What to Know About the Anti-Lawn Movement, Which Supports Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Grass Yards

Also known as rewilding, the anti-lawn movement has become popular on social media and found roots all across the country.

Alternative lawn, xeriscaping lawn with ornamental grasses

welcomia / GETTY IMAGES

Spring and summer Saturday mornings in the suburbs have a signature sound: the revving up of a lawn mower's engine. Neighbors wind back and forth across their verdant yards, creating diagonal gingham patterns in the turf. The scent of fresh-cut grass permeates through the air, both new and nostalgic—it smells like the weekend.

As idyllic as this scene is, it's not as universal as it once was. More and more American homeowners are seeing the disadvantages of a traditional grass lawn; they often lack character and, more importantly, put substantial stress on the environment. In fact, the quintessential suburban lawn can actually impede Mother Nature by deterring pollinators, guzzling water, and introducing invasive species. In some parts of the country where drought has redefined how homeowners garden and landscape, the turf lawn has become entirely irrelevant. Those who buck the conventional grass yards are part of an informal group called the anti-lawn movement—here's what that means, how this initiative got started, and what it means for the future of the American lawn.

What Is The Anti-Lawn Movement?

The anti-lawn movement, also known as rewilding, has existed for decades, but has gained momentum in recent years as homeowners have become more cognizant of sustainability. According to the National Wildlife Federation, the movement has particularly resonated with a younger generation on social media. On TikTok, the hashtag #nolawns has over 6 million views and counting; over on Twitter, several anti-lawn memes have gone viral in the past few months and on Reddit, you'll find a group (152,000 members strong) in r/nolawns.

In some parts of the country, the anti-lawn movement is law: Last year, over 30 water agencies in Southern California, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City signed an agreement to rip out decorative grass in their respective areas of operation. Their goal? To help keep precious water in the Colorado River during a period of significant drought.

While these efforts targeted commercial properties and nonfunctional space (think strip malls and street medians), this idea has taken root in residential neighborhoods, as well. In Minnesota, homeowners have been offered financial rewards to replace lawns with pollinator-friendly flowers—and in Maryland, municipalities have also offered to pay families and homeowner associations to design gardens and lawns that collect storm water, reports CNN.

The movement is only growing: According to the 2022 Consumer Gardening Report commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation and National Gardening Association, the number of people planning to transform a portion of their lawn to wildflower native landscape has doubled from 9 percent in 2019 to 19 percent in 2021.

How the Anti-Lawn Movement Is Helping the Environment

Despite a lack of formal organization, the anti-lawn movement's ethos is carried out via many channels, including climate-conscious nonprofits, conservationist groups, and regular homeowners; its participants are united by their efforts to forego turf and grass and adopt native plants, free-growing meadows, and xeriscapes that require little to no irrigation and improve the local pollinator population. "Lawns demand copious amounts of water, and their maintenance is costly and wasteful," says Amy Hovis, principal gardener at Eden Garden Design. "With climate change becoming more evident, people are seeking ways to contribute to the planet's protection. One of the most effective methods is replacing lawns with native plants that offer both drought tolerance and habitat value for birds, bees, and butterflies."

In addition to reducing water consumption and providing a refuge for native species, rewilded landscapes are inherently beautiful and bursting with vitality. Hovis says the positive change is quite drastic and that it happens quickly—even if you're starting from seed. "Clients call me all the time to report how many butterflies they have swarming their new gardens, or they'll let me know their newfound interest in bird watching in their own backyard," she says. "Rewilding brings beauty, color, texture, fragrance, and most importantly, life."

A Lower-Maintenance Way of Life

Jen McDonald, a certified organic garden specialist and co-founder of Garden Girls, routinely does rewilding designs for her clients. In a project that hits close to home, she recently removed every inch of her own mother's lawn and replaced it with decomposed granite pathways and a raised bed kitchen garden. She also incorporated pollinator plants, an olive tree, and native shrubs. 

After years of her nearly 80-year-old mother dealing with the price and pain of maintaining her tiny grass lawn, she finally was able to step away from the demanding maintenance schedule. "The result was more beautiful than we could have imagined," says McDonald. "It added an incredible amount of personality to a space that was ordinary to start. And for the first time in her life, she doesn't need anyone to help her mow her yard. Instead, she maintains her little kitchen garden, plucking ripe tomatoes from vines and snipping seasonal flowers and fresh herbs." 

