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High-Performance Grass

Santa Monica, California has prepared, through its office of sustainability and environment design, guidelines for lawn alternatives, like this lawn substitue, Dymondia margaretae, a ground-hugging South African perennial commonly known as "silver carpet." Dymondia is drought-tolerant, a real plus, given the sparse rainfall in Southern California.

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"In naturalistic design, it reveals more than any other material the form of the ground." --Hubbard & Kimball 1938

It is Saturday morning and a gasoline charged lawn mower is buzzing across an American lawn. As leaf blades fly and the four-cycle rotary mower whizzes along, the careful tender of the lawn must be wondering why he is spending his morning riding atop his zero turning radius mower. Many of us wonder the same thing. Millions of acres in city, town and suburbs are covered with a green carpet maintained with gasoline-powered lawn mowers, artificial irrigation, various agriculture chemicals and a lot of labor.

Thousands of people are mowing grass during every daylight minute in America. A turf grass association estimates that over 50 million acres in the United States are covered with grass. Home gardens, parks, golf courses and recreation facilities account for most of this ground cover. (Editor's note: According to's Directory of Golf Courses, there are 16,944 golf courses in the U.S.) Turf grass as a land cover ranks behind forests and agriculture land, but is first in being unsustainable.

Grass Codes

Grass regulations across the country are primarily concerned with the preservation of potable water supplies and how much water us used and how often. Mesa, Arizona has adopted a grass for cash program that pays homeowners to tear up 500 sq. ft. of grass lawn and replace it with native desert plantings.

Santa Monica, California has prepared though their office of sustainability and environment design guidelines for lawn alternatives.

Mandeville, Louisiana encourages yards through lenient zoning ordinance provisions to be naturalized and covered with a dense canopy of coastal trees. Trees are preferred over grass in this coastal city. Very few communities have turf grass regulations or stated landscape policy toward lawns within community landscape codes. When mentioned in zoning regulations they do not call for turf grass design and most are very much out of date and not in sync with the sustainable movement. For this reason, it is important for communities to develop a high-performance grass philosophy for urban areas and incorporate them into sustainable landscape codes as they have done in Homestead, Fla., Irvine, California and the Dallas area of Dixon, Texas.

High-Performance Grass

But what is high-performance grass? One way to think about high-performance grass is to think about how LEED design guidelines have been prepared for the design of high-performance buildings. The LEED rating system measures operational performance through the use of sustainability metrics that can be applied to grass.

High-performance lawn grass can share many of these same values. High-performance grass means using better sized and designed lawn panels; using improved grass varieties and managing them per their various growth forms; using fewer agriculture chemicals; recycling lawn clippings; reused irrigation water; and less frequent maintenance. All of the above lower maintenance costs.

In next month's column, we'll discuss sustainable principles of high-performance grass.

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November 18, 2019, 10:32 am PDT

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