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Mowing maniacs, your time has come

April is National Lawn Care month  

April 11, 2000
Web posted at: 11:57 a.m. EDT (1557 GMT)

As lawn care professionals begin work in yards across the United States, April is National Lawn Care monthTurf devotees and green grass enthusiasts, rejoice! April is National Lawn Care Month.

With the nation's 25 million acres of lawns getting dressed for summer, it is no accident that the Professional Lawn Care Association of America chose the same month as Earth Day for this promotional celebration.

"It's the perfect time to honor the environment both through Earth Day and National Lawn Care Month in April," said Tom Delaney, executive vice president of the PLCAA. "Nature is strutting her stuff with an array of colors that has at its base the green cushion of grass."

But turf deserves attention for many reasons other than aesthetics, since a properly cared for lawn offers environmental benefits.

"Healthy grass provides a feeding ground for birds, who find it a rich source of insects, worms and other food," states the Environmental Protection Agency pamphlet,Healthy Lawns, Healthy Environment. "Thick grass prevents soil erosion, filters contaminants from rainwater and absorbs many types of airborne pollutants, like dust and soot. Grass is also highly efficient at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, a process that helps clean the air."

The PLCAA offers these other interesting statistics about the benefits of lawns:

  • A piece of lawn 25 feet by 25 feet provides enough oxygen for one person for an entire day.

  • On a block of eight average homes, front lawns have the same cooling effect as 15 to 20 central home air conditioning units over a period of 24 hours.

  • Turf traps an estimated 12 million tons of dust and dirt released annually into the atmosphere.

  • A buffer zone of healthy turf grasses around buildings helps retard the spread of fire.

  • University studies have shown that well-managed turf is better than any other ground cover at absorbing and holding water. This translates to less storm runoff and better water quality.

  • The soil and thatch of a lawn promote healthy populations of bacterial microorganisms. These microbes break down impurities, making turf an excellent water filter.

    For some, however, lawn maintenance conjures up images of deadly streams of pesticides pouring into storm drains and clouds of noxious exhaust spewing from the back of gas-guzzling lawn mowers.

    "We are concerned about all those issues," said Delaney, and the PLCAA advocates lawn care practices designed to minimize the impact on the environment.

    While the PLCAA acknowledges that pesticides are not harmless, these chemicals generally break down into harmless substances fairly quickly. Studies conducted at Cornell, Penn State and Ohio State universities have also shown that if pesticides are properly applied to a lawn, they do not move much from where they were originally administered.

    Problems occur, said Delaney, when people do not follow the directions carefully and use too much. For instance, application containers containing excess pesticide should not be cleaned out on the concrete driveway or sidewalk. The substance will not soak in and will eventually be washed into the storm sewer and into the nearby water supply.

    For this same reason, leftover chemicals should not be dumped into the kitchen sink, said Delaney, and instead spread the wastewater on the lawn when you clean out containers. Following directions about amounts to use will lessen the chance of extra chemicals.

    Organic pesticides are an option, said Delaney, but they require heavier and more frequent use, which can drive up costs. He also warns consumers again to look at labels carefully, since organic does not always mean free of risk.

    Mowing is just one of many necessary steps to a well maintained yardAbove all, good maintenance can preclude the use of any pesticides in the first place. "If you take care of your lawn properly, then you may not need to put out as much pesticide," said Delaney. This includes appropriate mowing, watering, aeration, fertilization and pH balance.

    Gas-fueled lawn mowers do produce air pollution, but until better emissions standards are implemented or electric models are more widespread, the PLCAA recommends regular maintenance for maximum efficiency. Regular tune-ups, a sharp blade, and grass cycling will help, said Delaney.

    Grass cycling is the practice of leaving grass clippings on the ground instead of picking them up. This makes the mowing process much faster, said Delaney, and it is good for the grass.

    Many people mistakenly believe that grass cycling will harm the lawn and promote the growth of lawn-choking thatch. Thatch is not grass clippings but is instead the build up of roots and stems. Grass blades, on the other hand, are mostly water and decompose quickly, redistributing valuable nitrogen to the lawn and soil, Delaney said.

    Furthermore, for some lawn manicurists, grass cycling has become the only option, as certain states have banned yard waste in landfills.

    This is about the tenth April in a row that the PLCAA has promoted National Lawn Care Month. Several state governments officially observe this month for lawn care, though it is not a federally recognized celebration.

    Copyright 2000, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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    Professional Lawn Care Association of America
    PLCAA Environmental Stewardship Strategy
    Healthy Lawn, Healthy Environment
    Lawn and Landscape
    Landscape Management
    Smaller American Lawns Today

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