Jack Putz: What's so bad about a nice green lawn anyway?

Published: Sunday, January 9, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 7, 2011 at 12:08 a.m.

I grow weary of the exaggerated claims about the environmental evils of chemical-intensive lawns.

These homogeneously green swards of neatly cropped exotic turf grasses should be celebrated as demonstrations of our industrial capacity, not condemned as super-fund sites.

Although for health reasons it is not advisable to walk barefoot across a chemlawn, one can imagine how nice that might feel. And where other than on a lawn can you imagine playing croquet or badminton? And what would it be like to be awakened on a Saturday morning by birds squawking instead of the comforting sound lawnmowers, weed-whackers, and leaf blowers?

The 40 million acres of lawns in the continental U.S. use less than half of our drinking water, only about 10 percent of all pesticides applied, and not more than 600 million gallons of gasoline per year.

Here in Florida, irrigating lawns with drinking water is definitely not the principal cause of the declining levels of our aquifers. And lawns are not the main cause of elevated nutrient loadings in those aquifers and the once clear-watered springs to which they give rise.

Some people mistakenly believe that all of the nitrogen fertilizer applied to lawns ends up in our drinking water. It does not! A substantial proportion is released to the atmosphere as nitrous oxide and the NOXs, about which the global whining campaigners complain so vociferously.

As Floridians concerned about fiscal responsibility, we should recognize that turf grass is our number one agricultural crop, exceeding citrus or vegetable crops in annual revenues.

Then there are the millions of dollars that the lawn care industry keeps in circulation. Those dollars translate into huge numbers of jobs and support a growing economy.

While the process of converting a proportion of our lawns to less intensive ground covers would admittedly generate some short-term employment, just how many jobs will be sustained by xeroscaping and native species restoration?

With the advent of new petro-chemicals along with more powerful and ergonomic lawn care devices fueled by government subsidized gasoline, the post-war American dream of a neatly tended mono-specific lawn is now more attainable than ever for the average home owner.

The people behind the "No New Lawns" campaign are confused and misguided. Perhaps it is reasonable to ask your neighbors to hold off a bit with the triple super phosphate and the chlorinated hydrocarbons, but the extremists' claim is wrong: lawns don't kill, people do.

Francis E. "Jack" Putz is a botonist at the University of Florida.

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