Climate-Savvy Alternatives to Lawns

Learn how communities and local environments benefit from replacing expensive-to-maintain lawns with natural meadows, rain gardens, and community gardens.

Churches, schools, businesses, municipalities, states, and other larger land­owners often possess huge swaths of unneeded and unused lawn. If home­owners can make a real difference by replacing most of the lawn on their own small properties, imagine the multiplied effect if land managers changed their status quo from large lawns to something else. We’d have less pollution, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, reduced stormwater overflow, and at the same time we’d have richer habitat, more food production, and a cooler environment.

Landowners also stand to benefit from the switch. In addition to being better stewards for their land, large landholders could save money that could be spent elsewhere. Also, if the community becomes involved in the project in some way, they could generate goodwill and positive publicity, which might influence even more homeowners and other businesses to follow suit.


Large landholders may wish to replace the majority of their expansive, uninteresting, and expensive-to-maintain lawns with community gardens, butterfly gardens, vegetable gardens, fruit orchards, rain gardens, or wildflower meadows.

Use new plantings to cool buildings and reduce energy consumption. Strategic plantings of trees and shrubs on the southern and western exposures of buildings can reduce the need for air conditioning. Plantings around air compressors produce shade that can help the machines to operate more efficiently.

Replace some lawn with rain gardens. Businesses and commercial parks looking for ways to be more efficient and to contribute to the community could use more sustainable landscape practices around their buildings. Installing rain gardens to capture their stormwater runoff before it goes into retention ponds will improve the quality of our waterways.

Churches, schools, and youth organizations could grow edibles. Think of all the good a church and its members could do by creating a community vegetable garden and/or a fruit orchard to replace some of their lawn. They could raise vegetables for their own families and share their excess harvest with the less fortunate. Many people who live in condominiums or in houses on small lots might love to have this chance to show their children where food really comes from. It’s all part of being good stewards of the earth.

Replace roadside lawns with meadows. Many municipalities and states are already working to replace mown roadsides and median strips with wildflower meadows, groups of trees away from the road, and other low-care landscapes some training will be needed to help workers manage these areas more sustainably as the need for mowing is reduced.

Include rain gardens in stormwater management. Climate change is likely to produce more intense storms with heavier rainfall. Instead of expanding stormwater systems, municipalities could remove lawns from median strips and replace them with rain gardens and bioswales by cutting the curbs to remove water from streets and, depending upon the location and need for visibility, they could plant trees, shrubs, and tough herbaceous plants to soak up the stormwater. As a bonus, there will be more trees to cool the air.

Save taxpayer money and set a good example. Local governments could set a good example for their citizens by replacing lawns around municipal buildings with other alternatives that cost less to maintain, improve the air and water quality, and help diversity the landscape.

Local governments could educate citizens to be greener. Local governments could encourage gated communities within their borders to be better citizens and revise standard requirements for flawless lawns. When new developments are suggested, local governments are in a position to encourage sustainable land use patterns, including greenways, bike paths, and less lawn. They could change outdated zoning laws to allow citizens to replace their lawns (even front lawns!) with vegetable gardens. and they could set up workshops to educate their citizens on how to remove lawns as well.

Last Thoughts

If owners and managers of large tracts of lawn were to change some of their practices, this would save money, be better for the environment, and potentially contribute substantially- in proportion to the extent of lawn being managed differently – to reducing climate change. In addition, their actions could have a great impact on the larger community; users and viewers of the new landscapes could learn from these examples and be inspired to follow suite.


More from Climate-Wise Landscaping

Excerpted from Climate-Wise Landscaping by Sue Reed and Ginny Stibolt, copyright © Sue Reed and Ginny Stibolt, 2018. Used with permission from New Society Publishers.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368