Even though fastidiously groomed, excessively — and perhaps illicitly — hydrated lawns are quickly transitioning from status symbol to shame targets in historically parched Southern California, a new consumer survey conducted on behalf of the National Association of Landscape Professionals suggests that the American obsession with keeping up appearances on the landscaping front isn't waning, with 90 percent of yard-having respondents agreeing that keeping said yard “well-maintained” is important.

While words and phrases like “drought" and “water conservation” are never mentioned in the survey results, it’s a given that “well-maintained” could easily translate into “well-watered” and that “yard” is synonymous with “lush expanse of highly visible turf grass.”

Go figure. Good, old-fashioned pride was the number one (42 percent) reason that American homeowners strive to keep their yards and surrounding landscapes looking showboating-ly immaculate. The protection of property values (15 percent) and connecting with nature (7 percent) are lesser impetuses.

And in addition to a majority of Americans placing a great emphasis on the flawless appearance on their own yards, the appearance of neighboring yards is also important: 71 percent of the 2,034 adult Americans surveyed strongly believe that their neighbor’s yard should also be up-to-snuff. Ninety-one perfect of those expressed a desire to live in an area where they can see and/or walk to “nice” landscaping.

In addition to a majority (67 percent) of respondents expressing the need/want for professional landscaping assistance, perhaps the most revealing finding in the survey is the importance that millennials place not on the landscaping aesthetics but on the act of spending time outside in a yard. Seventy-four percent of 18- to 34-year-olds — a demographic often assumed to be perpetually holed up indoors uploading pictures of their cats to Facebook and binge-watching Netflix shows — polled claim that spending plenty of QT outside (think: BBQs, bird-watching, backyard campouts) outside is important.

In terms of the cost of keeping up appearances, consumers polled who have yards spend the most on landscaping maintenance (an average of $600 annually) followed by lawn care (an average of $400 annually). 

In a great/sobering recent article for Quartz, Gwynn Guilford notes that America’s collective front lawn costs $40 billion per year to maintain and is spread out over 50,000 miles — an area that’s roughly the size of Alabama.

And in addition to being extremely water-intensive — Americans consume roughly 9 billion gallons per day for residential lawn/landscaping — there are a host of additional environmental ills associated with a well-maintained lawn. Writes Guilford:

This vast swath of ornamentally maintained land is generally bad for the environment. A lawnmower generates more greenhouse gas emissions per hour than 11 cars, according to the Environmental Protection Agency; nitrous oxide emitted by fertilizer has 300 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, and lingers in the atmosphere for as long as 120 years. Swept into waterways, those fertilizers strip the water of oxygen, causing algal blooms and “dead zones” that kill freshwater and marine life.
Of course, and I’m guessing the National Association of Landscape Professionals would wholeheartedly agree, there are numerous ways — albeit ways not totally embraced by mainstream, turf grass-worshipping homeowners — to enjoy a yard that’s attractive, well-maintained and property value-boosting but also water-sensitive and not ecologically destructive. Slowly but surely, Californians are wising up to this … will the rest of America follow?

Consumer landscaping survey infographic

Via [EcoBuilding Pulse], [Quartz]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.