The Benefits of the Anti-Lawn Mentality

  • Low maintenance
  • Saves money 
  • Reduces water consumption 
  • Eliminates/reduces the need for weed treatments
  • Attracts pollinators
  • Supports the local ecosystem 
  • Allows for a more nuanced, personalized outdoor space
  • Inspires social gatherings 
  • Feels rewarding 

How to Participate in the Anti-Lawn Movement

alternative lawn with grasses, lavender bushes succulents, and rocks

Sergey-AND-Marina / GETTY IMAGES

Transforming your existing space into an anti-lawn can be a DIY job, or you can hire out. The latter may be more appealing if you're unsure where to start. Local landscaping companies that specialize in rewilding have deep knowledge of native plants you can incorporate into your yard and understand how to design a yard for maximum sustainability. 

Remove the Grass

The first thing you need to do is remove the grass. "A couple of effective ways to remove the lawn include using newspaper with mulch or laying down a tarp to kill the grass," she says. "You can cover the tarp with bricks or rocks to hold it down. The grass will die within a few weeks, making it easy to remove with a shovel." You can also hire out for this, but because it's so labor intensive the cost can add up quickly.  

After removing the existing sod, Mcdonald says their process involves adding a weed fabric barrier, edging, and placing sandy loam soil for vegetables and herbs. "Then we plant organic seasonal vegetables, herbs, and flowers together for interest and beauty," she says. 

Find a Grass Alternative

McDonald notes that if you still long for the look of traditional grass, you can select a seeding with clover. This saves water, is soft under your feet, and looks attractive. Plus, the small white flowers attract pollinators, and the clover is less likely to turn brown when traditional lawns crisp during hot summer months. "Another alternative is sedum. This groundcover spreads quickly, thrives in full sun, and can be planted with small starter plants rather than seeds," says McDonald. "I often use sedum in between pavers for added interest and a pop of chartreuse."

Consider Xeriscaping

In desert climates, an anti-lawn means xeriscaping. The ground can either be the native dirt, or you can cover the yard with mulch or rock. From there, you can add native plants, trees, and shrubs. Incorporating a basin into the design adds visual appeal and can help collect and retain water for plants. Add more interest with pathways, solar lights, beautiful rocks, boulders, and potted plants.

Learn More About Native Plants

If you are taking a DIY route, visit a local nursery that specializes in native plants to gain some insight. "You can get ideas of what varieties you might like to use and talk with knowledgeable gardeners in the area to find what plants are the most successful in your climate or region," advises Jeff Hooper, the grounds manager at RT Lodge

What to Consider Before Converting Your Lawn

Before you start ripping up your turf, consider these potential road blocks—and how you'll work around them.

Homeowners Association (HOA) Regulations 

Contending with a strict HOA may be one of the biggest hurdles you face with an anti-lawn conversion. Speak with your HOA about what's allowed for your neighborhood and then make a game plan from there. Some have restrictions about certain species of plants while others have rigid rules regarding overall appearance. Hovis says, "Even if you have to battle your HOA, you will be the hero that did, and you'll certainly be leading the way. Lawns will be a silly thing of the past one day." 

Upfront Labor and Costs

Hooper says that converting your space into an anti-lawn doesn't have to be expensive so long as you're willing to put in the time and work. The biggest lift is removing the grass, which is time consuming and labor intensive. Hiring out for this can save you time, but also adds up quickly. Other expenses include incorporating new plants and features into your space. To make the process more affordable, Hovis recommends starting with a small area and working in stages. 

Maintenance Is Still Necessary

While the anti-lawn requires far less maintenance than a traditional grass lawn, it's not necessarily a pass to "let your yard go." Rewilding requires the up-front work of removing the lawn, and then the thought required to replace it with a variety of native plants, such as wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. 

Additionally, you'll want to curb some growth to prevent an overgrown look. Trimming, deadheading, and some light watering may still be required to enhance the beauty of your space and ensure it thrives. 

Invasive Plants

Another aspect of maintenance is being on the lookout for invasive plants. "Invasive plants can quickly take over an area of your yard if you are not regularly maintaining the area," Hooper notes. "Depending on your climate, the invasives can take over quickly." Some notorious invasive species include English ivy, honeysuckle, kudzu, and grass.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles