What Happens if You Don’t Cut or Water Your Lawn?

Garden6-27-15You can always grow beautiful flowers instead. Tour my garden in late June, where the front garden is almost anything but grass.

Is this story real?

Last year, a couple in Southern CA decided to forgo watering the lawn to conserve resources, and their grass went dormant.

So what happens? They get a threatening letter (friendly if you ask the sending party) from the municipal code enforcement department to face fines unless they greened up the brown lawn. To top it off, Southern CA also gives fines for over-watering a lawn. South California municipalities need to get on the same page. Gardeners arenโ€™t particularly known for their civil disobedience, but enough is enough.


See this article on the couple.

They really were in a pickle, so have a read.

Front-garden-6-27-15-0So what happens if you let the front lawn grow?

Same thing, a letter telling you that a fine will follow unless the situation is addressed. You might even go to jail if you don’t cut your grass to the proper length. Is there a grass patrol? Yep, every neighbor that casts a disapproving eye. Our city also has an enforcement official that travels around on the taxpayers’ dollar. He is a weed inspector and it is his discretion as to what is identified as a weed.


I let the grass grow a bit too long, but I am no lawn rebel. If it gets over the 8 inch maximum, I do my civic duty and mow it down. I like all the clover, violets and even the spring dandelions, but I don’t like citations. If only the dandelion would go back underground after they flower, a bunch more people would be happier with them. One dry year, I only mowed the turf twice all season. In some places, the city will mow if neighbors complain, but then you really pay for that though.

My gardens are not alternative for our region, but are for Niagara Falls. You just don’t see many fully planted front properties.

This leads to accepting. It also leads to understanding.


Having an alternative property, one of wildness, becomes a challenge to stop thinking of what is and what should be according to a set of opposing moral scales in valuing our personal space. Where we should be embracing the full spectrum of a natural landscape, ordinances keep properties in conformance. What we ultimately do is of cultural concern to the city, the suburb, the rural, and the natural –ย  each having its proper place according to laws, ordinances and norms. It is also an ethical and principled responsibility.

How do we bend to accept without denigrating other lawn forms? A person can create a bit of wilderness on their property if they just digress a bit. Just stay within the boundaries of the law though.


Every week until the snow falls, the gardens will be awash in color. Don’t believe me?ย  Just keep watching. Never shy to show…

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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36 Responses to What Happens if You Don’t Cut or Water Your Lawn?

  1. mbkircus says:

    When I had a lawn in Houston, TX at a house I rented, I never fertilized it or watered it. While my neighbors were fighting pests and diseases, my lawn was healthy. It did go dormant late in the summer, but greened back up in the fall. It grew at at normal, healthy pace and was much less tender than the watered/fertilized lawns. AND I never mowed it until after Easter because I had a yard full of herbertia which I wanted to keep.

  2. bittster says:

    I’m glad we’re safe here (as far as I know) from those restrictions. The thought of someone judging my landscape like that would be irritating to say the least… although I understand the original intention for most of those ordinances.
    Funny how different areas ‘Keep to a certain standard’ in different ways. My brother lives in an area which has become very affluent, and with the exception of a few new money people who move in and go the sod and arborvitae landscaper look, most people have very natural landscapes with small lawns separated by thickets of wild areas which provide privacy.

    • Yes, the intentions were good, but they allow no deviance. Codes and ordinances are meant to protect property owners. Ordinances are how there is so much variations between communities. They are created locally. Usually it is worse in more affluent neighborhoods, at least by the neighbors reporting on each other. My neighborhood was very affluent at one time and there were constant battles over fencing, trash can put out prematurely and of course parking. We have alternate parking, and a lot of tickets flew on neighbors even if they parked there without choice – like when construction trucks were present on site or they were having a new driveway installed. We are not allowed to park on the street on Mondays either. Lots of tickets then too. We still have prominent people on our block, like the mayor, council woman and a few lawyers working for the city, a couple of police officers, business owners, and a professor or two. But the main rabble-rousers have passed on – literally.

      • bittster says:

        “rabble rousers have passed on” sad to say but that’s often the only relief from this kind of thing. The ordinances often have good intentions behind them but then along comes someone with a ruler who spits and sputters that eight inches is eight inches! Get some perspective is what I say.
        My brother’s neighborhood is much stronger on new building size restrictions, natural siding, natural fencing (no vinyl) but is relaxed about landscaping. -Still I prefer being able to do what I want ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Great idea and here the wild flowers have been amazing this year and didn’t need me to water them! However now the dry months are upon us and the hardiest carry on…

    • Watering here was only in early spring for the first two months. No rain, now we are getting enough where even the fussy flowers are either very happy or the drought tolerant ones sulking. Spring is when we needed rain too.

  4. Other option is evergreen ground covers, better tolerant foot traffic. Or grow eco grass…

    • Yes, but again it conflicts with the character of the neighborhood. It is why I have a tiny grass patch in the front garden. I have already had complaints, not on the beauty, but if you look in the gallery of images, to see what the rest of the neighborhood front yards have – grass. No eco grass is short enough to satisfy the criteria. Mondo grass, Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’ may be under the height restriction, but it is what it looks like in cold weather zones in winter if it survives. Others flop or grow too tall. I recommend having alternatives where allowed.

      • Blue Fescue Grasses grow in tidy way is fine, too. Mine have periwinkle in the front and creeping thyme in the back yard.

