Must We Mow?


My neighbors say nothing about the hip-high fleabane in our yard because they can’t see it. The gravel driveway dips from the road, and the shagbark hickories and brambles that surround our house help to camouflage the oasis of wildflowers that the family next door might consider unsightly weeds.

My husband, son and I live on several acres in a rural subdivision. Unlike our neighbors’ lots, our property is mostly wooded. I prefer the meadow look to a well-manicured lawn. But every two weeks, I break out the push mower and cut the strip of grass along the road as a courtesy to my neighbors, many of who mow their two- and three-acre lots half a dozen times in the same period.

I love my neighbors. We are simply conscientious in different ways. They are dutiful to a suburbanized aesthetic; I am ruled by frugality. I let the grassy areas grow wild not only because I love the look of clover and chicory, but also because I loathe the purchase of fuel and oil required to power our mower. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans use 580 million gallons of gasoline per year in lawn mowers alone. That doesn’t include fuel consumed by commercial and residential lawn care services.

As a fiscal conservative, I was happy to hear that the Commonwealth of Kentucky is like-minded when it comes to cutting grass. In May, the Finance and Administration Cabinet announced it will save $80,000 by reducing the amount of mowing that takes place around four state government buildings this summer. Mowing will be reduced in acreage and by frequency on the grounds of the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives building, the Central Laboratory Facility, Berry Mansion and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services complex. The areas near buildings, parking lots and sidewalks will still be mowed weekly, but other areas will only be mowed seasonally.

This is not only a savings of taxpayer dollars, it’s also a reduction in our carbon footprint. And because the taller grass absorbs more carbon dioxide, it will create a more environmentally friendly habitat.

Could every state in the country follow this lead? Imagine the tax money saved for a single summer—I estimate at least $4 million.

Could we all park our mowers a little longer? Could we forget those edgers and weed eaters for a season, and for once welcome the goldenrod and crown vetch? That’s an appealing idea: keeping the green in our pockets as well as our yards.

In fact, I hope Kentucky will start a trend, beginning in Frankfort and spreading to every lawn across the nation. I dream of meadows. I dream of leaving that stretch of grass growing by the road. I can picture the wildflowers abloom there, and I can almost see my neighbors smiling at the change.

Bobbi Buchanan

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  1. Here, here! I love wildflower vistas (in spite of my pollen allergies). This article brings to mind a time ten years ago when my 85-year-old mother became the “poster child” for United Way in Tampa, as a direct result of being cited for her “overgrown” backyard (and needing assistance to “correct” the “problem”). Mother was intentionally creating a natural habitat for birds and other creatures, but her suburban neighbors, separated by only chain-link fencing, did not approve. St. Augustine grass with a military-style buzz cut was the preferred look. I found it interesting that some of the same neighbors who wanted “letter of the law” grass length apparently had no problem flaunting the local watering restrictions in order to keep the over-cut grass green on their side of the fence. Appearance over environment apparently was the value system ranking in that neighborhood. I’m glad Kentucky is taking a more environmentally and fiscally responsible approach.

  2. Oh boy. This has been my hot button issue for 5 years since I bought a seven acre rural home…my neighbors mow EVERY day. Every day, like a sport. Or an addiction. I’ve gotten used to it, but it has become the sad summer hum even though I’ve left the city…every evening is punctuated with mower tunes. Albeit 3 acres separate us, but still. I have tried to go native, tried cutting paths, the lawn guys look at me like I’m nuts and actually want to charge MORE because I suppose there is more thought that goes into minding a path instead of just crisscrossing.

    I’ve contemplated goats, sheep, cattle—all seems like more of an investment so I just cave each summer and hire the mow, blow and go guys.

    I don’t know what to do, but I have left part of it un cut—and yes, the wildflowers and medicinal herbs popping up are remarkable. One boon I did do this year is that I filled at 70,000 gallon 1961 swimming pool with dirt and it is now a garden (that mainly feed the deer, but whatever). Baby steps!

  3. I wish I could be your neighbor in KY ’cause I’d let my yard grow as much as it would let me, and still look reasonable, too. Unfortunately, I live in a neighborhood in big ol’ Oklahoma City. If I let my front yard get straggly too long with tall weeds (the almost alien-like ones; Unfortunately I don’t have any wildflowers trying to sprout out of my yard) the police give me a “warning” and a deadline to mow it before they send out a crew to mow it for me and charge me a fine of $200. Yeah. Excessive concern for appearances, don’t you think?

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