How green is your grass? First of all, I want to say that I love turf grass. I love my lawn. I really love my lawn this time of year because it doesn’t need to be mowed. There are many benefits to having a nice lawn. Lawns have a cooling effect, produce oxygen, provide a safe playing surface for children of all ages, prevent erosion, help filter out pollutants, and the list can go on and on, depending on who you talk to. The question becomes whether or not the energy and resources put into maintaining a lawn is worth it.
To apply one inch of water to a lawn, it takes a little bit more than .6 gallons per square foot. Now, if you have an area that is 100’x 100,’ that would equal 6,000 gallons of water to keep that lawn from getting thirsty. You do this for twenty-eight weeks and that would be 168,000 gallons. What does that look like? You know those big tanker trucks you see at the gas station? They can typically carry 9,000 gallons. So, that would be 18.67 of those huge tanker trucks to water your not-quite quarter acre of lawn for the year. And that is on the low side.
To be fair, many folks water responsibly and employ the proper mowing and other cultural practices that help reduce the need for supplemental watering. But while we’re talking about water, let’s compare what happens when it rains on a lawn. The runoff from grass in a typical 10-acre subdivision of half-acre lots is the same as runoff from 36 acres of forest (which probably doesn’t have any chemicals that will leach into the watershed). In a North Carolina Watershed study the mean soil infiltration rate was cut to a third when a site was converted from forest to suburban turf.
So… lawns use a lot of water and don’t absorb as much as trees, but they do actually produce more oxygen than the same size area covered in forest. But that’s a good thing, considering all the resources they require. Did you know that according to the EPA one gas-powered lawn mower emits as many pollutants as 11 new cars each being driven for one hour? Wow! And that doesn’t include the backpack blowers, edgers, and trimmers that burn a gasoline and oil mixture. Just think about that for a minute.
I wouldn’t dream of outlawing the lawn; it is part of what I do for a living. It would be nice, though, if people would consider returning a portion of their lawn areas to nature by using native plantings. This would be good for the animals, the bugs, and the people using the property, as well as the environment as a whole. Why not grow your own food in an area of your yard? You can still define a smaller lawn area that is truly functional and easily maintained. As a nation we have been conditioned to love the lawn. As long as the land and resources to have and maintain a lawn are relatively cheap, it will take a Herculean effort to change the hearts and minds of the lawn lovers.