From: robin Blackstone, ENN
Published March 12, 2014 01:16 PM

Sustainable urban lawns

Concern for the homogenization of America's urban landscape prompted a recent research study into the care and maintenance of residential landscapes. The study demonstrated fewer similarities than expected but the concern, according to researchers is that "Lawns not only cover a larger extent [of land] than any other irrigated 'crop' in the U.S., but are expected to expand in coming decades. The researchers go on to point out that the potential homogenization of residential lawn care has emerged as a major concern for carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and water flows."

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Published in in this week's issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), ecologists Colin Polsky of Clark University in Worcester, MA, Peter Groffman of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY, and colleagues from 10 other institutions are the lawn care habits from 6 cities representing various native environments including desert, plain, mountain and coastal.

"The approach in this study can be used to test other ideas about how people who live in cities--now more than three-quarters of Americans--decide to manage their yards," says Henry Gholz, a program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology.

"This should open a new phase in the field of urban ecology."

The scientists "homogenization hypothesis," theorized and tested that despite local environmental conditions, urbanization produces similar human land management behaviors. The study used the results from 9,500 residents in San Diego, Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago, Phoenix and Levittown, NY, questioning irrigation and fertilization habits in the similar style neighborhoods.

Of the respondents, 63 percent fertilized their yards and 79 percent watered within the last year. There were some similarities as well as differences in lawn care practices from city to city.

For instance, in Los Angeles, 66 percent of younger residents fertilized their lawns, while 73 percent of older residents did. Minneapolis-St. Paul demonstrated similar breakdown with 68 and 76 percent, respectively.

The concern however is ecosystem sustainability and the most widespread indicator may be immediately in front of us each and every day. Because lawn fertilizer contains nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen that wash into waterways, unwanted and ecologically detrimental blooms of algae can and will rob fish and other aquatic species of oxygen and degrading water quality.

And while according to Polsky, "responding to lawn care-related environmental challenges may require locally-tailored solutions in more cases than we thought," Groffman adds that suburban and urban lawns now "occupy an extensive area in the U.S. and have effects--good and bad--on environmental quality, and on human quality of life" making residential landscapes critical to sustainability science.

Read more at the National Science Foundation.

 Urban lawn care image via Shutterstock.

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