The Sustainability Buzz

How Green Is Your Grass?

How Green Is Your Grass?Perhaps the color is a lovely shade of grass green, but from both an economic and environmental perspective, just how green is all that manicured lawn out there? The answer is: not very.

In the last few years interest in native grasses and their use in corporate environments has been driven by two complementary sets of factors, one economic and one environmental. This month, let’s take a look at why more companies are “going native”.

If one of your concerns is getting more profit to the bottom line by reducing costs, you should look out the window and see how much money goes in to installing and maintaining a manicured lawn. Installation costs of seeding native grasses versus sodding turf grasses are 67-83% lower. Even if you compare seeding native grasses to seeding turf grasses, you can still save 50% or more. But, you say, my grass is already there – sunk cost. That’s true. But every year you have to maintain it, and maintenance costs for native grass meadows run an eye-popping 90% less than maintaining a lawn. That means if lawn maintenance costs you $5,000 per year and you switch to native plants and grasses, you can tuck $4,500 back in your pocket. The native grasses require mowing only once every one or two years. Now imagine if you had a really big property!

In a recent case study, iSpring coordinated analysis of a 13-acre site for retrofit from manicured lawn to native grass field. The capital cost of less than $13,000 had a breakeven of less than one year and would produce more than $150,000 in maintenance cost savings over a five-year period.

Native grass plantings also reduce the amount of stormwater run-off. Because native grasses have extensive root structures that reach to depths of 4 to 10 feet, they create greater soil permeability than turf grasses with root systems of 4 to 6 inches deep. Greater permeability means that more water seeps deeper into the soil during rain events, rather than running off to the storm water system. A native grass installation can reduce rainwater run-off by as much as 50%. If your city or municipality bases its stormwater charges on quantity of run-off, a native grass system can represent a significant savings.

If we look beyond the economic benefits, the environmental benefits are even more impressive. The deeper, more expansive root systems of native grasses reduce soil erosion, particularly on steep banks or hillsides. Getting rid of that maintenance regimen means you can say goodbye to the herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizer. Native grasses are, by definition, suited to the characteristics of the local environment and therefore more pest-resistant and drought-tolerant.

You can also say farewell to the carbon-belching, gasoline-guzzling lawn mowers and tractors and line trimmers. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a traditional gas-powered lawn mower produces as much air pollution as 43 new cars each being driven 12,000 miles. Saying goodbye to them improves the air quality and reduces noise pollution. Water quality also improves as the native plant root structures enhance the infiltration of contaminated stormwater.

If, like many of us in eastern Pennsylvania, you are plagued with the scourge of Canada geese, you’ll be happy to know that a native grass plot will discourage them from visiting. Tall grasses can hide the geese’s natural predators, so planting native grasses, particularly near open water, will encourage them to swim on by. Andrea was involved with a riparian restoration project on the banks of the Monocacy Creek a decade ago that addressed just that issue. Today that site is home to native trees, shrubs and grasses, but no geese.

If all these economic and environmental benefits aren’t enough to convince you, then let’s throw in the aesthetics. What could be more attractive than a native grass plot humming with bees and butterflies, bedecked with bright wildflowers all summer, and maintaining visual interest year-round? Wouldn’t you rather work in that environment? We know we would.

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