Eco-lawns Take Two Years to Break Even with Savings from Mowing and Watering

Transitioning from a traditional grass lawn to an eco-lawn can seem like a daunting task. Inevitably, the question of cost comes up. So let’s talk about how the up-front costs of eco-lawn fair with their long-term financial and ecological benefits.

The biggest financial savings of an eco-lawn are in maintenance costs. A traditional lawn needs to be watered several times a week during the spring and summer. This frequent watering can increase a water bill by up to $500 a year! The millions of gallons used to water traditional lawns every year also contributes to fresh water shortages around the country. On the other hand, established eco-lawns only require one-fourth of the water that a grass lawn needs. In some climate, eco-lawns don’t need to be watered at all. This amounts to hundreds of dollars a year in cost saving and positively impacting our fresh water reserve.

Established Grass LawnEstablished Eco-LawnSavings
Lawn Service$975-$3,900/year$0-$600/year$975-$3,300+/year
DIY Lawn Maintenance19.5-78 hours/year4.5-18 hours/year15-60+ hours/year
Water Bill$300-$900/year$75-$225/year$225-$675+/year

Of course watering is only a small part of lawn maintenance, the time and cost of mowing a grass lawn also needs to be considered. Lawn services generally charge $25-$100 every time they come out, and a grass lawn needs to be mowed once a week during the spring and summer. That adds up to thousands of dollars a year! Even if a lawn service isn’t used, hours of time a year will be spent mowing a grass lawn. Some eco-lawns, like clover lawns, only grow to be 4-8 inches tall. Depending on your preference, they rarely, if ever, need to be mowed. Using a gas mower for one hour has the same carbon footprint as a 100-mile car trip! When you don’t have to mow, you are not only saving a lot of money and time, but also helping preventing the release of 89 pounds of CO2 and 34 pounds of other pollutants per year.

Eco-lawns are significantly better for bees, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife, by providing a more suitable habitat, nesting materials, and food. On the other hand, traditional lawns often have invasive grasses that end up spreading into local ecosystems and destroying native habitats.

Eco-lawns are beneficial for humans too. Clovers are much softer on your skin, making them more comfortable to walk or lay on. Lawns with a mix of clovers and native grasses can be just as durable as traditional grass, making it still very functional for family gatherings and playtimes. They are also shade and drought tolerant, thus less likely to fade to the ugly yellow color.

Completely transforming a traditional lawn to an eco-lawn can seem daunting. The upfront cost for a 500-1000 square feet eco-lawn installation can range from $1,000 to $6,000 in material and labor depending on the existing soil condition. But when you account the much lower maintenance cost of an eco-lawn, the investment can be made back in 2-3 years. Not to mention the positive ecological impacts, such as saving water, restoring wildlife habitats, and reducing carbon footprint from lawn equipment use.

Transforming a grass lawn to an eco-lawn will not only save thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime, but also help keep this planet a little greener.

9 thoughts on “Eco-lawns Take Two Years to Break Even with Savings from Mowing and Watering”

  1. I have a home in the Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood of Portland. I am interested in supporting a company that you have started. Are you licensed and bonded?

    1. Yes we are. Our license number is 9913. In order to be licensed by the state of Oregon, we have to be insured and bonded too. If you are interested in hiring us, you can click here to schedule a consultation. It’s a busy season, so our coordinator might take a week to get back to you. Thank you!

  2. Could I install the eco lawn myself if I bought the right seeds and plants. My wild strawberries have spread rather quickly and I have to trim them back often from around my back patio. As for clover do you need to trim / mow it so it doesn’t get to tall.
    I would need to hire some one to skin off the existing grass turf.
    I read the article in the Oregonian and I am quite impressed with your approach to landscapes. I also am a big fan of native plants and buy many from a nursey called Bosky Dell in Wilsonville. I presume you are familiar with them.
    p.s. I don’t use instagram so email will do. (I also am not a facebook user)

    1. Hi Dan, thank you for your kind words! We are glad that our work inspire others! You can definitely install eco-lawn yourself.I personally don’t mow my clovers as they rarely grow more than 8 inches tall and I like the wave texture the lawn has. However, that’s just personal preference. If you want them shorter, you can mow 1-2 times in spring or early summer.

  3. While I realize that a clover lawn has a lot of benefits over a traditional grass lawn, isn’t Trifolium repens considered invasive in Portland (it’s listed as a class C nuisance plant in the Portland Plant List)? Or is this some other kind of clover? And/or is there a native alternative? As someone who just spent the last month ripping out English Ivy and English holly, I’d really like to avoid planting an invasive.


    1. Hi Bryan,

      Thank you for brining up a great point that we debate internally on a regular basis. What’s invasive/native has a lot of nuances. It’s not often black and white. It is true that Trifolium repens is listed as class C nuisance on PPL. We are mindful about when to suggest clovers. Clovers are not as aggressive as traditional lawn grasses. Also in an urban environment, clovers don’t pose that big of a risk in damaging wild habitats.

      There are native alternatives like dwarf yarrows. However, they are not nearly as tolerant to foot traffic as clovers, and clovers are not nearly as tolerant to foot traffic as traditional lawn grasses. This is due to the fact that many native plants don’t grow as aggressively. If you want a lawn that you can use frequently, then by definition, you will need aggressive growing plants that can handle the foot traffic. More aggressive often means more invasive. We just found that clovers to be a good compromise in an urban environment. If you want to experiment with dwarf yarrows for your lawn, we definitely encourage that! We have been having a hard time to find bulk seeds for them unfortunately.

      I hope this answers your question adequately.

      1. Thanks JT for the detailed response! I suppose an argument could be made for Kentucky bluegrass being on the invasive list :).

    2. Jonathan Brandt

      It’s a good topic/question to be aware of Bryan. I appreciate JT’s response and I’ll also add that plants on the ‘C rank’ of noxious weeds are a funky bunch.
      Yes there are some nasties that will quickly choke out other plants like the ivy that you removed – Thank you!
      And there are some plants that spread well but also have benefits that people and pollinators use – like lemon balm and nipplewort – both of which I cultivate (well, tolerate) because I’ll end up using them for food/medicine. Also, they’re both easy enough to remove when I’m ready for another plant to take it’s place.
      Since all the rank C plants are ubiquitous, eradicating them isn’t a probable reality so it then becomes a management equation. What efforts am I willing to put into a system to achieve my desired goals? There are some clover that I would prefer didn’t colonize my new garden beds but in the long run, I’m getting ecosystem services (N-fixing, and bio-diversity) for a given amount of manual control. On the other hand, I’ve been tending gardens next to a clover eco-lawn for almost a decade and the clover hasn’t colonized the veggie/perennial beds because they were already established and are too nutrient rich for the clover’s liking.
      So there’s some contextual considerations is what I’m offering there.

      1. Thanks for the insight, Jonathan. It does seem that the rankings could be more useful if they were more like a 2×2 grid that quantified both the ubiquity and the threat of a species. E.g., English Ivy could be C1 and clover could be C3 to indicate that it’s not exactly knocking trees over in Forest Park. Basically a C1 might still be worth someone’s effort to remove. But of course that would make things too complicated.

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