April 26, 2023 Turf Lawn to Prairie: Cost Comparison Each year, an increasing number of people are opting to change their turf lawn to prairie, and for good reason. Consider this: the total area of turf lawn in the US is estimated at 60-65 million acres, more than all the US corn fields combined. In Minnesota, estimates suggest that turf grass covers 15% of the state’s land area. In the Twin Cities alone we have over 700,000 acres of lawn. That’s an incredible sum of land devoted to a “crop” that we don’t consume, build with, or use for energy. Next, let’s see what it takes to install a turf grass lawn. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, the average residential lawn size in Minnesota ranges from 0.15 to 0.25 acres, or 6,500 and 10,890 square feet. The price for sod in Minnesota is around $1.60 per square foot. In comparison, a high quality turf lawn to prairie conversion in the Metro area averages $0.75 per square foot. Clearly, going native is much more economical. Mowing & Maintenance Having a lush, green lawn can be expensive to maintain as well. In 2021, the lawn care industry’s revenue in the United States alone was 99.8 billion. That number includes the cost of lawn mowing, fertilizing, pest control, and other maintenance activities involved in keeping lawns well manicured. Residents pay an average of $53 to have a service mow their lawn. The growing season in Minnesota runs from May to September, so that comes out to 20 mowing sessions (if you only mow your lawn once a week) at a total cost of just over $1,000. This estimate does not include the effort spent on aeration, cleaning up leaves in the fall, or other specialty projects to keep your yard looking pristine. What about DIYers? Well, Midwesterners, say over a 20 year period, spend a considerable chunk of their summers mowing their lawns. If you own a riding mower, it’s about 16 days, while with a push mower, you can spend up to 66 days! In Minnesota, where summers are short and sweet, those precious days are like gold and should be spent enjoying the outdoors in other, more pleasurable, ways. Chemical Treatments Additionally, lawns require herbicides in order to sustain a monoculture of turf grass. Each year in the US, we use 78 million pounds of chemicals on turf grass, and the average broadleaf herbicide overspray treatment on a lawn is usually a few gallons. Let’s contrast this to natural areas management. Most of the time in residential settings, herbicides can be completely avoided by controlling weeds through hand pulling and weed whipping. There are just a few invasive species that may periodically require spot herbicide control. To learn more about how our maintenance practices minimize pesticide use, check out this blog article. On top of herbicide use, 90 million pounds of fertilizer are spread in the US to keep the turf grass green as well. Unfortunately, many nutrients in fertilizer runoff into our waterways, contributing to a degraded water quality and algal blooms. On the flip side, Minnesota native plants are well adapted to our soil conditions, and fertilizers are not needed to sustain natural areas. Prairie Maintenance While native plant restorations do require maintenance, it isn’t nearly as time or resource consuming as turf grass lawns. Urban areas have an abundance of weed seeds blowing around but established prairies can compete well with those weeds if assisted throughout the season. In fact, depending on site conditions and personal goals, we have found that the average natural area in a residential setting needs just 3-6 maintenance visits throughout the season. For the majority of the sites we manage, maintenance costs decrease over time as native plants fill in and establish. We average around $0.06 per square foot to maintain a natural area versus $0.20 per square foot to take care of a green, weed-free turf grass lawn. That’s 73.5% in cost savings each year! Watering Usage For much of the last few summers, you might have looked outside your window and observed a brown, patchy, and prickly lawn. If you didn’t, you most likely had sprinklers that were working overtime, shooting thousands of gallons of water to keep that lawn green. In the US, estimates suggest that we use 9 billion gallons a day on lawn irrigation. Per person in the Twin Cities, we use 94 gallons of water a day, 22 of those gallons go to lawn irrigation. While the cost of water in Minnesota varies by town, you are roughly looking at $30-$40 per month to water your lawn. In comparison, once established, natural areas do not need to be watered at all. Even during drought, our Minnesota native plant communities are well-adapted to survive and thrive during these tough conditions. Many people decide to install irrigation systems to keep their lawns watered regularly – another cost to achieving a pristine lawn. The average price of installing irrigation to a lawn is $0.20-$1.00 per square foot, and $273 a year to maintain. With lawn size ranging from 6,500-10,890 square feet in Minnesota, that’s $3,900 to $6,500 for a standard system. Table 1. Cost Comparison Landscape Type (6,500 square foot yard)Water Usage (Gal. per week*)Water Cost per weekIrrigation InstallationLandscape Installation CostYearly Landscape Maintenance Cost per SFYearly Landscape Maintenance Cost**Total Cost of Landscaping at year of installationTurf Grass Lawn- Sod4030$85.78$0.2-$1$1.60/SF=$10,400$0.20$1,300$11,785.78Turf Grass Lawn- Seeding4030$85.78$0.2-$1$0.25/SF=$1,625$0.20$1,300$3,010.78Native Planting0 after first year$0 after first yearNot needed$0.65/SF=$4,225$0.06$390$4,165*watering 1 inch per week **If you have an irrigation system, add an average of $273 to your yearly maintenance costs So running through the numbers and making comparisons, it becomes quite obvious that turf lawns are much more costly to install and maintain than natural areas. The case is extremely clear. But in addition to the pure cost savings, native plant communities also provide a multitude of benefits from an ecological perspective. Check out how native plants can make a big difference to our local wildlife and their direct benefits to pollinators and birds. Also, we would be remiss not to mention why natural areas along lakeshores have so much ecological value. Next Step Well, are you ready to get started with your turf lawn to prairie transformation? Wondering what to do next? Check out how to get started on planting natives and the countless cost-share programs that are available in Minnesota as well! Also, our team of enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff members is always ready and willing to assist you. We offer a complete range of services for projects of any scale, from initial design to installation and maintenance. For DIYers, our retail greenhouse is fully stocked with a variety of native plants perfect for your turf lawn to prairie project and is open select dates throughout the growing season. For more information on our native plant selection and retail sales hours, click here. We pride ourselves on being your one-stop shop for all your restoration needs!