How Much Do Americans Love Their Lawns?

Background

In the United States, lawns are the most grown crop – and it’s not even edible. Their primary purpose is to make the property look great and make the owner feel good about themselves. While urban gardeners are planning their container gardens, most of the homeowners in the suburbs are thinking about their lawns.

The goal of having a lawn attached to your home is to keep it green with no weeds. So this means there’s maintenance involved – they must be watered, mowed, and cultivated. Lawns are also expensive, but they are an essential aspect of homeownership for Americans, especially for those who live in the suburbs.

Why Do Americans Love Their Lawns?

Having a perfectly manicured lawn is a homeownership goal unique to American culture. Mowing the lawn is a regular part of their chore lists, and even though most don’t enjoy doing it, they just do it to keep up their front lawn’s appearance. Why do Americans care so much about these rather boring and unexciting grasses? The truth is, there’s a psychological and social reason behind it.

To understand why Americans love lawns, let’s first take a look at the proof of their love for turf grasses. A study published in the journal Environmental Management found that more than 40 million acres of land in the continental US are made of turf grasses (lawns, athletic fields, golf courses, parks, etc.). It’s 2% of the land and takes up three times as much space as irrigated corn. [1]

In some states, a significant chunk of land is covered in turf grass. According to a 2005 NASA estimate derived from satellite imaging, Connecticut and Rhode Island are 20 percent grass, and Delaware is 10 percent lawn. More than 20 percent of the total land area of New Jersey and Massachusetts is covered in grass. [2]

Also, Americans spend about $30 billion on lawn care each year – these expenses consist of water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Lawns are actually the single largest irrigated crop in the entire country. [1]

The idea of nurturing a grass turf at the entrance of private residences was born in the castles of English and French aristocrats in the late Middle Ages. Historically, lawns were a status symbol, and if one can maintain these opulent displays, it means they have considerable wealth to muster the resources needed for it.

In modern times, lawns are not just found on the estates of the ultra-rich – it has become a common sight in the front yards of the middle class. Across America, millions of households proudly present their grass that’s carefully weeded, watered, fertilized, and mowed. The lawns in front of houses are small-scale representations of the stately grounds that spawned the idea centuries ago.

In this context, it’s easy to see why a green, well-manicured lawn is connected to the ideas of stability and success. The state of their lawn is essential in terms of status within the community and neighborhood. Having a healthy and neatly-mowed lawn helps Americans to convince others they are doing well and have it all together. A 2013 survey supports this idea, wherein homeowners surveyed revealed that having an attractive lawn reflected positively on them. [3]

Lawns connect neighbors and are seen as an indicator of socio-economic character, translating to property and resale values. They are a physical manifestation of the American dream when it comes to home ownership. It shows that you have the money and the time to invest in mundane things like grass.

Having a properly maintained lawn also reflects good character as a neighbor. Most homeowner associations have rules and regulations, even on how often a lawn must be maintained. So, there goes another motivation to take care of the lawn – fines can be levied if it’s not properly maintained.

However, lawn maintenance is still primarily an exercise in wealth. Lawn grass isn’t easy to grow and keep green – not now, not ever. Back then, when lawns were patchy and failed to grow, homeowners were advised to rip them up and start over.

The rise in economic opportunities meant that homeowners who would like a green carpet of grass in their yard could hire someone to take care of it, which is another indicator of success. Their free time would not be consumed by the maintenance work needed for the lawn. Instead, they can invest money in hiring someone to do the work and provide the resources needed to keep the lawn green and healthy. Also, a lot of people employ landscapers who can provide weekly or monthly maintenance work so that they won’t need to spend their time on mundane tasks like cutting or mowing their grass and edging their lawns. People also use sprinkler systems to help keep the grass watered, and there are wide varieties of chemicals that keep weeds at bay. [4]

History of the Americans’ Obsession with the Lawn

What Brought the Lawn to America

What Brought the Lawn to America

Lawns are a recent development in human history in terms of altering our environment. In America, the landscape that greeted European colonists was already changed by Native Americans for fishing and hunting. These first colonists found no green pasture as they were not native to the eastern seaboard.

In New England, grasses had a lower nutritional value than those in northwest Europe. Livestock were not picky when it was time to eat, and as European sheep, cattle, and goats spread throughout the east coast, these native grasses ran out. Once these grasses are gone, animals die.

