Brad Ross: Is your lawn too big?


Backing out of my driveway one day this week, I noticed through the drizzling rain that the grass seemed to have a little green tinge of color. Could it be the warm temperatures and rains are combining to bring our grass out of dormancy already?

After living in a condo the past two years, I recently purchased a real home again and now have my own lawn to care for. Now I have mixed emotions that it will be lawn-mowing season soon. I have missed caring for my own lawn and landscape a bit, but this time I made a point of buying a home with a very small yard and a good bit of my property encompasses a wooded ravine.

I recently read an article about the high cost of lawn care in the U.S. and it caused me to do a little digging (pun intended). Across the U.S., there are more than 40 million acres of lawn from homes, golf courses, parks, etc. To put that in perspective, there are only about 10 million acres of corn grown in the U.S.!

Turf grass is the most widely grown crop in the U.S. Last summer, my cousin from southern Utah was visiting and was amazed at the vast acres of green grass, especially homes that have huge front lawns. We do love our green grass here in Ohio; however, have you ever thought about the environmental impacts of having all that manicured lawn?

The maintenance of those 40 million acres account for about 5 percent of the nation’s air pollution. An estimated 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled while filling the mower and other lawn equipment. In comparison, the Exxon Valdez disaster spilled 10 million gallons in 1989 in Alaska. Billions of dollars are spent each year on pesticides and fertilizers by homeowners and lawn-care providers, who typically use 10 times more than farmers for growing their crops! A majority of these chemicals and fertilizers may end up in our water sources, due to inappropriate timing and application.

The good news is there are alternatives. If you are looking for minor changes to make in your yard, incorporate “evolutionary” practices such as:

• Mulch your grass clippings instead of bagging them. You can reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer by 50 percent.

• Use an electric or hand-powered lawn mower to reduce carbon emissions.

• Plan more efficient watering. Never let the water run onto the sideway or driveway. Put a cup or can the size of a tuna fish can in the yard and measure the irrigation. Never apply more than one inch of water at a time.

Or you can take the “revolutionary” approach and change the type of grass or modify the size of your lawn. Changing your grass to native landscaping or adding clover allows you to mow less frequently. Some may opt to cut their lawn size in half and devote the other half to wildlife plantings. Growing a prairie or planting a wooded area reduces maintenance and provides great food and shelter for our wild neighbors while, at the same time, greatly reducing our impact on our soil, water and air quality.

My daughter and son-in-law moved back to Ohio last year from New Mexico where they had no grass due to the desert setting. Josh purchased a battery-operated push mower and he never stops talking about how great it is – “no gas to mess with or store, no worries about spilling it, and no noise!” I was so excited; I bought one myself this week. Now I can’t wait for the grass to grow!

For detailed information on lawn care, go to Purdue University’s lawn care center website at

Brad Ross

Contributing columnist

Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at [email protected].

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