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Eight Benefits of Natural Grass

by Jerad Minnick, Sports Turf Managers Association Member

A one-acre soccer field can absorb 50,000 gallons of water before runoff occurs. The same field can sequester each year the amount of CO2 produced by a car driven 3,000 miles. How much CO2 is that? A gallon of gas burned by a vehicle releases 24 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. If that vehicle averages 21 mpg, that equates to 142 gallons, or 3,428 lbs. of CO2 released into the air. Each year in the U.S., turfgrass captures an estimated 24 million pounds of dust and dirt from the air. Such a weight of dust and dirt is hard to image, but the weight of 24 of the largest passenger jets in the world (Boeing 747-8) loaded to full capacity would still be 600,000 lbs. short of that figure.

Turfgrass can be found on lawns, athletic fields, golf courses, parks, roadsides and many other natural and recreational areas. It accounts for over 50 million acres of maintained, irrigated natural grass in the U.S. alone. Ongoing research continues to uncover previously unidentified environmental, economic, health and safety benefits of natural turfgrass. There are eight benefits of natural grass:

1) Air Quality
Turfgrass is a living organism. Each plant takes in carbon dioxide and converts it into simple sugars to use as food. As a byproduct of photosynthesis, oxygen is released. According to Dr. Thomas Watschke, professor emeritus of turfgrass science at Penn State University (College of Agricultural Sciences), "the strategic use of turfgrass is the most sensible and economically feasible approach to countering the greenhouse effect in urban areas." In addition to reducing CO2, turfgrass traps an estimated 12 million tons of dust and dirt released annually into the atmosphere in the U.S.

2) Pollution Filter
In 2013, an EPA Chesapeake Bay panel of experts, after a review of extensive research, noted an average soccer field can absorb 50,000 gallons of water before runoff occurs. The fibrous root system stabilizes soil to reduce erosion and prevents the movement of sediment into creeks and rivers. Additionally, studies have found the noise absorptive capacity of turfgrass is a significant part of how landscapes are effective in reducing noise pollution.

3) Stormwater Management
Landscaped areas reduce pollutants from leaching through the soil into the water supply, or from entering surface water runoff. Turfgrasses filter stormwater excess and reduce sediment and pollutants from entering water bodies. Turfgrass plants also redirect the flow of water, slowing it and allowing more water to be absorbed by the soil, which aids in preventing soil erosion and flooding.

According to the a National Turgrass Research Initiative a turfgrass area measuring 2,500 sq. ft. produces the oxygen needs of four people every day. An average sized healthy lawn can capture as much as 300 pounds of carbon per year; a golf course fairway can capture 1,500 pounds per year. A sodded lawn absorbs rainfall six times more effectively than a wheat field, and four times better than a hay field. Well-maintained turfgrass is at least 30 degrees cooler than asphalt, and 14 degrees cooler than bare soil. The cooling effect of turfgrass can be compared to air conditioning. A typical home air conditioner has a three to four "ton" capacity. A 4-ton capacity air conditioner can remove 48,000 BTUs of heat per hour from a home. (One BTU equals the amount of heat generated by completely burning one four-inch wooden kitchen match, or the heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water (15.35 fluid ounces) by one degree Fahrenheit.) The California Energy Commission reports the cooling effect of an average size lawn is equal to about nine tons of air conditioning. Front lawns of 8 average size homes, or a single high school baseball field, provide up to 70 tons of air conditioning, a cooling effect for people and reducing electrical needs for buildings and homes.

4) Heat
Environmental heating is reduced by turfgrass. On a hot summer day, a well maintained turfgrass area will be at least 30 degrees cooler than asphalt and 14 degrees cooler than bare soil.

5) Wellness and Stress
Green spaces have been shown to improve wellness, reduce stress and increase work productivity. There is growing evidence that the presence of plants lowers blood pressure, reduces muscle tension related to stress, improves attention and reduces feelings of fear, anger or aggression. In 2002, U.C. Riverside conducted research that found patients in hospital rooms with views of plants and lawns recovered more quickly than similar patients in rooms with views of buildings. Similarly, people who live and work with views of lawns and nature were found to recover from stress more quickly than those with strictly urban views. Employees with a view of landscaping experience less job pressure, greater job satisfaction and fewer headaches than those who view only manmade urban objects.

Two surveys on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder shown children active in green spaces experience less severe symptoms. Another study published in Environment and Behavior indicated green spaces can enable children to think more clearly and cope more effectively with stress.

6) Therapeutic
The care of turfgrass and plants can have a positive, therapeutic effect and is included in many rehabilitation programs. These programs have been successfully used to treat certain illnesses, aid in the recovery of disabled people and help the elderly stay mobile. Such programs have also been successfully implemented in prisons.

7) Community Appeal
In SmartMoney magazine survey consumers valued a landscaped home up to 11.3 percent higher than its base price. Well-manicured plots of land are one of the most important factors for people when deciding where to live. Green spaces create close-knit communities, which increases safety. Residents in housing tracts with landscaped areas tend to know their neighbors better, socialize more landscape with them and have stronger feelings of community compared to residents living in more barren areas. Communities with trees and green spaces have lower crime, decreased police calls for domestic violence and decreased incidences of child abuse.

8) Recreation and Sport
Turfgrass is used extensively for recreation and sport, but also provides areas for people and pets to enjoy outside the home. About 80 million people in the U.S. over the age of seven play sports on turfgrass. Recreational activities also provide children and adults leisure time in a positive and safe environment. The majority of professional athletes prefer to play on natural grass.

Available Tools
The Sports Turf Manager's Association, founded in 1981, is the professional association for managers of sports fields worldwide. STMA comprises 34 chapters and more than 2,600 members. Although a qualified sports turf manager is recommended for managing a sports facility, STMA has co-developed with its charity - The SAFE Foundation ( - useful field safety and inspection videos: "Baseball and Softball Field Inspection"; "Natural Grass Field Safety"; "Synthetic Field Safety"; and "Sports Facility & Equipment Safety." In addition, safety checklists are available to assess the safety and maintenance of football, soccer, baseball, and softball fields.

Another instrument to evaluate field playability is STMA's Playing Conditions Index, which is commonly used by trained sports field managers. The PCI is a worksheet with questions to be answered regarding visual assessment of the field, frequency of field use and the agronomic performance of the turf. If the field is used for baseball or softball, there is another set of questions specific to the maintenance and conditioning of the infield skin, the mound, the base cutouts and the batter's box. This assessment allows the sports field manager to identify areas where changes in strategies or resources are required that will most improve field conditions.

How to Help
Maintaining natural turfgrass and other green spaces is important for the environment, economy and local communities. When built and maintained properly, natural grass fields can provide safe, high performing surfaces that meet the needs of users without using too much water, fertilizer or herbicides.

About the author: Jerad Minnick is a member of the Sports Turf Managers Association, and an advisor to the Natural Grass Advisory Group. He has worked for the Maryland Soccer Foundation, Kansas City Wizards and Kansas City Royals.

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May 26, 2019, 3:17 pm PDT

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