Environmental Assessment of Intensive Lawn Care

Lead Author: Dr. Jim Bowyer

Publish date: 04.09.2019

Dovetail Partners Consuming Responsibly Report No.7
 

Executive Summary

 

While green lawns are as American as apple pie, they contribute to a host of adverse environmental impacts if not managed with restraint. Fertilization, in particular, deserves special attention as its production is energy-intensive with its use linked to pollution of surface and ground water, emissions of potent greenhouse gases, reduction of dissolved oxygen in rivers and lakes, and promotion of algal growth in water bodies. Pesticides and herbicides used on lawns and gardens also pose risks to surface and groundwater, aquatic ecosystems, birds and beneficial insects, and soil microorganisms.   

 

Healthy growing lawns sequester carbon, and store significant quantities in soil. Carbon sequestration is an important benefit of urban lawns. Healthy lawns maintained with modest fertilization, watering, and clippings retention have relatively low impact. But moderation, as in many things, is essential in lawn management in order to minimize adverse impacts. More does not mean better. While fertilization can increase the rate of carbon capture, its use can also trigger emissions that negate that benefit. Fertilizer use should be guided by periodic soil samples, and excess avoided. Timing of fertilizer application is also important. Paying attention to a number of other simple guidelines, which vary by region, can reduce the impacts of lawn care.