Is There a Solution to America’s Obsession with Lawn Maintenance?

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

With nearly every neighborhood in the United States home to a number of nearly identical green spaces, the prevailing assumption among urban ecologists has been that lawn care behaviors are similar across the country.

In a new study of lawn care habits published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a National Science Foundation-funded research group finds that no one has really bothered to test whether irrigation and fertilization practices are consistent. “So far, the social and scientific literatures on lawn care have tested the homogeneity of biophysical results of lawn care practices, assuming an underlying homogeneity of lawn care practices, rather than testing it,” the authors write.

The American obsession with lawns fueled a $ 40 billion industry, and overuse of water and fertilizers “has emerged as a major concern for carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and water flows,” according to the authors. (According to The Week, “The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a third of all water from public sources is used for landscaping – most of it on grass.”) Hoping to make recommendations for more sustainable practices, the research group recently tried To measure how homogeneous lawn care habits are, shows a survey of 9,480 residents in Boston, Baltimore, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Is it wiser to ban new lawns altogether, especially considering that it’s just cosmetic overkills?

The results showed that nearly 80 percent of respondents watered their grass and 64 percent used fertilizer. However, the researchers conclude that there is “limited evidence of complete homogenization,” meaning that differences have been seen both between and within different cities. The utopian lawn practices that have long been practiced by intrusive neighbors are not as widespread as thought.

In Los Angeles and Miami, for example, lawn fertilization is similar, but fertilization in the respective cities varies depending on the population density (city, suburb, country). Los Angeles and Phoenix had similar irrigation rates, but the variance within these cities can be explained by socioeconomics.

Designing sustainable plans for the future requires a more micro-oriented approach. “The results suggest that a unified strategy to try to convince US citizens to less cultivate their lawns is not working,” wrote lead author Colin Polsky, associate professor of geography at Clark University , in an email. “Such policies must be based on the factors that influence behavior and … vary according to climate and social, economic and demographic characteristics of households.”

Is it wiser to ban new lawns altogether, especially considering that it’s just cosmetic overkills? Polsky believes the approach was workable in drier climates like Las Vegas, but may be unnecessary in wetter climates.

Peter Groffman, microbial ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and co-author, was against a ban and referred to lawn values ​​such as “cooling in summer and heating in winter, biodiversity, carbon and nitrogen retention in the soil”. Rainwater infiltration, aesthetics, [and] Outdoor recreation, “he wrote.” So people are sure to benefit from their lawns, and any policy to ban lawns or mandate certain types of lawn must take into account the full range of costs and benefits. “

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