The Benefits of Growing Tufgrass


Turfgrass offers many environmental benefits that have been identified and studied over the last 50 years (Table 1).  The environmental benefits of turfgrass are not promoted as much as they should be, and in many cases turf gets blamed for such things as nutrient leaching and overuse of chemicals when science has proven that not to be the case.  Nevertheless, each facility should strive to minimize its carbon footprint, particularly when it comes to inputs like mowing, fertilizer applications and irrigation.  Water conservation is especially important, not only in arid regions of the US, but also in the urban environment.  Water usage in the US breaks down as follows: 43% used by industry, 47% use by agriculture, and the remaining 10% used by households (bathing, cooking, sanitation, drinking) and landscape irrigation.  One comment we might hear is that golf courses and homeowners are water hogs, but in fact only 9% of golf courses use public water (the rest is supplied by wells and other on-site sources) and most homeowners in the US don't apply any water or fertilizer to their lawn.  Approaches to minimizing irrigation include using bermudagrass (low water use rate) or tall fescue (drought tolerance), or allowing certain grasses to go dormant during the summer if fields are not in use, as well as auditing the irrigation system and apply water to fields (natural and synthetic) through best management practices (BMPs).

Table 1:  Environmental Benefits of Turfgrasses

Benefit Notes
Soil Erosion and Dust Control High shoot density and root mass of turf grasses limit/prevent sediment and nutrient loss during and after a rainfall event.  Contrary to public perception, nutrient leaching is not common on turf grass areas.  Applied correctly, fertilizers are held in the soil and utilized by the turf plants.
Ground Water Recharge and Surface Water Turf grasses have a superior ability to trap and hold runoff water and to filter out pollutants like heavy metals, hydrocarbon compounds, hazardous wastes and solvents.
The Cooling Effect Transpirational cooling can lower urban heat sinks by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit.  Turf grass is considerably cooler than other common surfaces.  For example, on an 80 degree day, it can be 20 degrees cooler than bare soil and concrete and 40 degrees cooler than synthetic turf.
Carbon Footprint With 66 percent of the turf plant below ground, turf is a significant source of carbon storage, capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Well-managed athletic fields can capture more carbon than they use.  As such they are "positive carbon sinks."
Soil Improvement and Restoration Turf grasses contribute greatly to soil organic matter (a typical annual root turnover rate is 42 percent) and are used to reclaim damaged sites like landfills and mining operations.
Noise Abatement, Glare Reduction and Nuisance Animal Reduction Turf grasses reflect light, absorb sound and when mowed regularly can reduce populations of varmints, mosquitoes and other insect pests like chiggers.
Roadside, Airport and Home Use In addition to soil and dust control on highways and airports, turf is used to serve as a stabilized zone for emergency stoppage, improving line of sight and to lower fire hazard.
Wildlife Sanctuaries Parks, golf courses and urban green space can act as bird and wildlife sanctuaries.  Audubon International currently has a cooperative sanctuary program for golf courses - a similar program for parks & rec and sports facilities would be welcomed.
Increased Property Values and Quality of Life A lawn 1/4 to 1/3 of an acre in size is associated with the greatest effect on selling price.  Green space in the urban environment contributes to a person's mental health and social harmony, as well as offering people a place to play sports.

Adapted from Beard & Green (1994) and Sherratt et al (2011)