By SHANNON HATHAWAY – The current trend is to demonize the lawn as a form of landscaping, encouraging everyone to plant a meadow instead. In some cases, this can be a lovely idea. But, as in most things, balance is the best practice. 

Organic Landscape

I have an organic landscape. My property consists of half an acre. My home takes up 1100 square feet, my gravel driveway covers 1140 square feet, my deck covers 216 square feet, the vegetable garden comprises 1600 square feet, the zoysia lawn is a mere 1200 square feet, and the remaining 16,524 square feet is flower gardens, trees, paths, and woods. That puts things into perspective, and suddenly the lawn does not seem so threatening, does it?

Balance On Your Property

The point here is to make sure there is a balance on your property. A lawn can be very functional: it can serve as a playspace for athletics, children, and dogs; it can provide calming, negative space in a heavily planted yard; and a lawn can do an important job like controlling erosion. But not every space should be covered in grass. Grass has specific light and water needs, and those needs must be taken into consideration when planning your landscape. 

New Construction

In the case of new construction, the builder usually plants a simple foundation bed, and maybe a tree or two, and then makes the rest of the open ground into a lawn because they have not budgeted for a more thoughtfully planned landscape. That lawn they installed may get adequate light in parts of the property, but not on the north side, and not between buildings or near a wooded area. But code makes the builder sod and/or seed all exposed soil, so they do just that. Think of it this way – the builder builds the home but does not furnish, decorate, or maintain it. The builder also covers the exposed ground in the grass, but that’s it. You still have to do some design work or hire someone to help you “furnish” your landscape. Your job on the outside is not complete at the closing, just as the inside work is not complete. 

Established Landscape

If you have purchased an older home with an established landscape, the trees may have matured and shaded out areas of the lawn. In this case, you have to make a choice between shrinking the lawn to fit the available light, trimming back or removing trees, or allowing a fully shaded lawn to go natural. Working with Nature, instead of fighting it, is almost always the best plan of action. If a lawn is desired, look for the area with the required amount of direct sunlight for a lawn and work within that space. Just as you may have to renovate the older home, you may have to renovate the older landscape as well.

I could take a deep dive into landscape design here, but I’d like to keep the focus on the lawn for this article. Assuming you would like some grassy play area, the first step is to identify the best location. All grasses need some direct sun. We get very specific about the light requirements of different sod varieties here. Deep shade is not the place for a lawn! 

Let’s look at my yard as an example. My front yard is fenced to protect my dogs and grandchildren from the busy road. It is also in direct sun for 6 hours per day. This makes an ideal spot for the lawn! I can open the door and let the dogs out safely. I can sit on my front porch and let my grandchildren run on the lawn, or I can get off the porch and play ball with them. There are 2 nearby water spigots, so adding supplemental water when needed (although my zoysia is quite drought-tolerant) is quick and easy. And since my dogs and grandkids play on the lawn, I maintain it organically for their safety, which is a major reason I chose Zoysia. It can also repair itself nicely and has very dense roots which crowd out most weeds when the zoysia is properly maintained. Choosing the best grass for your lawn is discussed here.

Another consideration when questioning the function of the lawn in the landscape is the real estate value of the lawn. And who better to explain this perspective than a Raleigh area realtor? Susie Tonnemacher is an experienced realtor with The Janice Rosenberg Team

Here are Susie’s thoughts on the importance of a lawn when buying and selling a house.

Q: When your clients are looking for a home, does a lawn factor into their list of must-haves, and if so, why are they looking for a home with a lawn?

A: The majority of my buyers are looking for a home with some lawn/yard space. Even if it is a townhome, they want a little bit of green space because it is part of the picture they have created in their minds when they dream about owning their own home.

Q: Do you think a well-tended lawn helps to sell a house? Why or why not?

A: It’s been my experience that a well-tended lawn is critical to drawing in a buyer and makes them want to get out of the car and take a more in-depth look at the house itself. It’s the first sign to a buyer that the seller has pride in ownership which translates into how well the home has been maintained.

Q: Is the lawn the key, or is it a part of the overall landscape a client is seeking?

A: I believe the lawn and landscape go hand-in-hand in creating the character of the home itself. Whether it is the key is very individual to the buyer. Trends come and go, but one thing I have seen over many years in real estate is that in our area the outdoor living space is a key factor for many buyers and sellers alike. 

I have only been in my home for 4 years, so the landscape is not finished. Soon I will turn my attention to the backyard, and I am considering a small lawn there too – maybe 500-600 square feet – for erosion control over the septic field. Right now that area is a tall mixed meadow of fescue, scarlet clover, white clover, and buttercups. It is fine for now, but it is not a great play space for my grandsons. I may keep the meadow look in one area, while adding a small organic lawn, but that is a plan for another day. Balance in all things is the key to happiness, my friends!

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