Yes, please: death to the lawn!

If only everyone would pay attention to this video.

Lawns are deserts for living things. Rip ’em up and replace them with diverse species, even the “weedy” ones. We’re trying to evolve our yard away from the boring monoculture, but doing so gradually; Mary has been actively planting a lot of things that are not turf grass, like milkweed.

Also, I work at a so-called ‘green’ university, which is green in some ways and terribly destructively traditional in other ways. We’ve got vast empty grassy lawns, which I suppose are great for scenic views of students playing frisbee, but not much else. I recently found out that those nice fields of grass are regularly sprayed with Q4, and a few years ago I discovered that we were hosing the shrubbery with an insecticide, specifically to kill the grass spiders that would accidentally end up in the buildings. Could we not? Could we maybe let wild nature take over? We’ve got some areas planted with native prairie grasses and forbs, and they are freakin’ gorgeous — the campus would be so much more attractive if the whole place were covered in exuberant foliage, rather than the stubby boring green stuff.

The spiders would be much happier, too.


  1. dstatton says

    Here in Maryland, a man replanted his yard with native species; his neighbors went ballistic and sued. He prevailed. When visiting my sister in Tampa, the area was in a drought, and at the local government prohibited watering lawns, but some of her neighbors secretly watered during the night.

  2. says

    Sooo many people are so selfish and unthinking. Here, in Aridzona, there are some people who migrate from wetter states that, for sentimental reasons, must have a large lush lawn. In phoenix in the 1940’s they created many residential yards that are sunken so the entire yard is flooded a couple of times a week to keep the large lawns green and for the citrus trees there, too. And, they keep building water parks!. Our family has lived in Aridzona since the 1970’s. We have always had decorative rock yards and xeriscape. This is: efficient, responsible and low maintenance. Only in the past couple of months has Aridzona talked about requiring a 100 year water supply for any new housing developments. Years too late and millions of dollars too short.

  3. hemidactylus says

    My yard is as weedy as it gets. While there are native spiderworts galore, there are also invasive Brazilian pepper, mulberry, and Cape honeysuckle. Though native itself the state tree, cabbage palm, is an obnoxious asshole— #Floridatree. I have grown to hate cabbage palm as much as I hate Brazilian pepper. Just because it’s native doesn’t make it desirable. It is the Florida Man of trees. Apt.

    Spiderworts should become the Pharyngula adoptive flower. It’s in the name!:

  4. mordred says

    Here in Germany some cities have finally started to ban Schottergärten, frontyards almost completely filled with gravel and stones, often sealed below with plastic or concrete so no weeds can grow.
    Ecologically dead, they help heating up the cities and keep rain from sinking into the soil so increasing draught and floods…

  5. Dennis K says

    I just spent the morning weed-whacking the easement on the back part of my property. Here in Oregon stuff has gone fallow for the summer and my decision to “let nature reclaim it” last Spring has led to an infestation of towering cow parsnip and pocket gophers that have since overwhelmed my entire backyard. Messy critters, destroyed my garden and wrecked any semblance of a semi-organized plot of land behind my house. I guess this is nature “reclaiming” things. I’m sure my neighbors, with their simulation golf-course yards, are enjoying the show.

  6. Reginald Selkirk says

    Unfortunately, some people who give it up are going to discover the reasons for neatly mown lawns. It suppresses certain pests, including ticks and chiggers.

  7. says

    Reginald: If people are spraying pesticides and other such crap on their lawns, then it should be possible to spray something on whatever stuff we replace our lawns with.

  8. wzrd1 says

    That’s why you plant barrier plants to keep pests out. Trichrome wealthy plants tend to repel most pests, others shelter predators to pests, still others are toxic to pests.
    When I used potatoes as a barrier, the only pests in my garden were pillbugs, which ate some of the potatoes themselves. Toxic leaves and glandular and non-glandular trichromes being the most active in repelling pests.

  9. whywhywhy says

    Lawns made of grass much like golf course are not natural and simply letting them go will not end well. The constant cycle of herbicides, insecticides, and watering has destroyed the natural landscape. Thus to transition to native plants, insect friendly plants, etc. takes effort, planning and time. Doing it correctly is worthwhile and creates a situation where the good insects keep the not so good ones in check, much like the bacteria that live in our guts.

