Lawn Today...Gone Tomorrow
aka "Assisted Sodocide"
by Laurel Schiller and Dan Walton
Formal lawns were popularized in Britain beginning in the 18th century. In that country of mild climate and evenly spread rainfall, grass does amazingly well. The British penchant for lawns was brought into this country, where in the northeast, and other parts of the country grass also can thrive. South Florida, however, has a climate that includes both warm and dry and hot and wet cycles and soils that do not hold moisture well and are not naturally fertile. Consequently, grass does not do well unless irrigated during hot dry periods and fertilized and treated with pesticides.
These inputs have become increasingly expensive to the homeowner monetarily, and perhaps more importantly, expensive to the environment. For instance, it is estimated that the majority of nitrogen getting into Phillippi Creek and then into Sarasota Bay comes from fertilized lawns rather than from septic tanks. Most homeowners are not willing to apply such inputs and consequently their lawns are not particularly aesthetically pleasing. Nevertheless, they still have to mow them or have them mowed. This process itself is costly both to the homeowner and to the environment as the amount of gasoline burnt in mowers adds to the urban air pollution as well as noise pollution.
A second problem with grass is that it does nothing about shading the house. House shading is extremely important in this climate since it can reduce air-conditioning needs and thus costs, dramatically saving both the homeowner and the environment. Finally, trees and shrubs, because they have more leaf surface in a given volume of air than grass will increase CO2 uptake, contributing to a reduction in global warming.
All of the above are good reasons for you to at least consider reducing the area of grass surrounding your property. Just reducing grass is only part of the solution, however. Clearly, the previously grassed area must be planted with trees and shrubs in order to obtain the maximum benefit. Rocks or gravel will not suffice. The west side of your house particularly needs shading to reduce the cruel afternoon sun from heating up your house. In addition, driveways should be shaded so that getting into your car on a summer's day becomes less of an ordeal.
We suggest that you draw up a plan for gradually removing your grass where you think it is practical and replacing it with trees, shrubs and to a lesser extent flowers. If you are watering and/or fertilizing your grass, stop doing it sometime before you begin to reduce your lawn. A good time to reduce your lawn is in April and May when rainfall is limited and the temperature begins to increase. In a particularly dry year, much of the plant material will have already died.
METHODS - Advantages and Disadvantages
- Digging up the grass (Mechanical)
- Immediate results - Sets up a germination bed for weed seeds
- Loosens soil if compacted - Hard and hot work
- Removes all vegetation
- Herbicide Treatment (Chemical)
- Does not produce germination conditions - Takes time to occur; rain may affect results
- Can eliminate grass and weeds completely - Probably requires a repeat application
- May harm other organisms
- Can be expensive
- Light Blocking
- Can be inexpensive - May not be effective by itself
- Conserves soil moisture
- Can add to soil texture and moisture - holding capacity when broken down