This created a landscape that wasn’t conducive to raising cattle, which was a major concern for survival then. In the 17th century, settlers requested grass and clover seeds as part of their supply lists. But the ships brought more than good grasses – the dump site for ships introduced weeds from bedding, manure, and fodder. By 1672, many species of European weeds had taken up residence in Massachusetts Bay.

Foreign grasses quickly spread across North America. Bermuda grass and Guinea grass from Africa spread throughout the south. Kentucky bluegrass from Europe and the Middle East spread throughout the Midwest and the Appalachian Mountains. The grasses that originated in the Mediterranean took root in the west as Spanish soldiers and missionaries settled there.

Having a variety of grasses meant that by the 18th century, American farmers had a selection of naturalized grasses to choose from. But as animals overgrazed pastures, the fields were consumed with bushes and briars. The market was open for grass seed once again, and in Philadelphia, farmers opened several seed houses and nurseries.

By the 19th century, the grass was considered an agricultural crop and was made available for residential purposes. But given the priorities of American colonists, it’s not a coincidence that front lawns were uncommon before the Civil War. If they exist, it’s often a landscaping experiment by the wealthy.

Between the American Revolution to 1820, European styles remained as a cultural import and as an established proof of success. Americans copied the design aesthetics from landscape paintings and literature, and it’s why most homes featured a small flower garden in front and an enclosed yard at the back.

In the 18th century, green, expansive outdoor spaces began to appear in landscaping in England and France. Thomas Jefferson was among the few to see these changes firsthand and was greatly impressed by these large swaths of closely mown grass that were common to English country estates. Jefferson tried to emulate this style at Monticello.

George Washington hired English landscape gardeners to achieve a similar English garden look. Washington and Mount Vernon’s popularity helped spread the idea of a lawn, as the images of Mount Vernon were distributed throughout the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries, giving wealthy Americans some inspiration to copy and aspire to. Coming from a strong leader like Washington, the idea of having a lawn lent credence to the perception that it was what was typical and unique to America.

In the early days of the American colony, those who have lawns are only those who could afford help in maintaining it. For this reason, the middle class did not adopt lawns until well after the Civil War.

After the Civil War and towards the end of the 19th century, the Northern states became more prosperous. Factory owners and railroad tycoons saw their investments and businesses grow, and they pursued material symbols to signify their prosperity. The front lawn became an exhibit. Also, gardening advice has become a part of regular newspapers, with sections featuring lawn care and flower cultivation to boost circulation. The awareness about lawns and their significance was integrated into Americans’ everyday lives.

During the mid-19th century, most American houses were built close to the street with a small closed garden in the back of the house. This reflected the emphasis on privacy, which has been handed down from European residential design. [4]

The Birth of the American Lawn

The transition to a more public placement of lawns is tied to three significant developments in the rise of the American suburbs: the public park movement pioneered by Frederick Law Olmsted, the adoption of automobiles, and the increase in long-distance travel via trains. [4]

Frederick Law Olmsted, known as the father of the American lawn, was the landscape architect of more than two dozen popular communal green spaces, such as New York’s Central Park, Chicago’s Washington Park, New Jersey’s Llewellyn Park, and more. His creations had to have “Park” in the name. In 1868, Olmsted received a commission to design one of America’s first planned suburban communities in the Chicago area. Each house was set 30 feet back from the street. And unlike homes in England, which were separated by high walls, Olmsted’s yards were connected and open to give the impression of one manicured lawn. It gives the impression that the lawn is accessible to everyone. Because the line is blurred, lawns seem to unify and define the American landscape. [5]

In addition, the rise of automobiles and trains in the 1920s pressured homeowners to make the front of their homes beautiful for the sake of the passersby. Houses were intentionally built to face the rail line to enhance the scenery for train travelers. [4]

The Invention of the Lawn Mower

The Invention of the Lawn Mower

The idyllic lawn started by Olmsted had to be perfectly manicured. It’s like a piece of the “park” a homeowner keeps to himself, and it’s the homeowner’s contribution to the suburban landscape. Because of that, homeowners needed to have mowers, prompting the invention of lawn mowers. In 1830, Englishman Edwin Bear Budding created a series of blades around a cylinder and earned the first patent for a mechanical lawn mower.

