Painting lawns in Arizona


Didja see the article in the NY Times (and yes, it counts toward your free 20/month if you're not a subscriber) about the important, crazy-making subject of lawns in the desert?

Homeowners’ associations in this arid region typically have rules requiring residents to maintain either desert landscaping or green grass, with brown lawns not an option.

So what's happening with increasing frequency is that people are spray-painting their lawns green in order to avoid HOA fines. 

Lawn paint lasts about three months before turning an odd shade of blue and costs only a couple of hundred dollars for a modest lawn, although the grass still needs to be watered so that it will not die out entirely.

I'll go out on a limb here and predict that Rant readers HATE this, just like I do.  But for me there's some great news embedded in the article – that politicians are being forced to talk about their lawns!

But [a candidate for local office] had to sheepishly acknowledge that he had grass. “Unfortunately, like many of our central Phoenix neighbors, we have a green lawn which consumes more water than xeriscape,” he told the paper.


  1. Haha, I read about this. Apparently it looks so realistic that neighbors didn’t notice it was painted for a long time. While I find it aesthetically abhorrent, I can’t criticize it too much–besides drawing attention to the issue of lawns, it is conserving water in an area that should be using less water. People are living in places where natural (unirrigated) water resources can’t support them. I am curious though–does the lawn completely die back, or when it rains, does grass grow up between the painted grass? Also, what kind of paint is he using, and is it harmful to the soil?

  2. I have all the same questions as Anne.

    But as someone who let’s their lawn go dormant in the summer – I’m sure my neighbors would like it if I did this!!

  3. I think having a lawn in Arizona should be a criminal offense but I guess a dyed lawn is better than watering. It seems silly when a naturally landscaped Arizona yard seems like it would be pretty cool.

  4. Here in the high desert of northern Colorado, I am so tired of our HOA rules regarding lawns that I could just spit. We are not even permitted to have desert landscaping; it has to be “natural” turf. This, despite the fact that the lawns have no practical value, whatsoever.

    Frankly, if our HOA admitted spray painting the lawn as an acceptable alternative to throwing barrels and barrels of water away, I would consider it. We might be headed into another year of drought, which is one way the earth reminds us that green grass is not meant to grow in this region. Allowing painted grass — forcing HOAs to admit that green turf is unnatural here — might put us one step closer to water-wise gardening. Bring it.

  5. Turf paint seems like a petty thing to get upset about. Yes, I realize the root issue is that of “lawns”. Big, bad patches of grass. Whatever you think of turf grass, there is no question that my healthy stand of ‘mixed greens’, ‘goat salad’, or even manicured golf course fairway will keep the silt, cow poop, and parking lot run-off out of OUR water.

    By the way, I’ve used turf paint on athletic turf with mixed results. The hype is greater than the end result. And it’s available in green AND blue!

  6. Dear Phoenix: PLEASE rip out those damn lawns! Albuquerque is BEAUTIFUL and you hardly ever see a POSTAGE STAMP of lawn in that town! Honestly, lawns don’t even look good in the desert.

  7. I wanted to see a photo of a painted lawn in this article! And especially one where the paint has turned blue. Sounds whacky!

  8. it is incredibly hard out here in the West – I’m in CO. It’s easy to be sitting on 28 inches of precip a year and say you should rip out your lawn. But what if you want to do the right thing but have little to spend on your ‘lawn.’ What do you do? You certainly can’t switch over to buffalo or gamma grass for a few hundred bucks. Or you can’t switch to xeric perennials for whole lawn for a few hundred bucks. Its a huge investment in the short-term to avoid spending big money on water in the long-term. Hard stuff here at 14 inches of annual precip.

  9. dirtchick, excellent points! It’s so much easier to be horrified than to come up with solutions that are as cheap to install as lawn.
    And you sent me looking for annual-rainfall-by-state charts, where I found out that in Maryland my garden gets 41 inches a year – as opposed to AZ, NV and NM with 7-8. Wow.

  10. A lawn full of pink flamingos could go a long way in the desert. Or, a zen rock garden: the ultimate kitty litter box!

  11. My grandparents lived in Tucson in a complex that painted the putting area green every winter. As ridiculous as it sounds, maybe it’s better than watering.

  12. Dirtchick, what is “the right thing”? Keeping your lawn green, or being water-wise? If you belong to a HOA, ask them to research water issues in the West and find rules that accord with water resources in your area.

  13. Spray paint on grass is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever heard of. I’m in Colorado, do not have much money and have gotten rid of most of the lawn. The very small portion that’s left is a native grass/dandelion/whatever “lawn” that gets no water but looks presentable. It can take a lot of time and effort to change from a lawn, it has taken me years, but it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money (seeds are cheap, natives and pass-a-long plants . . . iris, daylily, sedum, blue mist spirea, to name a few, and most herbs and plants from the mint family love it here–and they’ll all do okay with much less water than a lawn). And they are more interesting and provide food for honeybees and other life.

  14. Anne, getting an HOA to get off its butt is a trip in itself. If they don’t “hafta” they ain’t “gonna”. But maybe you’d have better luck with our HOA 😉

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