The answer is both. While lawns do have tremendous environmental benefits, they can also waste or pollute precious environmental resources, if the lawn owner is not aware or careful. The key is to find the right balance between lawn and landscaping, and to use the resources you have wisely. Here are some steps to get you started.
First, try not to grow a lawn in areas where it will struggle. Most grasses prefer full sunlight and flat surfaces. If you are trying to grow grass in the shade of a tree or on the slope of a hill, make sure you find the right grass species or you will put more time, energy, and resources into maintaining those areas.
Second, decide how much lawn area you really need. Do you have a dog that needs a wide expanse of lawn to exercise in? Or kids that will feel cooped up in a yard that is too small for a soccer game? Those are good reasons to keep your lawn area big. But if you have a large lawn and never use it, then you are wasting valuable resources that could be put to better use. Don’t avoid the problem just because you inherited a big yard and don’t know what to do with it. You can start out small in your landscaping, and gradually make your lawn space smaller.
Third, start planning your landscaping based on water use and preferred conditions. The opportunities for landscaping are endless—why would you want to stick with just a boring lawn? Why not use part of the lawn area for a vegetable garden? You can always plant some native wildflower seeds to reduce your water use and soften the corners of your backyard. There are a multitude of other groundcovers that you can plant under shady trees. And the plain fact is that your lawn will look better than ever once it is framed by some beautiful landscaping. If possible, consult a professional landscaper for ideas and know-how. Be creative and have fun with it!
Last, try to incorporate more organic methods into your lawn care. Most chemical products applied to lawns have the benefit of producing fast results, but they often have the downside of leaving harmful byproducts in the soil and groundwater. Help your lawn to become more self-sustaining. Grass-cycling, for example, will reduce a grass seed lawn’s fertilizer needs by 25%. Try an organic fertilizer, or begin a compost pile so that you can create your own fertilizer. Pull weeds early on, instead of using an herbicide to control them. Use corn gluten as a natural preemergence herbicide. And if you do use synthetic products, make sure that you apply the correct amounts as instructed. Doing all of these things will help keep your lawn and the planet healthy.