DeLea Sod Farm was founded in 1928 and has supplied turf for Yankee Stadium since the 1960s. Now, they’re counting on Yankee fans to spend $7.50 for five square feet of perfectly green Kentucky bluegrass. The grass would be available at Home Depot stores around New York City.
Sounds like a good idea. But it does bring up some issues with regards to our obsession with perfectly green lawns. Not to mention, the only “greening” benefits of sod are those of its creators’ wallets.
Dr. Karl Guillard, professor and turf researcher at the University of Connecticut, says the answer to sustainable turf is maintaining acceptable quality without using chemicals and pesticides, and without going broke. Several movements exist that follow this approach, such as the “freedom lawn.” Some homeowners go further by drastically reducing the size of their lawns, or removing them all together.
Guillard says because many people feel their lawns needs to be dark green, they end up growing the wrong type of grass for the region, and apply too many chemicals and pesticides. But, greener turf is not necessarily better. Guillard says dark green turf imparted by high-nitrogen fertilization weakens the grass, decreases its health, wastes money, needs more frequent mowing, and increases nitrogen losses from the system.
The turf utilized in the Yankee stadium grass, primarily Kentucky bluegrass needs a lot of inputs. This might be okay for Yankee Stadium. But it should stay there.
I advocate for more sustainable turf. That’s what Gardening With Nature is all about – moving away from high maintenance chemical dependent grass to lower maintenance grass. I recommend following a few simple guidelines that will help you maintain a drought resistant, healthy sustainable lawn, and leave you the time to enjoy it.
Use the proper species. About eighteen species of turf grass are adapted to Connecticut’s climate, including Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass, which usually require a considerable amount of fertilizer and pesticides. Lower maintenance grasses include the turf-type tall fescues, dwarf tall fescues (good oxymoron!), and the fine-leaf fescues (creeping red, Chewing’s, sheep, and hard). These grasses provide good persistence and quality with less fertilizer, water, and pesticides. Guillard says turf type and dwarf tall fescues are good alternatives for high traffic, lower maintenance recreation areas, but the fine leaf fescues are not because of poor wear tolerance.
Rely on rain. Chemically-dependent lawns are usually irrigated, which is a wasteful way to use such a limited resource – water. Guillard advocates that an ideal sustainable turf system would rely on natural precipitation for its water needs instead of water from irrigation.
Avoid 4-step lawn fertilizer and pesticide programs. To determine fertilizer needs, conduct a soil test. If fertilizer is recommended, buy one that contains at least 60 percent slow-release nitrogen.
Return clippings or use mulching mowers to recycle nutrients. Do not apply soluble-nitrogen fertilizer after October 15. Use spot treatment with chemical controls only if necessary.
Raise the mowing height. At least three inches. This will help reduce water needs and save energy. For pest control, use Integrated Pest Management methods that include natural or biological controls.
So instead of fostering a culture of Yankee Stadium grass, consider an alternative, which will most likely perform just as well. Being green will save you green.
Dr. Carl A. Salsedo Extension Educator-Sustainable and Environmental Horticulture Department of Extension University of Connecticut Related links: Turf IPM and Nutrient Management, available from the Publications Center Store at the University of Connecticut’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; call 860 486-3336 or email [email protected]