Down To Earth Tips For Eco-friendly Lawn Care

Looking for ways to be more sustainable with your lawn care or maybe even ready to swap that traditional lawn for something more environmentally friendly?! Well, there are several ways you can reduce your footprint when it comes to landscape maintenance even if you still want to keep a traditional lawn. Here are our tips and recommendations for eco-friendly lawn care, lawn alternatives, and eco-friendly landscape equipment.

Updated 8/31/2023

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Most of us probably grew up helping mow the lawn and having to run to the gas station to fill up the mower’s gas tank. We also probably grew up with a traditional green turfgrass lawn surrounded by neighbors with the exact same green low-cut lawn. Some of us probably even ran a small empire making money by mowing other people’s yards.

Even though it wasn’t always this way in history, traditional green lawns cut perfectly have been considered the gold standard for a while and even regulated by some jurisdictions. But with all that’s happening with climate change, many people are rethinking turfgrass lawns and looking for more environmentally-friendly lawn solutions.

Trained as a landscape architect and designer, I learned everything from how to create beautiful spaces using plants to how different yards and plants impact our environmental systems. And then once I became a homeowner, I realized just how much maintenance and work a yard actually demands.

That being said, I know from experience now how your yard is designed and maintained affects the environment. But don’t fret! There are ways to do more eco-friendly lawn care and work towards minimizing the footprint created by your lawn maintenance.

Why Bother with Eco-friendly Lawn Care?

Firstly, traditional lawns have their place in some landscape designs. Lawns are better than impermeable hard surfaces that increase stormwater runoff and do not soak up carbon dioxide. However, they are just a small step up for several reasons. 

  • Maintaining lawns produces more greenhouse gasses than they absorb 
  • Turfgrass lawns deprive native pollinators of habitat & food
  • Excessive amounts of water are used to keep them alive and green

You don’t have to get rid of all of your lawn as it still has benefits over impermeable surfaces. Instead, there are ways to have more eco-friendly lawn care and alternatives to traditional lawns. There are opportunities for water conservation, eco-friendly mowing techniques, and swapping for lawn alternatives where you can.

Here are our tips for improving your sustainable living lifestyle when it comes to lawn and garden care.

Tips for Eco-friendly Lawn & Garden Care

Mow Correctly

It takes a lot to keep a traditional lawn healthy and weed free. Mowing correctly has a lot to do with keeping your lawn healthy naturally. 

Don’t mow too low 

Mowing too low, or scalping, stresses the grass and can make it more prone to weeds and pests. Also, many suggest following the rule of thirds, where you only cut off one-third of the grass blade’s length. This helps the grass retain more water and be healthier.

Mow in the evening

It’s important to mow in the evening in order to reduce harmful Ozone gas from forming. Here’s what the Utah Department of Environmental Quality suggests:

Ground-level ozone is formed when the VOCs and NOcombine with sunlight. If you fill your gas tank or mow your the lawn in the morning, you put ozone-forming emissions into the air during the “prime time” for ozone to form. If you mow your lawn after 7 p.m., you give ozone-forming chemicals a chance to dissipate overnight. Once the sun starts to set, reduced daylight makes ozone formation more difficult. Evening winds can also disperse ozone and reduce pollution levels for the following morning.

Utah Department of Environmental Quality – Air Quality

Consider the type of mower you are using as well. We’d recommend switching to an electric mower to help reduce emissions even more.

Grow deep roots with tall grass

Mowing at a higher height and the grass species’ recommended height encourages deeper root systems. Deeper root systems help the grass endure heat and environmental stress as well as helps with stormwater runoff. It can also help shade out any weeds when they are germinating.

Most warm season grasses, like tall fescue, bluegrass, and ryegrass, prefer to be maintained at 3 to 4 inches in height year round. However, some others are designed to be maintained at lower heights. Know your grass type and maintain the proper height.