        • I have blue fescue in my garden, but those little tufts would not “fit” with the look of green grassed properties. Plus they look ratty in winter. Periwinkle is a nightmare here growing into everything. I am finding that with the Onethera I thought was trapped in masonry. They jump and I have no clue how they get where they go. The lawn is filled with them. Thyme is really nice and I was going to use it in the back garden lawn area, mainly because the grassed area is too compacted and filled with heavy clay. Because of the clay, too much amending would be necessary to support the thyme. I had thyme between stone pavers in a previous design, and it loved the sand and gravel.

          • Many choices out there but it depends on how and where you use them, no right or wrong but only suitable or likable in certain location or not. Periwinkle only good to go with shrubs, trees and deep root system plants.

  5. The plants on that list of “weeds” from the City of Niagara Falls don’t seem to be invasive species. Goldenrod is on the list.

    • Very true, goldenrod is a native. I removed it from the garden because of its aggressive behavior. Neighbors would have complained I am guessing. Now it is growing in a large container out back.

  6. rogerbrook says:

    Our climate is perhaps more conducive to grass than yours and our popular grass species are perhaps more resilient to drought.
    Most gardeners tend to think it rather irresponsible to waste water on lawns.
    That does not mean our lawns never go brown. We are starting here in York to suffer dry conditions and I am wanting it to rain heavily for a couple of days! Otherwise it is going to turn but it will recover in due course.
    We tend to raise the height of cut to retain green grass in dry weather and in my own case I always let all my mowings fly which tends to preserve good grass colour.

    • Rainy weather helps! It is surprising to me your area is having a drought. We always have heard of all that rain in the UK. I mulch the grass also, helping at least to not waste that natural fertilizer.

  7. Spotted 2 white sparrows in my garden today.

  8. Emily Scott says:

    Totally ridiculous, really feel for that couple. A lot of my neighbours have concreted over their front gardens and turned them into car parks, which I think is far worse than letting the grass grow or go dormant.

  9. alesiablogs says:

    Live dangerously Donna.. Go for 8 and a half inches before cutting…

  10. When there is a drought on not mowing the lawn conserves the soil. My mother used to cut her lawn so short that she literally scalped it. It all turned to dust. Then she wrecked her lawnmower as it sucked up the dust into the motor. That year we had a serious drought on as well.

  11. Loretta says:

    When we lived in the suburbs, we had an acre and a bit of land. We never used chemicals on the lawn, it would probably have won first prize for all the weeds, lots of wild violets which looked so pretty and purple in the spring……but whenever we had a drought, our lawm looked the greenest because it was mostly weeds :). Now we have moved to the city, we have flower beds in the front and back yards, but not a blade of grass, just a courtyard that was probably once a grassy patch. I like it that way, and I like your comments on lawns in general. Great post.

    • Thank you, Loretta. In our neighborhood, my lawn is pretty pathetic with the neighbors having the sprinklers on often and having lawn services feed and weed. I do admire the verdant lawns for appearance, but the birds and insects don’t. I was noticing the sparrows and robins in my weedy lawn yesterday. The sparrows were picking off insects in the grass and the robins were fighting each other off for my small patch of moist grass to snag worms. Lots of rain brought lots of robins.

  12. lucindalines says:

    I understand wanting to be protected from invasive weeds, but there is a limit. One of my mother’s neighbors groomed his lawn incessantly. He ended up with Parkinson’s. Not sure if there was a connection, but my mother thought he might actually have had something from all the chemicals he was using. Seems to happen to chemical over users in this area.

    • I wonder if that does have a connection. My Samoyed got a brain tumor and had to be put down. I attributed it to walking on grass that was sprayed. My dog before her also got cancer and was always walking where grass was sprayed. It is hard to avoid sprayed properties until we get to the park. I wonder about me because lawn services are at all the properties I have worked. I am a bit luckier though being on site much less after the deign was complete.

  13. I’m lucky to live in a pretty tolerant community. Nobody has ever called the city on me, though I’m probably violating some ordinance or other. The city workers are aware of what my garden looks like, but I think they feel they have better things to do. And there are even some who understand its value (reduced rain runoff, for example). Your photos and garden are just beautiful, as always.

    • It only takes one neighbor to make a report. Make sure you are friendly with them all. The city will do nothing unless there is a complaint or a serious violation. It is always the neighbors causing the problems. In one case in our neighborhood, one neighbor called the city on one neighbor for putting out trash too early. That neighbor got a citation to pay. But right next door and a few doors down, other neighbors also had mounds of trash out prematurely. They did not get cited because the neighbor only called on the one they did not like.

  14. Those restrictions are just crazy, Donna. There are none out here in the sticks and we just mow the weeds and turn as much ‘lawn’ as possible into flower beds. I wish, however, there were some restrictions on run-down properties here. We need more than a weed inspector — My neighborhood is unbelievably ugly in places. P. x

    • If I showed images of Niagara Falls, you would think this city a disaster with all the dilapidated, abandoned, trash strewn and slum lord housing. You would think this city has no inspectors. To fuss over a lawn being too high is crazy, especially since there are a number of empty lots filled with tall weeds. The problem is the laws become retaliation for neighbor on neighbor. We are lucky all our neighbors now are good people. We used to have a few that called the city all the time.

  15. b-a-g says:

    Hi Donna – We don’t have such restrictions in the UK, though there are certain areas where neighbours may feel that they are put under pressure to fit in with the status quo. I like the way your “wild” garden is contained by the formal box hedge.

  16. Same here with code enforcement, lawn citations and mostly lawns clipped….less chemical use I am noticing though. I would love to have less lawn, but I believe that is against some code here and even if it wasn’t, if I was to resell chances are it would be hard to sell or like my old house where I ripped out all but one patch and put in gardens…it was all ripped out and lawn replaced all of it.

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