  10. hemidactylus says

    Just a few weeks ago I noticed a gorgeous spider in the morning that had made my car an anchor point for its web. I tried getting a photo but my phone camera kept focusing on the background instead, my weedy yard. I don’t know if it was a crab spider but it had a quite ornate, for lack of a better term, carapace replete with horns. It was feasting on something bug-like. Unfortunately my car was an anchor point and in leaving for work I kinda fucked up its day.

    I have noticed quite the abundance of huge lubber grasshoppers and a few toads. The Cuban brown anoles have pretty much replaced the green ones. To their credit they aren’t still bitter over the Bay of Pigs and Elian and don’t vote as a Republican bloc. To the credit of the remaining green anoles they haven’t marched with tiki torches against the Cubans. The brown anole males like to bob at me with their dewlaps as if I wanted to challenge them for their territory and females. It’s my yard and no.

  11. hemidactylus says

    Oh and the sand wasps are still digging holes in my yard, which I don’t mind because they are super cool. They are perhaps the coolest animals in my yard aside from the occasional parthenogenic gecko.

  12. asclepias says

    My parents long ago allowed our lawn to be covered with pine needles and killed off. A guy from TruGreen came by once and saw me out front, and said, “You know, all these pine needles are going to kill your lawn.” I said, “I know. That’s the idea.” We’ve got trees and flowers out front, but not much grass.

    A few years ago, we switched the back lawn (what there is of it–the majority is vegetable and flower gardens) from Kentucky bluegrass to buffalo grass. Much lower maintenance. I did some research recently into the carbon absorption potential of lawns. The consensus seems to be that there might be some, but it is massively offset by the insistence on “maintaining” the grass. A paper out of Sweden found that the carbon absorption potential increases when clippings are left on the lawn rather than thrown out or composted. Seems like that would be easy, but it’s not going to happen.

  13. eastexsteve says

    I’ve been doing this for years, I have a lot of dogs so pesticides and herbicides were never an option, besides most of the pests here in Texas are elected. My few acres are packed with native flora and fauna and the highlight of my days is walking among them. just this morning I observed a banded water snake cruising the shallows of my pond, she was magnificent, frog’s and fish might have a different opinion. Anyway, it sure beats mowing!

  14. says

    I went to college in the Willamette Valley. Grass seed capital of the country. Thousands of acres of rich soil that could grow food but are instead used to grow grass seed. And they burn the stubble every year to keep weeds out of the seed. It’s horribly wasteful and I hate it.

  15. rockwhisperer says

    Where we’ve lived in the South San Francisco Bay Area since 1986, we have a small patch of front lawn with a small flowering tree and lots of shrubs (including three jade plants that were all rooted from stems of a small potted plant we took from Husband’s grandmother’s San Francisco front porch after she died, and which are now exceedingly happy, 4-foot tall and wide shrubs). We lost several rose bushes and a mature mulberry tree to oak root fungus in the late 1980s, so I had a landscaper redo the yard and plant oak root fungus resistant plants. We lost our back lawn a few years back in a drought, and never bothered to replace it. Our housemate likes to lay out a large set of mats on the bare dirt and practice martial arts, which keeps the weeds down. According to the city, which supplies our water, we’re using much less than the average 3-person household, even in the summer.

    That house will become someone else’s problem in a couple of years, as we retire and move to the Eastern Sierra (far eastern California, in the middle of the state). There, our “landscaping” is the natural big sage plant community of that part of California. Big sage, bitterbrush, rabbit brush, pine and other evergreens, and lots of smaller flowering plants and native grasses. Right now we’re at the end of the spring flower show, which happened late this year because a really fierce winter held on so long. We’ve cleared defensible space because of wildfire, but beyond that, whatever grows is up to nature. I love it.

  16. StevoR says

    Truth! Absolutely!

    I’m also trying to create a Bush garden with ideally local but certainly native plants at my place. In my case, Acacia species incl. Acacia pycnanthas (Golden Wattle), plus A rupicola (Dagger Wattle) non-ocal but Aussie natives, A microcarpa (Manna Wattle), A vestitas (Hairy Wattle / Weeping Boree) & A menzelii (Menzel’s Wattle) which is naturally grows nearby but not inthelocal Mt Lofty Ranges / Adeklaide hills zone. I’ve also planted and now have established a number of Allocasurina verticillatas (Drooping Sheoaks), Bursaria spinosa (Christmas Bush) and Dodonea viscosa</> or Sticky HopBush too. Oh and a local Hakea – Hakea carinata that’s getting rarer due to excessive consumption of its seepods by yellow tailed black cockatoos and more. Then a soverstorye and the main local vegetation from pre- European invasion times I have as canopy species, some Eucalyptus micocarpa or Grey Box gums whilst at the other extreme planted some Juncus subsecundus (finger rush) sedge and Hop goodenia (Goodenia ovata) All in an average for the area suburban block.

