Grass: The Long and Short of It

Green, green grass of home

Green, green grass of home

Silicon Valley is known for its innovations and mild temperatures, but not for its annual rainfall.  In a good year our arid climate averages 14 to 18 inches of rain. Planting grass should be an extravagance in this highly populated, rain-thirsty climate.

We have healthy, water-guzzling grass growing in our own yard, as do our neighbors, up and down the block. Planting a lawn is a suburban tradition, but one that probably needs to end. For years, a trip down the street of an average neighborhood revealed a vast expanse of green, carefully grown, manicured, fertilized, trimmed and of course watered lawns.

I struggle with this as I’ve become more aware of the toll it takes on our environment. When we redesigned our garden, I was all for a reduction in our lawn foot print, but my husband wanted to maintain an expanse for the boys to run and play.  When they were smaller, they ran around on the grass, tumbling, wrestling or dashing through the sprinklers on hot days.  It was a safe place to play, breaking falls and cooling tender feet. They don’t play that way anymore.  Perhaps a lawn is something we maintain for a finite amount of time, like sandboxes and swing sets.  Once our children are grown, we’re happy to replace those things.  Why not our thirsty lawns?

Could replacing lawns be the next paradigm shift?  Ashtrays are no longer standard in automobiles or airplanes.  Twenty years ago that was unthinkable.  As our consciousness rises, so too will our innovations.  When we say “going green” it will have nothing to do with our love affair with the front lawn.

Cooling Off in the Grass

Cooling Off in the Grass

8 thoughts on “Grass: The Long and Short of It

  1. That is a conundrum isn’t it. I love to sit in a chair and run my toes through the grass but is it a waste of water? I stumbled into a store here not to long ago (looking for directions), they sold and installed artificial turf. I must say it looked very convincing. Several different shades, lengths and textures. The yards in Edmonton are getting so small it almost makes more sense. I think I might miss the feel of real grass on my feet a little though. I’m glad you’re asking the question, it makes you think. Hey is that Mighty Mouse, good pics

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    • You are a quick study! Yes, Mighty Mouse, the neighbors cat. He spends most of his time with us. He’s a real character and we love him to pieces. It’s just funny that he isn’t actually ours.

      I’ve seen the artificial turfs as well. I’ve seen a few pop up around here, but not as you described. I’ve commented more than once that they need a weed or two to look natural. The nicest ones have plants growing up next to them. I hope to replace our lawn one day with native ground cover. A happy medium.

      The local dog parks use the artificial turf which makes a lot of sense. It can be cleaned but survives all that rough and tumble dog play.

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  2. Lawns do look beautiful but require a lot of water and I think people are starting to think more carefully about resources.
    We have a different problem in England – many people are removing their front lawns to make extra parking spaces. The environment agency believe that this has resulted in the loss of a vast soak-away that has contributed to the recent floods.

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    • PJ Girl, that’s fascinating. When replacing concrete driveways here, some people are opting for a more porous surface, like paving stones. The water moves between the cracks, returning to the water tables, instead of creating run off to the storm drains. When we had our patio installed, they put a drain in the middle, with the pavers sloping slightly to catch the water. It then flows into a pipe, below.

      I’m sorry to hear about the flooding.

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  3. For myself and my family there are no qualms or conundrums. Stone and rock retain heat. When it’s 100 degrees the last thing I want are more rocks near my house. Since I have both I can say unequivocally that the grass side is cooler and more pleasant than the rock side. If grass is watered properly, instead of being over-saturated, it needs very little watering and adds to the environment by reducing heat retention and creating oxygen. It also gives my dogs a safe place to play (dog parks are too prone to unruly, ill-mannered dogs that are missing important vaccinations). It would be a very sad day if grass became a casualty of political correctness and/or fell only within the purview of the wealthy.

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    • Mary thank you for reading and commenting.

      I think it already falls within the purview of the wealthy, golf courses being an excellent example. It takes resources to plant, groom, water, fertilize and maintain a nice lawn. We all having to make these choices for ourselves.

      Alternatively, you can create a cool environment with shade trees, tall, drought tolerant hedges or ground cover. It doesn’t have to be an even or proposition.

      Taking care of the environment is good for everyone. You might be interested in this citation from Wikipedia: Environmental concerns

      Greater amounts of chemical fertilizer and pesticides are used per acre of lawn than on an equivalent acre of cultivated farmland, [22] and the continued use of these products has been associated with environmental pollution, disturbance in the lawn ecosystem, and increased health risks to the local human population. [23]

      Other concerns, criticisms, and ordinances regarding lawns come from the environmental consequences:

      Most lawns are composed of a monoculture (single species) of plants, which reduces biodiversity, especially when the lawn covers a large area. They usually are composed of introduced species not native to the area, which can further decrease a locale’s biodiversity and vital habitats supporting an ecosystem.
      Lawn maintenance often uses inorganic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, which can harm the environment. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has estimated[when?] nearly 70,000,000 pounds (32,000,000 kg) of active pesticide ingredients are used on suburban lawns each year in the United States.[24] It has also been estimated that more herbicides are applied per acre of lawn than are used by most farmers to grow industrial crops. [11]
      For example, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Kuwait, and Belize have placed restrictions on the use of the herbicide 2,4-D.
      It has been estimated that nearly 17 million gallons of gasoline are spilled each summer while re-fueling garden and lawn-care equipment in the United States; approximately 50% more than that spilled during the Exxon Valdez incident. [11]
      The use of pesticides and fertilizers, requiring fossil fuels for manufacturing, distribution, and application, have been shown to contribute to global warming, whereas sustainable organic techniques have been shown to help reduce global warming.[25]

      I’ve learned so much from reading these articles.

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  4. Personally I don’t use Wikipedia for fact finding, but to each their own. My grass means as much to me as your flower garden means to you. It makes me happy, and is responsibly maintained so it has no negative environmental impact. That can be true of any living plant if properly grown and maintained. Just as the argument you make against grass can also be applied to any living plant where the grower cares only about profit or expediency; i.e. professional flower farms and nurseries, or corn that is plowed once it nears maturity rather than being harvested so the farmer can collect his subsidy. It all depends on the person, not the plant.

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    • I’m glad you are enjoying it. I certainly understand.

      And you are so right, responsible practices are key…to anything we do. Factory farming has taken us in the direction of profits over quality, convenience over flavor. Hopefully the movement toward more organic, sustainable practices will help bring things back in alignment with our need for good health.

      Thanks for commenting.

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