Friday, May 25, 2012

Lawns: were you happy harvesting your grass today?

Today being the Friday before the long Memorial Day weekend in the United States, people all over the country are likely going to go harvest their lawns and remove the stover mow their grass so that they can have a nice area for their friends or family (or both) to lounge around on over the long weekend.

... or just to make it look like they're keeping up with the Joneses.

But why are Americans all over the nation (and likely in all the territories, too) going about this ritual of lawn-harvesting? And not just for this upcoming weekend, but throughout the summer and into the autumn, too? It serves little utilitarian purpose, since the grasses are not consumed and the cuttings rarely used for self-fertilizing, which Kevin Baldwin also points out:
It takes a lot of inputs to maintain such a beast: Regular mowing, herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, fertilizer, and in some areas, water.
Even when I lived in Tokyo, the house that we lived in was a "Western style" house, and it had a tiny yard (about 4 ft x 12 ft) and it was all - you guessed it - grass (because the Japanese builders knew that US residents want grass). It was a pain in the butt to try to find a weedwhacker in Tokyo, because it wasn't something that people would buy, because no one had a lawn (and therefore no lawnmowers - even if you could somehow get one into that lawn space, you'd still need somewhere to store it, too). Needless to say, that patch of grass didn't get huge amounts of attention...

Driving through farm country in Michigan one sees the house invariably sitting in the middle of a grass-green bed. Not everyone can make the excuse of playing at football, baseball, soccer, bocce, or lawn bowling. Not everyone really can make the claim that they like lawn maintenance (no matter what home-improvement commercials tell you about it). Few people will deny that calling out a company like ChemLawn to make your grass grow thicker, greener, faster, and more toxically is the best use of their money (unless, possibly, if they're selling the house). Baldwin sums up the contradiction that I feel is inherent in the ChemLawn-treated front yards:
My chemlawn neighbors have these amazingly uniform lawns that look like they would feel nice on bare feet. But, when I walk by after the service has sprayed the lawn, there is that sweet-sour smell that is highlighted by little signs that say to stay off the grass for a few days. The mixed message is curious. I suppose chemicals create new business opportunities: Pet owners can buy booties for their dogs to protect their sensitive paws from lawn chemicals. But there is little encouragement to consider whether the risks of herbicide and pesticide application outweigh the benefits.
And yet, every year in the US, as Baldwin notes, "163,800 square kilometers, plus or minus 35,850 square kilometers, an area larger than Ohio" is being fertilized, watered, and harvested as lawn. And this is taking place in the reasonably wet upper-Midwest and New England as well as the desert Southwest. As John notes, "Your yard is EVIL", using 1/3 of the potable water of the country to feed them:

Some people are moving away from the definition of "yard=grass lawn", putting in native plants, using the place as a vegetable garden, or sculpting the area with a variety of ornamental flowers, ferns, and shrubs. However, the vast majority of US front and back yards are made of green grass. When I mow two paths through the lawn in front of the cabin, I leave the grass clippings to mulch on the lawn. The grass grows tall and then starts to flop over, creating lots of habitat for insects, frogs, snakes, and voles. I will mow the lawn twice during the summer, just so that my mower will be able to handle the job (too long and the grass will become uncuttable for the mower, and the lawn is needed for functions once the academic year recommences).

So for everyone mowing their lawns this weekend for Memorial Day (or - if you're not in the US - just because you feel like you have to), I hope you don't have too hard of a time at it. I'll be spending about 20 minutes mowing two paths through my lawn and leaving the otherwise-unique habitat of overgrown lawn ungrazed lawn to mature.

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