After forty years, Elwood McGuire, a machinist from Indiana, became the first to design a lightweight push mower. His invention became the official mower of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and helped Indiana become the lawn mower capital of the world. Later on, more innovators and entrepreneurs helped transition to power reels, then to power rotary mowers.

The power rotary mower was invented in 1935 by a Missouri mechanic named Leonard Goodall. It made it easier to maintain lawns. Reel-type mowers could cut greens down to one inch, but their blades always need to be sharpened, and they cannot cut high grass. Goodall’s rotary power mower was a solution to that problem.

The power rotary mower became popular and drove massive growth in the industry. According to The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession by Virginia Jenkins, the production of power mowers increased from less than 35,000 before World War II to 362,000 in 1947. It even increased to 1.2 million by 1951. [5]

Rise of Suburbia in Post-WWII America

After World War II, the federal government financed low-cost mortgages, which helped builders create blue-collar tract housing. These dwellings often featured lawns to mimic upper middle-class suburban developments and attract residents. [4]

With the rise of suburbia, the perfect lawn became a symbol of the American dream. The piece of land with healthy, green, and well-manicured grass expressed the ideal that with hard work, sacrifice, and a little help from the government – home ownership can be within reach for every American.

By contrast, Europe’s lawns had expressed values of power and elitism. In some medieval castles, the tall grass must be hand-cut by scythes to see approaching enemies. The fields owned by livestock farmers must be cut down to grazeable heights. The turf needed for the wealthy’s sporting endeavors like tennis, golf, and lawn bowling must be neatly trimmed. [5]

While the early American suburbs had adopted some of these values, a less elitist view of the lawn was developed in the mid-20th century.

G.I. Bill and Home Ownership

G.I. Bill and Home Ownership

In 1944, President Franklin signed the G.I. Bill, or the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, to offer educational and home loan benefits for millions of veterans returning from World War II. The Department of Veteran Affairs states that the program supported 2.4 million low-interest home loans for veterans from 1940 to 1952. Because of that, homeownership rates rose from 44 percent in 1940 to about 62 percent in 1960. [5]

A nice, green, manicured lawn became a physical manifestation of that dream. It’s the first thing that a visitor sees, and first impressions last.

The Obsession with Golf and Lawns

The Obsession with Golf and Lawns

As the American culture grew obsessed with golf in the 50s, having the perfect lawn in your own home arose to become an icon of the American dream. It’s right there with having a great job, a nice house, happy children, and plenty of money.

In 1966, when CBS aired the Masters’ Golf Tournament in color for the first time, television viewers could see the perfectly manicured, vividly green color of the Augusta National Golf Club. The beautiful Bermuda grass on the golf course was proof of the improvements in turf management. Virtually everywhere, golf courses showcase magnificent turf in every season of the year. Having seen that it’s possible, millions of homeowners were compelled to do the same.

However, the way that the beautiful lawn signified the American dream was also an emblem of racism and systemic inequality that marked American society. Mortgage lenders, real estate agents, and discriminatory federal housing policies limited black people from owning a house. White Americans could move to the suburbs, while African Americans could not. Most times, real estate agents sold houses only to white home buyers. [5]

Lawns in the 21st Century 

For generations, the neat, green, and weed-less carpet of grass that is the lawn dominated American yards. And it still seems to be in recent years. Though there is a recent shift in gardening involving a variety of plants, and the change to eco-friendlier yards, having a clean and green lawn is still the mainstream choice. It’s not disappearing soon.

Numerous homeowner associations still have rules about keeping lawns manicured, and lawn services are still focused on keeping up grassy pieces of land. Also, people still want neat outdoor spaces perfect for playing, relaxing, and entertaining. [6]

Americans and Their Love for Lawns in Numbers

America is unique with its cultural fixation on the monoculture lawn. According to the EPA, nine billion gallons of water are being soaked every day on lawns. Modern water supply pumps pristine water hundreds of miles, passing through state-of-the-art filtration systems, and treated with chemicals – only to be dumped on the ground when it’s used to water the lawns. The USDA estimates that lawns account for around half of homeowner water use. The Americans are also reported to use 80 million pounds of pesticides and fertilizers on their lawns yearly.

Also, the average American spends around 70 hours a year caring for lawns and gardens, according to the American Time Use Survey. Considering this is an average figure, the number of people who have a lawn and mow it regularly spends more time on the turf than that.

