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The Benefits of a Manicured Lawn

Posted on:Aug 7, 2015

The manicured lawn is as American as apple pie. But traditional green spaces are increasingly under the microscope regarding equipment emissions and air quality, water consumption, chemical use and overall sustainability.

Well-intentioned conservationists and environmentalists suggest replacing the manicured lawn with xeriscaping, such as rocks and/or desert-like materials, while others embrace letting grassy areas simply grow wild. One such example is an Ohio couple who refuse to mow their lawn, instead letting it morph into a veritable jungle of vegetation, much to the chagrin of local government officials, according to The Washington Post:

"...maintaining a mowed and fertilized lawn also pollutes the air, water and soil. The emissions from lawnmowers and other garden equipment are responsible for more than 5 percent of urban air pollution. An hour of gas-powered lawn mowing produces as much pollution as four hours of driving a car...Homeowners use up to 10 times more chemicals per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops, chemicals that can end up in drinking water and waterways."

The Myths and Truths of the Manicured Lawn

SunGrassThe article does raise legitimate concerns about proper methods of maintaining a well-manicured lawn, but it also cites erroneous and misleading information.

The statement about mower emissions references a 2009 study by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. However, the article does not acknowledge the age of said study nor the more stringent emissions regulations in place in 2015. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tier 4 Final emissions standards are now fully effective, cutting engine exhaust emissions from non-road small engines — like those found in zero-turn mowers and other lawn and garden equipment — a staggering 80 percent from 2009 levels.

Chemical fertilizers are helpful when establishing new lawns, but the healthy manicured lawn, when maintained correctly, can be self-sufficient and self-fertilizing. Mulching clippings to return valuable nutrients to the soil, as well as composting and using the compost as natural fertilizer, are increasingly popular alternatives to chemicals. In fact, if everyone recycled clippings and let them decompose on the lawn, the total U.S. lawn area — about 36,000 square miles of lawns — could store up to 16.7 teragrams (or 18.4 million tons) of carbon each year.

Implementing a mulching and/or composting regimen can also eliminate chemical fertilizers altogether along with chemical runoff into water systems.

Another big issue is water consumption, especially in drought-stricken areas. Let's face it: most of us don't know how to water our lawns. We either use too much or too little, both of which can be detrimental. A well-maintained, manicured lawn can improve water absorption — requiring less watering — and reduce water run-off into storm sewers. Watering early in the morning to a depth of 1 to 1-½ inches once a week will significantly reduce the amount of water used and while keeping the lawn healthy.

And, while counter-intuitive for some, mowing the grass at a taller height can also yield positive results for turf health and sustainability. Taller turf shades the soil, reducing water evaporation and, thus, water consumption; prevents weeds from taking root, reducing the need for chemical intervention; and encourages root development, boosting resilience to drought, pests and disease. In addition, taller turf does not need to be mowed as often, which further reduces the environmental impact from engine emissions.

The writer's zeal for the environment should be commended — we are all living on this Earth together, so we should do our part to protect, preserve and conserve it — but the movement to eliminate the healthy manicured lawn and other green spaces is just as extreme as using up valuable resources with reckless abandon.

9 Ways A Manicured Lawn Improves Your Life

The Lawn Institute estimates that the United States has more than 31 million acres of managed grass — which equates to more than 50,000 square miles — with more than 60 percent of it found in lawns. With that said, here are 9 ways healthy, a well-maintained, manicured lawn and other green spaces positively affect the environment and human health (as reported by Outdoor Power Equipment magazine):

1) A healthy 10,000-square-foot lawn can absorb more than 6,000 gallons of rainwater without noticeable runoff.

2) One acre of grass can absorb and assimilate hundreds of pounds of sulfur dioxide created by automobile exhaust. In addition, grass and all other green plants absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. This is one of the main processes that remove carbon dioxide (one of the main greenhouse gases) from the air. More importantly, it is the only natural process that produces the oxygen we breathe in the air.

3) A home landscape is an important oxygen producer just by itself. A 50-foot by 50-foot area can produce enough oxygen to sustain a family of four.

4) The trees and grass along the U.S. interstate highway system release enough oxygen to support an estimated 22 million people annually.

5) If people recycle grass clippings, leaving them to decompose on the lawn, the U.S. lawn area could store up to 16.7 teragrams of carbon each year. That's equivalent to about 37 billion pounds or the weight of approximately 147,000 blue whales.

6) A well-maintained lawn and landscape keeps a home significantly cooler by reducing surface temperatures by 30-40 degrees compared to bare soil and by 50-70 degrees versus streets and sidewalks.

7) Researchers have estimated that an average home landscape provides the cooling effect equivalent to 10 tons of air conditioning, compared to the 3- to 4-ton capacity of the average air-conditioning unit.

8) A manicured lawn is aesthetically pleasing and has proven to increase property values. Companies and institutions with well-maintained landscaping realize increased trust and confidence from their consumer bases and constituencies.

9) The article concludes, "Hasty decisions regarding the removal of turfgrass and lawns without fully understanding and appreciating the environmental benefits they offer may be a disservice, not only to all of us, but to future generations as well."


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