Call to Action: Help Write White Paper about Mandates on Mowing


by Susan
It’s easy to gripe about city laws and community association rules that require homeowners to grow only turfgrass and keep it mowed, and we’ve seen recently in Toronto where this out-dated craziness can lead.  I recently posted about Project Laundry List, a savvy nonprofit trying to overturn similar restrictions on the drying of laundry outdoors.  Turns out they’re having productive contacts with the Community Association Institute and actually have a teleconference scheduled with them this coming week to suggest how  associations can become more progressive environmentally.  (There are 300,000 of them and they govern 60 million Americans, ya know.)  Sounds like a great opportunity to raise the whole lawn issue with them, right?

Exactly.  And Project Laundry List has asked us to give them our best concise "white paper" outlining the case for repeal of the turf+mowing laws.  By Monday!  So let’s give it our best shot.  Help me flesh out these points and tell me what other points should be added.  You can respond via comment or by emailing me directly – [email protected]

  • Water conservation – source?
  • Provision for wildlife – source?
  • Reduction in water pollution from chemical lawn fertilizers – source?
  • Air pollution caused by gas-powered mowers – source?
  • What else?

Any ideas about how community can still be protected from real hazards that can sometimes appear on totally unkempt properties?


  1. One of my favorite reasons for removing some of the lawn in favor of a garden, especially using some native plants, is that it gives your neighborhood a regional look. So much of our country is homogenized now that a little regional variety in people’s front yards is a good thing. But if all you do is plant a lawn, an evergreen foundation hedge, and a shade tree, your yard could be Anywhere, USA.

  2. Two book resources to address your questions are: Redesigning the American Lawn by Bormann, Balmori and Geballe and Noah’s Garden by Sara Stein.

    Please post about the progress of the project.

  3. P.S.
    In the Bormann et al. book, go directly to page 141 for a matrix titled “Theoretical responses to landscape alternatives.” The matrix compares the industrial lawn, the “freedom lawn,” and the meadow in terms of management (incl. mowing), ecosystem, hydrology, and social costs.

  4. Susan, this is fantastic. The good news is that a lot of cities and states already have “model” ordinances that HOAs can follow. All they need to do is contact their local, regional, or state water authority or environmental agency, and I think they’ll get all the help they need. (Unfortunately, HOAs act in a quasi-governmental fashion while forgetting that we already have perfectly good government agencies that have solved some of these problems and have solutions at the ready that they will provide for free.)

    Having said, that, some resources and examples:

    Definitely point them to for an education on pesticides and fertilizers.

    Require use of integrated pest management techniques for landscape contractors and any indoor pest control. and

    Definitely advocate for allowing lawn to go brown during dry seasons, and for the planting of alternative ground covers (no requirement for grass lawns)

    Allow homeowners to plant gardens that support wildlife:

    Many state environmental departments publish guides to outdoor landscaping that makes sense for that state’s environment. (There is no one-size-fits-all approach.) Here’s one for Florida:

    Here’s a program in Arizona that is specifically geared toward educating homeowners associations:

    Here’s one for Vegas:

    I would certainly contact the US Green Building Council, which covers all aspects of green construction, including landscaping:

    Also, these same local and state groups will have suggestions appropriate to their local area about what restrictions make sense. For instance, Southern CA will have different rules re: tall dry grass/fire hazard than areas that get summer rain.

    EPA WaterSense program:

  5. What happened recently in Toronto shows that revisions of weed laws can be superseded by those not understanding or simply finding the look of a natural style untidy or ugly.
    To work these new ordinaces should provide that real specific hazard must be proven, not alleged, in a court of law by the persons making the complaint.
    When exemtions are mandated officers should be trained in recognizing what has been exempted.

    The larger government bodies are beginning to recognize the benefits of a different style of landscape so there will be less support in court for those against the relaxing of weed ordinances.
    Between water pollution and storm water run-off problems in urban areas and the disappearing pollinators showcasing an ever decreasing habitat along with evidence of health benefits to all involved hopefully an individual agenda may no longer prevail.

  6. Don’t forget those of us who like to do edible landscaping in our front yards. There have been a lot of recent cases of people being harrassed because they prefer to have edible landscaping in front rather than a yard. As Rosalind Creasy says in the introduction to “The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques”, some of the best agricultural land in the world has been taken out of production because of the housing boom in California. Growing food on one’s property is a way to stop wasting that precious productive land. This dovetails with the Slow Food movement because you can hardly get more environmentally correct than growing your food WHERE you consume it. No smog-producing trucking, airplanes or trains needed to get it to you.

    Anecdotally, I have many more interactions with my neighbors in my alienated little ghetto neighborhood since I transformed my front yard into a landscape with native grasses, wildflowers and stealth edibles. Nearly every time I’m in it, some passerby compliments me on it. I had lived in this neighborhood for years without meeting folks and the front garden now breaks the ice for me.

  7. Not sure if this is a plus or a minus, but enforcement of the litter laws would have to stepped up. “Weeds” seem to invite people to dump their garbage. My “lawn” is rather weedy and not mown regularly if I get busy. I’m constantly finding food wrappers and soda cans in my front yard. None of the other houses in my neighborhood with their pristine lawns have litter on them, so it leads me to believe that any lot that appears to be uncared-for is treated like a dump by passers-by.

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