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Grass Can Be Green: Be An Advocate of Our Industry

April 28, 2010

It’s been awhile since I have posted to the blog. The hiatus is partially due to countless hours of preparation for my preliminary exam which was last week. A preliminary exam is a required step on the way to obtaining a PhD and might be best described as an exercise in poise, patience, and humility while demonstrating your ability to think on your feet. As part of my preliminary exam I was presented with an opinion article that recently appeared in the New York Times.

Here are some excerpts from the article which was titled “The Dandelion King.”

….The unkept look of my lawn is just a byproduct of a conclusion I reached a few years ago: the war on weeds, though not unwinnable, isn’t winnable at a morally acceptable cost.

….I soon learned that the carpets of green in suburbia are the product of assiduously applied chemicals. “Pre-emergent” herbicides are laid down more than once in the spring (mixed in with the fertilizer) to sabotage the germination of crabgrass, dandelions and other undesirables. If this fails, post-emergents may be applied en masse. And as the summer wears on, local pockets of resistance can be wiped out with a spray canister of poison.

….releasing dubious chemicals into the environment — is the inevitable result of using them on your lawn; you can’t negate this negative externality without rewriting the laws of nature.

….But for me, the practical way to have an eco-friendly lawn is to have a weedy lawn.

The remainder of the article is littered with further inaccuracies and embellishments that mislead the reader and paint a negative picture of turfgrass (the full article can be read at by clicking here).

I was asked, as a member and advocate of the turfgrass industry, to provide a rebuttal to this article as part of my preliminary exam. I believe articles of this nature reinforce the notion of the importance that each and every one of us does our part to educate our customers and the public about the benefits of properly managed turfgrass. Here are some facts about the benefits of turfgrass to the environment based upon published scientific literature. Equip yourself with this knowledge so you can provide an insightful answer next time you are challenged about the benefits of turfgrass. A comprehensive report detailing turfgrasses and their benefit to humans and the environment can be found here.

Environmental Benefits of Turfgrass

• Turfgrass provides a dense groundcover which protects the soil from water and wind erosion. Doubling the amount of turfgrass shoots in a lawn (32 to 64/sq.inch) reduced the amount of runoff by two thirds (Easton Z.M., and A.M. Petrovic. 2004. Fertilizer source effect on ground and surface water quality in drainage from turfgrass. J Environ Qual 33: 645-656)

• The dense canopy of well-maintained turfgrass coupled with its extensive, fibrous root system results in more water infiltrating through the soil profile. This enhanced infiltration increases groundwater recharge and reduces nutrient loss in runoff. Weedy-low quality lawns had three times more nitrogen runoff than a dense-treated lawn and no more phosphorus runoff (Easton, Z.M. 2005. Ph.D. thesis, Cornell Univ.)

• The turf-soil ecosystem supports a diverse population of soil microorganisms. These organisms are very efficient at degrading and trapping many of organic chemicals contained in runoff and sediment that occurs from impervious surfaces. Thin, weedy lawns leached 1-2 % of a herbicide compared to no leaching from a dense lawn (Easton, Zachary M., A. Martin Petrovic, Donald J. Lisk and Inga-Mai Larsson-Kovach. 2005. Hillslope Position Effect on Nutrient and Pesticide Runoff from Turfgrass. Intern. Turfgrass Soc. Res. J. 10:121-129).

• Turfgrass removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and replaces it with oxygen. This exchange of gasses allows turfgrass to act as a net sink for the sequestration of C02. Well-managed turfgrass receiving inputs can sequester larger amounts of carbon dioxide compared to lawns receiving no inputs (Zirkle, Gina Nicole. 2009. 2009 International Annual Meetings: [Abstracts][ASA-CSSA-SSSA]. p. [52288]).

Marcus Jones
Graduate Research Assistant