    Some exotic weeds in my yard too included a Cootamundra Wattle (Acacia baileyana) that’s been pruned into a massive horizontal rather than vertical tree, some pre-existing and very tall and fast growing Pittosporum undulatum (Sweet Pittosporum) which are very weedy locally despite being Australian trees and which I’m constantly planning to but not yet taken out and a very good for attracting birds esp small ones and very frequently blooming Tecoma capensis (Cape Honeysuckle) as well as a well-established before I moved in Grevillea rosmarinifolia which again in some ways should be removed as far as local ecology goes given its tendency to hybrise with the local Lavender Grevillea ( Grevillea lavandulacea) but which I’m kinda happy to leave as it too is great for attracting small – and not so small – birds. Plus on one occasion a swarm of bees too!

    I do have some lawn areas as well for my dog and my families ones to enjoy but its smaller, less than it used to be and also I guess has its place as well albeit not a dominant one. I do have some Themeda triandra (Kangaroo grass) and a couple of other local native grass sepcies too – although not as many there on that ecological layer as I’d like with the exotic lawn species tending to overwhelm them sadly. Still like to do more and evolve it into more of local natives garden natch. It helps when you have family support too which is where I’m very lucky indeed.

  17. Silentbob says

    @ ^

    Holy fuck, Stevo! Who knew you were Harry fucking Butler?

    (Aussies only reference.)

  18. John Morales says

    Silentbob, in South Australia, the applicable legislation is section 105F of the Fire and Emergency Services Act 2005. In many rural areas, Council inspectors will see whether a property is overgrown and issue a legal notice if so. Penalties apply for non-compliance (basically, no more than 10cm of grassy stuff), and the Council will attend to it if the property owner doesn’t. At the owner’s expense, of course.

    Rodents and snakes are much more a function of rubbish in the yard as shelter and habitat than of unkept grass. Not like the venomous spiders aren’t there either way, so grass is not an issue there.

  19. fergl says

    Monty Don who presents Gardenerers world here in the UK, says re wilding lawns and other similar ideas are a load of guff.

  20. Dunc says

    @23: That would be the same Monty Don who’s caught a load amount of flak from the tabloid press for saying people should stop mowing their lawns for the benefit of wildlife? I’m having trouble finding his exact initial remarks in, but what extracts I can find certainly don’t seem to square with your description…

  21. fergl says

    Yes Dunc. Thats him. I badly paraphrased him he didn’t say what I said. He did actually say that wild gardens are fine if thats what you want but it wont then be a garden. And that those that say this is more morally correct than a well tended garden are talking puritanical nonsense.

  22. Dunc says

    fergl: he not only didn’t say what you claimed, but said almost the exact opposite of what you claimed, so you’ll forgive me if I have my doubts about the veracity of your latest interpretation.

  23. Silentbob says

    Up thread I made a joke about Harry Butler. And I was inspired by my own joke to take a trip down memory lane.

    And fuck me if this 40 year old stuff isn’t as fascinating today as it was then. Anyway since this is a biology blog I thought I’d give people a taste of old Harry. (He’s like Aussie David Attenborough except fair dinkum.)

    ‘IN THE WILD WITH HARRY BUTLER – MOUNT ISA – North West Queensland – “Scars on the Landscape” – YouTube’

  24. Alt-X says

    Great video, thanks Silentbob.

    The other thing I was going to say, that annoys me in Aus about grass, is the amounts of pure water dumped on it to keep it green. Such a waste.

  25. seversky says

    I wonder if the penchant for lawns in England had anything to do with rise if cricket as a nationals game. You certainly couldn’t play it on the wild prair-iee.

  26. says

    @6 mordred says: started to ban Schottergärten, frontyards almost completely filled with gravel and stones, often sealed below with plastic or concrete so no weeds can grow. Ecologically dead, they help heating up the cities and keep rain from sinking into the soil so increasing draught and floods…

    I reply: I agree with the problems of sealed gravel beds. However, here, in a lot of Scarizona, the gravel in the yards is not sealed below and is placed around the mostly native xeriscape plants throughout the yard. Sometimes ‘weed cloth’ is put below the gravel, but that still allows rainwater to percolate into the soil below.

