The Role of Turfgrass and Ornamental Lawns in Global Warming

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.


One Response to “The Role of Turfgrass and Ornamental Lawns in Global Warming”

  1. Theresa Says:

    “Following the publication of the UCI paper last month, two Ph.D students at NC State University studied the model used to generate the numbers in the paper and found that there were errors and therefore miscalculations. By their reckoning, for example, the CO2 generated by maintaining an ornamental lawn was 122 g m-2 yr-1 rather than > 1238 g m-2 yr-1 reported in the UCI paper. As noted by NC State, this is important, because it makes the situation with ornamental lawns carbon neutral to positive, depending on some of their other assumptions about fertilization. The NC State students also are suggesting that the paper did not take into account C speciation during combustion. Depending on the kind of mowers used, this could lower levels by another 15 to 50%. ”,com_LandscapeNotes/Itemid,86/noteid,2453

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