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Lawn care is becoming more of an obsession these days. Most of us will do some lawnmowing, spray some weed killer and call it a day. However, there are people who go to extreme lengths of making sure their lawn is perfectly green. They will use fertilizers, pesticides, sprinkler systems, leaf blowers, branch chippers, and a vast number of other products, machines and methods—all for the sake of lawn care. While having a healthy lawn is a good aspiration, it can also cause trouble for the environment.

You see, previous studies have shown that turfgrass lawns have the potential to act as carbon sinks—a way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. However, a more recent study shows that certain, excessive lawn maintenance practices can generate even more greenhouse gas emissions—4 times greater than the amount of carbon a lawn is capable of storing.

According to study co-author, Amy Townsend-Small:

“Lawns look great—they’re nice and green and healthy, and they’re photosynthesizing a lot of organic carbon. But the carbon-storing benefits of lawns are counteracted by fuel consumption.”

The study—to be published in Geophysical Research Letters—involved researchers taking grass samples from 4 parks in the Irvine, California, area. These parks either contained athletic field turf or ornamental lawn turf. Then, samples were taken from the soil, as well as the air above the turf. These samples were analyzed to measure carbon separation and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. The analysis data was then compared to the amount of CO2 emissions that came from maintenance of the turf, including fertilizer production and irrigation.

Results from the study were not pretty: they showed that lawn N2O emissions were similar to those from agricultural farms. These farms are considered to be among the largest nitrous oxide emitters in the world. As for how the different turf samples measured up:

  • N2O emissions from fertilization of ornamental lawns only offset 10% to 30% of the separated carbon; and regular maintenace of these lawns created 4 times more CO2 than the turf could absorb.
  • The athletic fields did much worse, being unable to trap even the small amount of CO2 that the ornamental lawn did; and they require the same amount (if not more) of maintenance, thus generating more emissions than they can handle.

If you absolutely must take care of your lawn, check out this site for some tips on how to do so in a more organic, eco-friendly way.

More Information:
SafeLawns.org
Natural Lawn Care
Easy Organic Lawn Care
Organic Lawn Care Guide
Lawn Care: Pesticide Hazards and Alternatives