pets 
Works for shady sites 

2. Use Groundcovers

Native groundcovers like Hayscented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) add beauty and reduce mowing.

Groundcovers are low-growing plants that spread and fill areas of the landscape. Like gardens, planting groundcovers such as English Ivy and Pachysandra are a tried and true way to reduce lawn. Unfortunately, these plants can be overly agressive and crowd out other plants. Consider native groundcovers such as Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), Golden Groundsel (Packera aurea), or Tufted Hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa) to crowd out weeds and add beauty as you reduce lawn.

Benefits Challenges
Reduces carbon emissions produced from mowingMay lack diversity and provide little habitat value
Can provide similar low evergreen attributes as lawnCan be aggressive and spread outside of intended space
Stabilizes the soil
Once established, usually dense enough to prevent many weeds
Often considered traditional and “acceptable” to surrounding community

3. Release Turf Grass

Released turfgrass in orchard is mowed 3 times per year.

This option is the easiest and most affordable. Just stop mowing or reduce mowing to only 2-3 times per year. This look may not work for your front yard, depending where you live, but it can actually be quite attractive. The key to released turf grass is to provide “cues to care”. These are little indicators around the property that show it is being cared for. Strategically placed fences sections, a mow strip, or a curvy border are cues that let people know this is an intentional release.

Benefits Challenges
Reduces carbon emissions produced from mowingProvides little habitat value
Inexpensive Requires cues to care, depending on location of property
Low, upright habitCan become weedy over time
Roots grow deeper- better for stormwater and soil
When flowering plants or weeds move in, looks more like a meadow 

4. Use a No-Mow Mix

No-mow grass mix is great for shade and low traffic areas

Similar to released turf grass, a no-mow mix is a low stand turf grass, but in this instance, the grasses are specific fine fescues. Many lawns contain fescues, but also ryes, bluegrasses, and other types of tall fescues, which are more upright grasses. When fine fescues are not mowed, they bend over and create a very soft effect.

Benefits Challenges
Reduces carbon emissions produced from mowingDoes not tolerate as much heavy foot traffic as lawn
Attractive, low habit and soft textureWeeds are noticeable in fine fescues
Tolerates shade
Mow 1-3 times per year 

5. Install a Native Meadow

Native meadows are mowed once in early spring.

A native meadow consists of warm-season grasses and may have wildflowers. It is a complex habitat full of diversity and interest. Warm-season grass meadows are taller than un-mowed turf grasses (reaching 3-5 feet tall). A meadow may not be right for every property, but they look especially appropriate large properties. Meadows often benefit from “cues to care”, especially in the establishment years. Meadows win double points for beauty in our opinions!

Benefits Challenges
Reduces carbon emissions produced from mowingCan be expensive to install
Various colors and textures through the seasonsTakes 3 years to establish from seed
Provides habitat for wildlife and pollinatorsMust scout regularly for invasive species
Manages stormwater

On most properties, turf grass is necessary. It is great for playing and walking, but the area is not used for foot traffic, there’s likely an alternative. Consider the benefits of alternative and hopefully you can reduce mowing on your property.