For some people, lawns are something to take pride in, so any work done in maintaining it is time well-spent. And if a family uses the lawn every time, it’s a worthwhile investment.

But for many Americans, mowing the lawn is nothing more than a chore – a least liked one at that. According to a CBS news poll in 2011, 1 in 5 Americans consider mowing the lawn as their least-liked chore, which is ranked lower than shoveling snow or raking leaves. [2]

  • More than 40 million acres of land (2% of the land) in the continental US are made of turf grasses
  • Connecticut and Rhode Island are 20% grass, Delaware is 10% lawn, New Jersey and Massachusetts are 20% grass
  • Americans spend about $30 billion on lawn care a year
  • 9 billion gallons of water are used every day for lawns
  • Lawns account for about 50% of homeowner water use
  • 80 million pounds of pesticides and fertilizers are used on lawns yearly
  • The average American spends around 70 hours a year caring for lawns and gardens
  • 1 in 5 Americans hate mowing the lawn, but they still do it

How Much Do Americans Love Their Lawns

How Much Do Americans Love Their Lawns

Check out what the survey says for the past ten years:

2012

PLANET (Professional Landcare Network), a trade association for landscape professionals, worked with Harris Interactive and conducted an online survey involving 2,893 adults ages 18 and above across the United States from December 11 to 13, 2012.

According to the survey, 88% of adults had a yard or landscape, and only 12% did not. 81% of those who have a yard or landscape said that the care and upkeep of their yard are important to the look of the home. The majority of Americans (42%) said that the leading reason why Americans maintain and improve their yard is “to show pride in my home,” while only 16% answered, “to create an outdoor relaxing space.” The survey also revealed that 26% of Americans use their yard for relaxing. [7]

In 2012,

  • 88% of adults had a yard or landscape
  • 81% of those who had a yard consider care and upkeep is important
  • 42% of Americans said the leading reason why they maintain and improve their yard is to show pride in their home, while only 16% said it’s to create an outdoor relaxing space
  • 26% of Americans used their yard for relaxing

By PLANET and Harris Interactive, December 11-13, 2012

2015

For National Lawn Care Month, the National Association of Landscape Professionals (formerly named PLANET) and Harris Poll teamed up to conduct an online survey in May 2015 involving 2,034 adults in the United States aged 18 and above. The survey revealed that 91% of Americans like living in an area where they can see or walk around lovely landscaping, and 71% say that they think it’s important that their neighbors have well-groomed yards. Mid-Westerners (94%) were more likely than those who live in the West (89%) or Northeast (87%) to say proximity to grass, trees, and nice landscaping was vital.

Eighty-three percent of Americans thought it’s essential to have a yard, and 90% of those with a yard said its maintenance is also important. Also, 84% agreed that the quality of the landscaping would affect their decision about whether or not to buy a house.

Three-quarters (75%) of Americans felt that it’s important to spend time outside their yards. Even in the era of smartphones and binge-watching TV shows, 74% of millennials thought that spending time outside in their yard was important. [8]

In 2015,

  • 91% of Americans liked living in an area with landscaping
  • 81% of Americans thought that it’s essential to have a yard
  • 9% of those with a yard said that maintenance is important
  • 71% of Americans thought it’s important that their neighbors have well-groomed yards
  • 84% said the quality of landscaping affects their decision about whether or not to buy a house
  • Americans who said proximity to grass, trees and landscaping are important: 94% of Americans from the Mid-West, 89% from the West, 87% from the Northeast
  • 75% of Americans felt it’s important to spend time outside their yards
  • 74% of millennials thought that spending time outside their yard was important

By NALP and Harris Poll, May 2015

2019

A survey conducted by Engine’s CARAVAN Omnibus on behalf of the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) discovered that even in 2019, the Americans’ love affair with lawns was still going strong. It revealed that 81% of Americans have a lawn, and a vast majority (79%) of them said that it’s an important feature when renting or buying a home. Among home features, they want prioritized, having a nice yard was the second reason, falling behind a renovated kitchen and ahead of other popular home features like updated bathrooms, hardwood floors, and storage.

The survey has also shown that the younger generation placed a higher value on lawns than their parents and grandparents. Among millennials, a nice size lawn was a number one priority. About 82% of millennials said that having a lawn is essential when buying or renting a home, compared to 81% in Generation X and 77% of baby boomers.

