By Bryan Ostlund
When approaching a business, institution or residence, nothing is more inviting than a lush, rolling lawn. In recent years, however, a movement away from turf has resulted in an abundance of hardscaping and xeriscaping. These alternative landscaping options have their benefits and are perceived as lower cost and maintenance, but their environmental, financial and aesthetic advantages are often comparable, or even inferior, to those offered by natural turf.
For landscape professionals, the economic benefit of turf is clear. Lawns require regular maintenance, and can provide a steady income stream. Even when mowing is not as frequent in cooler months, these can be critical times for repairing, dethatching, fertilizing or winterizing turf to ensure a verdant canvas in spring.
While growing a lawn care component of a business can create a new or stronger profit center, landscapers may meet resistance thanks to numerous misconceptions among consumers. To inform property owners about capturing added value afforded by natural lawns, lawn care professionals must be able to educate them about the real costs, care and benefits.
First, like other landscaping options, natural turf requires some expenses upfront for installation. It does offer some compelling economic benefits, particularly for homeowners seeking to get the most from their real estate investment. Unlike adding decks or patios to a home, which may allow homeowners to recover 40 to 70 percent of their associated cost, good landscaping with a well-cared-for lawn can recover all the costs and more, with estimates of up to a 200 percent return. Attractive landscaping improves curb appeal and helps get buyers in the door. For larger complexes, such as condominiums or apartments, the state of the grounds can also play a pivotal role in the decision-making process.
Second, there is a perception that lawns require copious amounts of water to keep green, stressing a precious natural resource, not to mention a maintenance budget. Lawns typically need watering only once or twice per week, but many homeowners do much more and are guilty of overwatering. Whether installing a lawn at a home or at an office complex, work with property owners to select the right type of irrigation system for the grounds. Consider the particular climate, as adding features like a rain sensor may pay dividends in places like the Pacific Northwest, where Mother Nature can help pick up the tab. Be sure to program controllers, as well, to ensure watering occurs during the cooler hours of the day and that larger drops fall close to the ground to reduce the amount of evaporation.
Additionally, some consumers may have tried natural turf at some point and found it to be difficult to tend in their environment. The fault may not have been with their maintenance skills, but with the variety of grass selected, as turf is naturally self-repairing. Before recommending or installing a lawn, landscape professionals should have a good understanding of the climate, site conditions and lawn use patterns. Such information can help narrow the selection of turf variety. Choosing an appropriate grass for the location and needs will increase the chances that the grass will grow highly resistant and be able to cope with adverse conditions such as drought, frost or even significant foot traffic.
With the popularity of xeriscaping, the idea has been propagated that native plants are best for the environment and for controlling erosion. Natural turf, however, makes excellent ground cover. It’s inexpensive and highly efficient. Lawns have extensive root systems, which help to bind soil. In addition, a thick, grassy space virtually eliminates runoff as it absorbs rainfall. Under the right conditions, a healthy and natural lawn will also inhibit the growth of weeds while enriching the soil by generating organic matter, which gets broken down further by worms and micro-organisms.
Finally, it has been suggested that lawns stress the environment. In fact, expansive lawns help cool the environment. Unlike cement, asphalt or even dirt, grass doesn’t trap heat. Each blade acts as an evaporative cooler, not only for the turf itself, but for the environment. Natural turf can even help reduce the air conditioning requirements — and thus the energy needs — of surrounding buildings. The front lawns of eight average-sized homes have a cooling effect equivalent to the air conditioning systems of roughly 20 homes. Plus, lawns are critical to absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the environment. A yard of just 50 square feet can release enough oxygen to meet the needs of a family of four.
The benefits of a natural turf lawn are very real. Social benefits include an increased sense of community; lawns are ideal for serving as gathering places for barbecues, picnics, games and lounging. But the advantages don’t end with outdoor recreation and entertainment; grassy areas are naturally calming, stress relieving and visually appealing. They can contribute to an improved outlook and quality of life. In urban environments, grass helps to absorb noise, and well-maintained lawns are a source of pride. Areas that are kept up are less prone to littering and vandalism, helping to preserve real estate values, as well.
From social to environmental to economic, natural turf offers a host of benefits that property owners should be aware of. Landscape and turf grass professionals need to be able to communicate the advantages of turf to their customers in order to contribute to an informed decision-making process. Natural lawn is not the right choice for every property, of course, but many customers are misinformed or perceive major obstacles that are actually relatively easy to resolve.
Property owners want to get the most from their investments. Landscape maintenance professionals are well positioned to offer advice on how to add value to a piece of real estate by ensuring a strong first impression. Whether seeking to please potential tenants or buyers, or simply looking to create more appealing and comfortable surroundings for personal enjoyment, a natural turf yard is a viable option in many climates and environments. Those landscape professionals who take some time to educate clients about a natural lawn may find themselves adding value to their businesses as well.
[ital>Bryan Ostlund is executive director of Grass Seed USA, a national coalition of grass seed farmers and academic turf specialists that seeks to inform and educate residential and commercial customers about the benefits of grass and best practices for responsibly growing and maintaining healthy turf. For more information, visit<ital] www.weseedamerica.com.