You can bag your clippings to redistribute, compost, or dump in a spot to decompose naturally

Don’t bag your grass clippings and leaves

It seriously amazes me how many people rake up their leaves and grass clippings just to have them collected and sent to the landfill. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA)  2018 report shows around 10.5 million tons of leaves, grass, and yard trimmings ending up in the landfill. That’s crazy! 

These grass clippings would naturally decompose if left in your lawn, but by putting them in bags and sending them to the landfill impedes them from decomposing correctly and generates methane. It also takes up massive amounts of space in landfills that are already at-capacity. If you really want to bag them, do a little research to see if the service picking them up uses them for compost or if it goes straight to the landfill. Then choose the compost option!

Or better yet do one of the following:

  • Use them in your own compost bin
  • Find a location on your property to let it naturally decompose
  • Leave the grass clipping on your lawn to help fertilize the soil & add extra carbon naturally

Lawn Alternatives to Grass

We have a rather hilly/sloped property, so we were eager to swap out our lawn and minimize having to mow it eliminate mowing entirely! If you’re ready to get rid of some of your lawn, then try these lawn alternatives.

eco-friendly lawn care - clover lawn alternative

Lawn Alternative – Clover Lawn

Clover is a great low-maintenance, eco-friendly grass alternative. We’ve swapped out areas of traditional lawn and even mixed it in with traditional lawn in several locations. Here’s a couple reasons why to choose clover over turf: 

  • Needs fewer mowings as it trains itself to a set height
  • Drought-tolerant and can remain green throughout summers and mild winters
  • Doesn’t need any fertilizer to thrive and little to no need for aeration as it actually pull nitrogen from the air
  • Has deeper roots than grass so it doesn’t wash out on slopes as easily as grass
  • Can easily combat weeds, which means no herbicide use
  • Typically has fewer pest problems than turfgrass
  • Grows well in partial shade, unlike most turfgrasses
  • Requires less water than a grass lawn
  • Attracts pollinators when it’s flowered
  • Doesn’t yellow or die from dog pee

Personally, we’ve used the White Dutch Clover and the Mini White Dutch Clover in various parts of our property. The Mini Clover fills in rapidly and stays rather short, which we love. Remember, clover likes sun or partial shade, so it might not do as well under a dense tree line.

eco-friendly lawn care - groundcover lawn alternative

Lawn Alternative – Groundcover

Another lawn alternative is to remove the “lawn” element altogether. Replace the turf with groundcover that requires no mowing and spreads along the ground. 

What groundcover works best will vary by region and where you intend to plant it. Native groundcovers are even better as they typically require less water, are tolerant of your microclimate’s changing conditions, and can thrive in the native soil.

Do an Ecosia search for your growing zone (ours is 6b) and recommended groundcovers. Make sure to consider the amount of sunlight and soil needed for whatever location you intend to plant them.

Grow Food Not Lawns

Another lawn alternative is actually growing food instead of a traditional lawn.

Since the early 2000s, there has been an international movement to “Grow Food Not Lawns” with the premise of growing crops and produce on your property, no matter the size or scale, instead of putting energy into growing grass.

We recently converted a chunk of our front yard into a productive vegetable garden. Some people argue that productive gardens take a lot of energy and money, but so do traditional lawns with reseeding, weeding, mowing, aerating, and fertilizing. Wouldn’t you rather spend money and energy on something you can actually benefit from by eating fresh produce and yummy food rather than just a green lawn?!

Make sure to check out your local codes and homeowner’s association (HOA) to ensure there are no restrictions on growing produce or agriculture in your yard, especially front yards. Check out our front yard food garden and further tips on planning and designed a terraced vegetable garden.

Guess what?! We have all of the options above! We have areas with lawn, areas of clover lawn, areas of groundcover, and a vegetable garden. It’s a balance of finding what works best for your property and trying to choose an eco-friendly option and strategy moving forward. 

