A Grass Roots Effort?
Sometimes I get emails that look interesting enough not to delete right away, but also not interesting enough to actually open and read. I might get around to reading them weeks later.
For example, at the beginning of August I got an email with the subject line: “Turf is Tops: Environmental benefits of a lawn”. It was sent to me by a PR firm working with an organization called Grass Seed USA, which describes itself as “a national coalition of grass seed farmers and academic turf specialists”.
I wondered if the creation of Grass Seed USA was a response to the growing popularity of lawn alternatives. If so, it would be a good sign. Not that Grass Seed USA looks like a slick, expensive operation. And it shouldn’t have to be, given the millions in advertising spent every year by the lawn care industry.
Then I read about the alleged environmental benefits of lawns. Did you know that lawns provide “a healthy link with nature”? The details of this link are not described, unfortunately. Which kind of leaves me in the dark, because the words “lawn” and “nature” don’t conjure up similar images in my own mind.
Apparently, grass also reduces our carbon footprint, providing “the same [carbon storing] benefit” as trees. This is a little like saying that a one man tent provides the same benefit (shelter) as a three bedroom house.
In practice, lawn turf roots tend to be shallow – not just compared to trees but compared to many ornamental plants (wild and cultivated). Here’s a chart that illustrates the difference, with the popular turf Kentucky Bluegrass at the far right.
Another environmental benefit is that “a thick lawn absorbs rainfall, virtually eliminating any runoff …” This may be true of test plots at research facilities, but it is certainly not true of the typical urban and suburban lawns which are usually grown on shallow topsoils. These lawns may absorb more rainfall than concrete, but not too much more.
And regarding thick lawns, a Minnesota study found that they tend to be saturated in phosphorous, and may be a bigger water quality problem than more meager turf.
Don’t get me wrong, I think lawns have their proper place in home and public landscapes. I just think there should be fewer acres covered in turfgrass. Part of what Grass Seed USA seems to be saying is that properly cared for lawns are more environmentally benign (for instance, the grass usually doesn’t need all that phosphorous).
This seems to be a valid point. Unfortunately, the marketing done by the lawn care industry tends to be focused more on moving product and less on sustainable practices.