A recent University of California, Irvine study concludes that maintaining lawns and turfgrass — fertilizing, mowing, leaf blowing and other activities — contributes far more in gas emissions than the lawn’s abilities to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and store carbon in the soil. Ornamental lawns and turfgrass cover nearly 2% of land in the United States. “It’s impossible for these lawns to be net greenhouse gas sinks because too much fuel is used to maintain them” reports Amy Townsend-Small, one of the researchers in the study. In fact, lawns and turfgrass maintenance produce nitrous oxide emissions comparable to emissions from agricultural farms.
While maintaining lawns in public spaces has many challenges, landscape architects are closely studying the sustainable landscape management practices at Harvard, a real-life example of a public space with 6,000 to 8,000 people walking on the lawns every day. Harvard’s Organic Landscaping Program has seven components: organic soil management; soil testing, to understand the soil’s conditions; composting; non-toxic pest and disease control; proper irrigation; proper planting and pruning techniques; and “right plant, right place” selection and placement. Seed selection, composting and more tips may be found in the article “Greening Basics: Lawns for Public Spaces” by Jane Carroll and Daniel Moise, The Green Scene, March/April 2010. These organic landscaping components suit the homeowner as well. See the many titles in the McLean library catalog on organic lawn care.