Additional Eco-friendly Lawn & Garden Care

Choose Electric Tools Over Gas-Power

The EPA estimates gas-powered mowers emit 11 times more air pollution than a new car for every hour of operation and that 17 million gallons of gas are spilled refueling lawn equipment each year. California Air Resources Board did a study showing one gas-powered leaf blower used for 1 hour equaled the same emission output as a standard-sized car driving 1,100 miles from Los Angeles to Denver. These are significant reasons to switch from gas-powered landscaping equipment to electric-powered tools.

There are a lot of electric options out there both corded and/or battery-powered. Some are more expensive than others. Personally, we’ve loved all the Ryobi products that you can simply pick up at your local home and gardening store (Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc.) Make sure to get a self-propelled electric mower. It costs more, but from personal experience, pushing a mower without assistance can SUCK, especially with a hilly yard!

Check out the resource list at the end for links to all of our recommended electric lawn and garden equipment.

Harvest & Collect Rainwater

The EPA’s WaterSense program estimates that the average American family uses 320 gallons of water daily. 30% of that is used outdoors and up to 50% of the water used for irrigation is lost to wind, evaporation and runoff. That is a lot of wasted water that you and the environment are paying for. So why not harvest and collect water for FREE rather than running up your water bill?! 

Rain barrels are a way to help conserve irrigation water by collecting water from your roof and downspouts to store in a container until you are ready to use it on your lawn and garden. You can buy a pre-made rain barrel product or, if you’re like us, DIY a rain barrel system and start conserving water and saving money!

Don’t see a rain barrel in your future? Try these other options.

  • Use drip irrigation in your garden or planting beds – it’s more efficient in delivering water to your plants with minimal loss due to evaporation, wind, and runoff.
  • Plant native plants – natives are used to your specific climate and soil. Additionally, they typically have deeper root systems, thrive without fertilizer, require less water, help with erosion and stormwater runoff, and increase biodiversity.

Making your lawn and garden care more eco-friendly doesn’t have to happen all at once or even in the same year! Ours has happened slowly over several years. But the goal is to make more environmentally-friendly choices by minimizing traditional lawns, choosing lawn alternatives, or even simply opting for electric landscape tools over gas-powered.

So lawn like Mother Nature is watching you and try a more eco-friendly approach to lawn care and gardening!

Eco-friendly Lawn & Garden Equipment List

When it comes to electric powered equipment always get the larger battery! We recommend this as a 20v battery will stall out with tall grass. If we let our lawn get really really tall, even our 40v will stall, but so would many gas powered mowers. Also, we recommend getting the larger Amp/Hour for electric mowers and leaf blowers (5+ amps). It’s worth a little extra to have the battery last long enough to complete your yard work.

Equipment/BrandNotesHome DepotAmazon
Electric MowerLike suggested before, opt for the self-propelled mower and your body will thank you later!
Ego PowerMore expensive, but well-rated and long-lastingN/Aself-propelled or push mower
RyobiMid-level and our preferredself-propelled or push mowerself-propelled or push mower
Electric Weed Wacker (String Trimmer)If you buy a split shaft, you can add extra accessories like a brush cutter or hedge trimmer. If you’ll never use those, save some money and get the single shaft.
Ego PowerMore expensive, but well-rated and long-lastingN/Ashop here
RyobiMid-level and our preferredshop hereshop here
Electric Leaf BlowerGet something with high cubic feet/minute (CFM) to make sure you can actually move those leaves!
Ego PowerMore expensive, but well-rated and long-lastingN/Ashop here
RyobiMid-level and our preferredshop hereshop here
Rake or Dethatcher
RakeCheaper, but it works. Opt for metal tines instead of hereshop here
DethatcherCan be expensive, but usefulshop hereshop here

Other Eco-friendly & Electric Landscaping Equipment

Hope these tips and recommendations help you move towards more eco-friendly lawn care and outdoor home maintenance! Let us know in the comments below how you’ve made changes to lawn care and if you’ve tried any lawn alternatives.

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I’ve linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust. There is no additional cost to you.

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