Americans were also making regular use of their yards, as the survey revealed. Forty-seven percent of Americans entertain in their yards at least once a month, while 57% use it for recreation at least monthly. [9]

In 2019,

  • 81% of Americans had a lawn
  • 79% of Americans said a lawn is an important feature when buying or renting a home
  • A nice yard is the #2 home feature they want prioritized
  • A nice size lawn is the #1 priority among millennials
  • 82% of millennials said that having a lawn is essential when buying or renting a home, compared to 81% of Generation X and 77% of baby boomers
  • 47% of Americans entertain in their yards at least once a month
  • 57% use their yards for recreation at least once a month

By Engine’s CARAVAN Omnibus and NALP, 2019

2022

In 2022, a poll commissioned by the TurfMutt Foundation and conducted by The Harris Poll revealed that more than three-quarters (76%) of people who have a yard say that the yard space is one of the most essential parts of the home. A vast majority of Americans who own a yard (84%) plan to invest in their yard in 2022, including 67% who said they want to purchase plants or trees to plant themselves and 39% who reported that they would buy items to improve and maintain their grassy areas.

Sixty-three percent of Americans who have a yard say they have enjoyed more activities in their yard since the pandemic started. Also, nearly a quarter of Americans with a yard (24%) are spending more time there now than before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The yard has become a place to de-stress, as 69% of Americans who have a yard say that doing yard work is one of the ways they like to de-stress nowadays. It’s true among parents of children under 18, as well as their counterparts without kids under 18 (76% and 65%). [10]

In 2022,

  • 76% of Americans with a yard say that yard space is one of the most important parts of their home
  • 84% of Americans with a yard plan to invest in their yard – 67% of them wanted to purchase plants or trees themselves, while 39% wanted to buy items for their lawns
  • 63% of Americans with a yard say they have enjoyed more activities in their yard since the COVID-19 pandemic started
  • 24% of Americans with a yard are spending more time outdoors now before the COVID-19 pandemic hit
  • 69% of Americans with a yard say that doing yard work is their way to de-stress

By the TurfMutt Foundation and Harris Poll

Resources

[1] Harrington, R. (2016, February 19). Grass takes up 2% of the land in the continental US. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/americas-biggest-crop-is-grass-2016-2 [Accessed August 30, 2022]

[2] Ingraham, C. (2015, August 4). Lawns are a soul-crushing timesuck and most of us would be better off without them. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/08/04/lawns-are-a-soul-crushing-timesuck-and-most-of-us-would-be-better-off-without-them/ [Accessed August 30, 2022]

[3] Perlmutter, A. (2020, February 12). The Strange Psychology of the American Lawn. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-modern-brain/202002/the-strange-psychology-the-american-lawn  [Accessed August 30, 2022]

[4] D’Costa, K. (2017, May 3). The American Obsession with Lawns. Scientific American. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/anthropology-in-practice/the-american-obsession-with-lawns/ [Accessed August 30, 2022]

[5] Evans, F. (2021, February 17).  How the Perfect Lawn Became a Symbol of the American Dream. History. https://www.history.com/news/lawn-mower-grass-american-dream [Accessed August 30, 2022]

[6] Associated Press. (2022, May 6). America’s Love Affair With the Lawn Is Getting Messy. US News & World Report. https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2022-05-06/americas-love-affair-with-the-lawn-is-getting-messy [Accessed August 30, 2022]

[7] Total Landscape Care. (2013, April 26). Why do Americans Love Their Yards? https://www.totallandscapecare.com/business/article/15035284/why-do-americans-love-their-yards [Accessed August 30, 2022]

[8] National Association of Landscape Professionals. (2015, May 18). Survey Says…Americans Love Their Yards! https://blog.landscapeprofessionals.org/survey-says-americans-love-their-yards/ [Accessed August 30, 2022]

[9] Cosgrove, A. (2019, April 5.) NALP Survey Looks At Consumer Love For Lawns. https://turfmagazine.com/association-headlines/nalp-survey-looks-at-consumer-love-for-lawns/ [Accessed August 30, 2022]

[10] 318 Forum. (2022, March 10). Americans Love Their Lawns. The Forum News. https://theforumnews.com/article-4587-americans-love-their-lawns.html [Accessed August 30, 2022]