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.

A homeowner enjoying a healthy link with nature.


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.







33 Comments on “A Grass Roots Effort?”

  1. I had to laugh at the picture of the homeowner mowing his grass. Is that in England (thatched roofs, etc)? It’s the sort of offering that you’d see from the land of my birth!
    Agree 100% with your sentiments and cannot believe how many homeowners still pay for lawn care treatments.

  2. I totally agree too. We do happen to have large swaths of lawn –about half of our five acres. But we don’t do anything to it except mow it. Lots of “weeds” in there, with deep roots and seeds for birds. I especially love clover, and if I could, I’d replace all the grass with clover 🙂

  3. Hmmm. There might be more than a few overly optimistic opinions in that email. I love my lawn, but would never claim it’s better for the environment than anything other than paving or astroturf… even though it does seem to provide a great environment for clover and dandelions.

  4. I saw an artificial lawn the other day that looked great! I have mixed feelings about grass lawns, but I do prefer walking on grass than other materials.
    One good thing about clover in lawns: the wild rabbits tend to be drawn to it, instead of our flowers and veggies.

  5. The photo made me laugh. Some day owners must learn that treating lawns, as well as shrubs and flowers, with harmful chemicals is bad for man and the environment. I was at a lady’s house recently, helping her with some yard work. I did not see a single insect of any sort while I was there. The whole yard smelled of chemicals. There are environmentally responsible, organic products available for lawn and garden, though they often are hard to find. I have to order mine from the internet. Hopefully that will change.

  6. Are those wonderful stripes your own?
    Just tongue in cheek. For some gardeners here in the UK stripes are a big thing!
    My own mower wanders in all directions but the chaotic markings disappear over 24 hours.
    I actually think the absorption of water is a serious thing and often in small London town gardens converted to car parks with tarmac run off is a serious problem

  7. We got rid of our lawn during the drought, but now have gone back to a having a few little green patches around the garden; it is a joy to look at and walk on in the hot summer months. We’ve never used chemicals, and the lawns are just fine. However, we would not increase our little pieces of green indulgence because they do need lots of water…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: