Organic landscaping requires right grass for region

Organic landscaping requires right grass for region

Photo courtesy of Ellen Goff – Selecting the best grass species depends on your local climate and growing conditions.

by Ellen Goff

There was a time when the words "sustainable" and "lawn" were considered oxymorons. Now, as concern grows over the continuing drought, outdoor watering restrictions are in effect from Charlotte, N.C., south to Miami and west to Austin, Texas. Homeowners and lawn care providers are pressed to find efficient ways to grow grass while conserving water and protecting the environment.

Despite dry conditions, a residential lawn can be an environmental asset by stabilizing slopes, filtering stormwater, defusing summer heat and absorbing carbon dioxide. Yet traditional lawn care turns one of this country's largest agricultural crops into an eco-liability. Applying fertilizers and pesticides pollutes stormwater runoff. Careless irrigation wastes water — a huge issue for our drought-stricken region. Weekly mowing and blowing add to noise and air pollution.

An eco-friendly lawn can be achieved in varying degrees of sustainability. For starters, try reducing the overall size of your lawn. Next, switch to lawn care practices that use organic products. Then, focus on the essentials: test your soil; follow a lawn-maintenance calendar appropriate for your region; use the proper lawn cutting height based on the weather and growing conditions; and understand how and when to irrigate.

The amount of foot traffic your lawn receives can determine the best, most sustainable grass for your yard. For sports and play activities, traditional turf grasses are almost indispensable. Yet, areas of your yard that are never walked on could be converted to ground covers that are more sustainable and cost less to maintain.

Homeowners seeking help call experts like John Cannon, owner of NaturaLawn of America located in Charlotte. He says homeowners come to his firm seeking an attractive, traditional lawn. "They're looking for service as well as lawn care that's safe around children and pets," he says. "That's more than half our business."

Selecting the best type of grass depends on your local climate and growing conditions. On the dry Texas plains, Bermuda and St. Augustine grasses are most commonly grown for their drought tolerance. In central and south Florida, centipede is added to this list especially for its disease resistance and low fertilizer requirements, though Bermuda is still the best for salt tolerance along the coast. The climate in Atlanta and Charlotte lets homeowners choose between zoysia and the other warm season grasses and cool season grasses such as tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass that remain green except in the hottest summer months.

No matter which grass you select, be sure your expectations are reasonable and informed. You can spend a lot of time, money and effort chasing unattainable beauty in your lawn. Healthy, sustainable turf may be a more satisfying goal.

Ellen Goff is a freelance horticulture writer and photographer. She is passionate about plants, water quality and protecting the environment. Aside from working with words and pictures, she stays busy with her home landscape and its inhabitants along the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.

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