A History of The American Lawn

An advertisement from the early 1900s depicts a well-manicured lawn belonging to wealthy white landowners. Source: Library of Congress.

Americans love lawns. According to NASA, lawns—including residential and commercial lawns and golf courses—are our single largest irrigated crop in terms of surface area. There are three times more acres of lawn than irrigated corn in the US. These meticulously maintained green expanses symbolize success and embody the quintessential American Dream. Picture a house in the suburbs surrounded by a white picket fence and, of course, a lawn. What could be more American?

The modern lawn began to appear in American in the 1700s, when influential landowners adopted the idea from Europe. At that time, lawns in Europe were a privilege of wealth and a way of conveying high social status, which was tied to land ownership. Influential figures such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson admired European landscape architecture and had Monticello and Mount Vernon designed to look like English country estates. The gardens and lawns of these men’s estates were maintained by enslaved African Americans, who scythed the grass to keep it short– a labor-intensive process.

The lawnmower was invented in 1830 and reached the US in the 1860s, when lawns themselves still weren’t common for most people. Yards were typically made up of packed dirt and meadow. This began changing, as privileged homes embraced lawns. After the Civil War, suburbs were designed with open grassy areas, based on urban parks gaining popularity at the time. These suburban wonderlands were an American Dream that was only typically accessible to white, middle-income, heterosexual households. A well-kept lawn became a symbol of success for these types of families.

Fast forward to modern day. We are a lawn-obsessed culture, evidenced by the countless fertilizers, pesticides, and technologies we have invented to keep our lawns perfectly manicured. Lawns maintain a status symbol in our culture and the upkeep of the lawn maintains social norms that we use to fit in– with the ever-present “what will the neighbors think” always in the back of our cultural mind, should our lawn go unkempt.

When something becomes as ubiquitous as lawns are, it is worth asking ourselves how we got here, and whether it still serves us. Insect populations are declining dangerously quickly–more than 40 percent of the world’s insect species are threatened by extinction. The culprits of this mass extinction are pesticide use, habitat loss, and climate change. Our lawns are part of this problem; the grasses that make up American lawns today are not native to the US– they were brought over by colonists. Kentucky bluegrass, one of the more popular turf grasses, comes from Europe and North Africa. The equipment we use to maintain our lawns is also contributing to climate change; using a commercial gas-powered leaf blower for one hour produces as much smog-forming pollution as driving 1,100 miles in a car.

Consider changing your lawn care practices to care for the earth by adopting practices such as “grass cycling” or leaving grass clippings on the lawn, and raising your mower blade to between 3 and a half and four inches. Choose all electric lawn care equipment instead of gas-powered equipment to reduce emissions. Avoid pesticides and fertilizers, plant native flowers and plants for pollinators, and perhaps most importantly: reduce or replace your lawn. Instead of using your land to grow turf grass, support edible crops or pollinators and other wildlife.

What You Can Do:

  • Join us for an evening on the Green to try out electric lawn care equipment. We’ll have electric mowers, edgers, and leaf blowers available. This event is an “open-house.” Arrive anytime between 5:30-7:30 PM. Tuesday June 4th, 5:30 – 7:30 PM, The Village Green, Woodstock. Register Here
  • Are you interested in getting involved in the electric revolution? Rooted Gardens has openings for 2024 with neighbor discounts! Contact matt@myrootedgardens.com for more information. Be the leader in your neighborhood.


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