  27. asclepias says

    Alt-X, 100% agreed! I mostly think about this when I walk (or rather, skirt) the soccer fields near here when the sidewalks are being watered. You’d think we could find some better use for all that water. I heard a Science Friday where they were talking about water patrols in Southern California. I think that’s a great idea!

  28. silvrhalide says

    @30 Clover lawns used to be the norm, before Fritz Haber developed both the Bosch-Haber process for fixing nitrogen and modern chemical warfare, including gas warfare for WWI.

    Once chemical fertilizer was cheap and readily available, all it took was a slick Madison Avenue ad campaign to convince Americans that they needed that golf-ready green grass lawn. Mind you, the chemical industry got big breaks from the federal government (US) because for all their protesting about chemical warfare, the US likes to keep its options open. It takes very little to convert a chemical plant that produces lawn chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) to a chemical plant that produces chemical warfare products and nitrogen-based explosives.

    Clover lawns were the norm for Victorian and Edwardian lawns. But then WWI happened and suddenly the US government needed a fig leaf of an excuse to keep their chemical warfare options open. You couldn’t just keep stockpiles of the stuff around–not only is it dangerous, but the chemicals themselves are not all that stable either, so you need to constantly be using up & producing more chemicals… the solution was the mass adoption of grass lawns, with their unending requirements for maintenance, fertilizer and pesticides.

    If people kept their clover lawns, John Deere and ChemLawn and the like would largely be out of business. (Well, John Deere would still be making farm equipment but not so many suburban lawn mowers.) Clover lawns make their own fertilizer (nitrogen fixers) and use less chemicals and water. Plus they are better for pollinating insects.

  29. wzrd1 says

    And many clover varieties are not only edible, but quite tasty. Plant some alfalfa in, the rabbits and I would be doing pitched battle for the lawn. ;)

  30. birgerjohansson says

    Living on a farm I grew up walking through clover. Yes, I seems a natural choice.

  31. antigone10 says

    @Reginald Selkirk

    The University of Minnesota provides a native blend of “bee friendly lawns” for people living in Minnesota. In that mix is clover, creeping thyme, self-heal, and fescue. Wanna know what’s fun about these lawns? Aside from the fact that they require basically no watering once they sprout, are resistant to both flooding and drought, are good for bees, smell nice, and prevent soil erosion they do NOT grow that high. So you could be the laziest person on the planet, mow your lawn about once a summer, and you’re still not attracting pest because your lawn is shorter than your non-native, invasive, mono-culture Kentucky bluegrass prima donna. No pesticides needed. No invasive plants. No contributing to poor water use.

    This is subjective, but I really like the look of a blossoming lawn better than the boring green. Green with white and purple and pink and blue and yellow is just so much more engaging.

    Each environment is going to be different. The Minnesota lawn is not appropriate for Arizona. That same gravel lawn that is causing a fuss in Germany might be excellent in Phoenix, and maybe Kentucky Bluegrass is in fact excellent in Kentucky.

  32. wzrd1 says

    I saw something odd on some sunflowers someone had planted along the sidewalk when I was heading to the pharmacy. Bees, whose abdomen was decidedly shorter than normal and basically were perhaps half to 2/3 normal length. Snapped a few lousy pictures, a couple with my multitool’s ruler at the same distance.
    At least this year, I’m actually seeing honeybees, last year they were conspicuously absent.
    But, I am still seeing dead bees on the ground far more frequently than usual.

  33. StevoR says

    @21. Silentbob :

    @ StevoR – As I’m sure you’re aware, unkempt grass in Australia means rodents, snakes, venomous spiders…

    Well, not necessarily but it can provide them with shelter. The main spiders seen outside and sometimes inside are Huntsmen* (Sparassidae ex Heteropodidae) which are harmless and welcome albiet they tend tostrave indoros so Iusuallyshift them outside and Red backs (Latrodectus hasselti) which can make you crook if they bite you though very rarely fatal -and which I don’t show any mercy to if tIsee them for that reason formyself, vistors and pets. There are other species like Mouse and Wolf spiders that are occassionally seen in the Bush but which I don’t recall encountering in my garden and if left alone with respect aren’t a problem.

    Never seen any snakes in my yards though I do get the occassional Blue Tongue lizard (Tiliqua species) and my folks neighbour once memorably found a large brown snake*** in their yard which is venomous and very deadly – and he handleds it safely I guess sinc ehe wasn’t bitten and it was removed. Don’t see these often and they tend to try and escape suenc e we aren’t their prey and they fear us as muchor more than we fear them. (Probly – survery results of snakes pending..).

    Rats and mice I do see rarely too – more so when I had cats allowed outdoors which they would bring indoors but not amajor problem aside from them dying out of sight then getting all stinky with decomposition. They too hide and not sure how many might be around since,you my dog and myself will scare them away and not really a threat.

    Does this concern you at all? Do you think it’s fair to kids to expose them to risk in the interests of ecological ideology?

    Ecological ideology? Really?

    Science I’d say and given I’m allowing quite a few exotic species to grow in my garden hardly beinga purist here.

    I do want to encourage biodiversity for ecological and educational purposes and I do love the Bush and know that yes, it needs tobe treated withrespect but not so sure that countsas ïdeology”as such? The garden is mulched and slashed and my lawn areas mowed with some grasses in tussocks so not exactly unkempt. I do try to look after it and, nah, it’s not really a problem.

    I have hjad – I kid you not -koalas visit as wellas heaps of bird life and insects whch is fascianting and enjoyable tome and Ithinkand hope many others too.

    .* See :

    .** See :

    .*** See :

  34. StevoR says

    FWIW I’m 15 mins walk away from a major national park which helps and there are, of course paths, and a retaining wall at the front of my place & around it.

    Fix for clarity : my neighbour handled the brown snake safely I guess since he wasn’t bitten despite picking it up by the tail to show us – (NOT something I’d recommend!*) and it was removed without injuries to anyone. Don’t see these snakes often – never seen one in my garden and they tend to try and escape us since we aren’t their prey so they don’t want to waste their precious venom on us and they fear us as much or more than we fear them. (Probly – survery results of snakes pending..).

    I do love the Bush and know that yes, it needs to be treated with respectful caution but not so sure that counts as “ideology” as such?

    I have had – I kid you not – Koalas visit my backyard as well as heaps of bird life and insects whch is fascinating and enjoyable to me and I think and hope many others too.

  35. StevoR says

    .* FWIW :


    Stand STILL, slowly move away if safe to do so.
    If very close keep still and let the snake move away from you, any movement within close range might cause the snake to react

    Keep CALM, give the snake a chance to slither away.
    Try not to panic if it moves, it may want to pass to escape

    Leave the snake ALONE, do not try to catch it
    Don’t throw anything, don’t hit it & don’t yell at it

    Watch the snake to see where it goes. LOOK with your eyes only!

    Wait & monitor action

    Call an EXPERT, a professional snake catcher if needed

    Please RESTRAIN pets to keep them safe

    All our wildlife deserves our RESPECT

    Source :

    Had a few encounters with seeing snakes inthe wild -never been bitten or hurt though my brother’s dog had a veryclose callonce.

    Most snake bites occur when people try to kill or catch them and most snake bites on humans are actually dry (no venom injected) or warning bites and the easetrn Brown snake esp has tiny fnags that almostcertainly won’t penetate jeans or shoes and socks from my understanding. Not a herpetologist here but still.

  36. says

    @ StevoR provided info on his Aussie environs.
    I reply: Thanks. Even though I won’t be encountering what you do, I really appreciate all the fascinating info you provided. And I agree, what you talk about is factual, not in the least ideology.. P.S. we have a real problem with snakes here in Scarizona: the abundant red-necked two legged type much more so than the legless rattlers.

  37. StevoR says

    @28. Silentbob : Cheers for the Harry Butler clip there. Butler was a bit before my time personally (& missed a lot of Steve Irwin too later on) but I do recall watching the Bushtucker man Les Hiddins* with shows like this episode, ‘Remarkable secrets of Ngukurr’ – half an hour long as well as being really into Australian explorers and inpsired by watching Bill Peachés ‘The Explorers’ show too with episodes including this one ‘The Explorers The Secret of the Rivers’ – also 30 minutes long approx which, yeah, inretrospect pretty dated & could’ve done with a lot more on the Indigenous Peoples views here but I really loved them back then.

    Do also vaguely recall some of the Leyland Brothers especially their theme / intro song too.

    .* See :