The challenge of keeping grass green, thick and healthy leads some folks to re-landscape with smaller lawns, filling in the rest of the area with plants or perhaps rocks, paths and shredded bark. That not only makes a yard more diverse and beautiful but it's also better for the environment.
Smaller lawns have long been promoted by the Master Gardeners, a group of gardening enthusiasts trained through the University of California who then help educate others, said Master Gardener Dianne Tinnes of Alamo.
She cited two reasons:
* To relieve the use of water; and
* To reduce the amount of fertilizer that goes into the water system.
Lush lawns require fertilizers, herbicides and much more water than falls naturally in the Tri-Valley summertimes.
Tinnes said she has noted a trend toward smaller lawns, especially in front yards.
"The trend has been for smaller lawn areas, and some people have decided to remove their lawn altogether and are putting in perennials and drought-tolerant ground covers," said Aires Souto, owner of Western Garden Nursery in Pleasanton. "We've sold sod, mostly for replacing it, but some are making it smaller."
Residents should get rid of their lawns altogether, according to StopWaste.Org, the Alameda County Waste Management Authority and the Alameda County Source Reduction and Recycling Board operating as one public agency. It is holding a Lose Your Lawn workshop May 21 at Western Garden as part of its new educational program, Lose Your Lawn the Bay-Friendly Way.
StopWaste.Org defines "Bay-friendly" as a holistic approach to landscaping that harmonizes with the natural conditions of the San Francisco Bay Watershed. In other words, conserving water and preventing pollution from pesticides and other chemicals.
Rather than pulling out old lawns and disposing of them, the agency suggests "sheet mulching" to build healthy soil and plants. Cover the dying grass with layers of cardboard or newspaper, cover that with mulch, then replant the area with shrubbery or drought-tolerant material. This method is also ideal for preventing weeds. Detailed instructions are available at LoseYourLawn.org, or interested people can attend the workshop at Western Garden Nursery, 2756 Vineyard Ave.
Several books have been written on the love of Americans for their lawns, including "History of an American Obsession" by Virginia Scott Jenkins and "American Green" by Ted Steinberg.
"Grass by itself can indeed prevent soil erosion and stormwater run-off but the quest for perfect turf is another story altogether," wrote Steinberg.
Homeowners spend about $40 billion a year on improving and maintaining their lawns, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's national home and garden survey.
Small lawns also eliminate the need for power mowers, which contribute to air pollution as well as noise pollution.
"Mowing lawns uses hundreds of millions of gallons of gas yearly and puts out 5 percent of U.S. total air pollutants," wrote J. William Thompson and Kim Sorvig in their book, "Sustainable Landscape Construction: A Guide to Green Building Outdoors." "Gas mower noise reaches 90 decibels, beyond levels known to cause hearing damage."
Small lawns can be managed with a push mower and a rake for that old-fashioned sound of churning blades -- the aroma of fresh-mowed grass remains the same.