A luscious, green lawn is more than just a plant-carpet in front of your house. It’s basically the very essence of America and all that it stands for. Sadly, it turns out that lawns are also wasteful, dangerous, and they bring out the crazy in people which… OK, granted, are also the very essences of America. But more importantly, they’re things that I learned from Pete, a lawncare specialist from Colorado, and Dr. Smith, a professor of turfgrass science. Specifically, they told me that…
Lawns Are A Historically-Stupid, Ecological Disaster
According to Dr. Smith, the concept of lawns came to the U.S. at the beginning of the 18th century “with immigrants from England and France, where lawns were established at country homes of the wealthy. It took a lot of time and effort to maintain a grass lawn in the 1700s and early 1800s, as lawns had to be kept short by scything or grazing of sheep. Thus, only a few individuals were able to replicate them here.”
So, in other words, American lawns started out as obnoxious brags about how much money you could sink into something with absolutely no practical purpose whatsoever, just like those cool people in France. They were essentially colonial-era equivalents of pet tigers.
“Lawns really took off in the 20th century with the development of golf courses,” Dr. Smith continues, “as the US Golf Association and US Dept. of Agriculture developed grasses that were far superior to anything that existed previously.” Yeah, makes sense that lawns got their start thanks to golf, a “sport” where the winner is the one who plays the least of it. But what’s really so bad about lawns? For one: they’re thirsty bitches.
“Water used for irrigating lawns is perhaps the largest drawback associated with turfgrasses in the urban landscape.”
“Estimates of water volumes used for irrigating lawns are highly variable, and reliable statistics are hard to come by,” but according to some reports, landscape irrigation in the U.S. might total nearly 9 billion gallons of water a day. The lesson here is: save money on water by ditching the lawn and building your own water park.
“Another major challenge facing the lawn industry is the potential for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution of water resources from fertilizers. The concern over phosphorus pollution is so great in the Midwest and eastern US, that it has been banned for use in lawn maintenance practices in several states. Also, lawn mowers, and other types of outdoor power equipment all consume fuel,” and with so many Americans giving their lawns motorized Brazilians, the EPA estimates that lawn-care might be contributing to about 5% of the nation’s air pollution.
People Can Get A Bit Crazy About Their Lawns
As we all know, the coolest crime ever is stealing blood diamonds during an illegal parachute jump to donate the money to an orphanage that’s about the get closed. I bring this up because I think I found the exact, total opposite of blood-diving: lawn crime. Pete has witnessed it A LOT.
“In one case, I had a grown-ass man break down crying on a lawn cause I refused to blanket his lawn in 2,4-D [a herbicide] at a rate that was illegal for our area and ineffective for his dandelion problem (dandelions are perennials, so their roots survive the winter). We can’t spray them until they put out leaves, and he insisted that if I had blanketed his yard, the dandelions would never have come up. I explained why that wouldn’t work and why pre-emergents wouldn’t work and what I would do to fix the issue for free. He insisted I blanket spray right then. I refused. He threw a tantrum. I politely called him a moron and refused. He cried. It was the highlight of my career.”
Pete and other lawn professionals like him routinely get approached by lawn criminals the same way you would approach a hitman with a contract to take out your ex, as in: very nonchalantly: “I often get people saying things like, ‘I have bad weeds, so spray a double dose’. That’s also illegal and ineffective (it burns the top of the plant off without killing the root).”
“One guy even asked me to spray the neighbor’s dog so it’d shut up. I politely declined.”
Where is John Wick when you need him?
This, as it turns out, is part of a larger problem with lawncare:
Lawn Owners Regularly Misuse Pesticides
Pete was very adamant that most chemical pesticides are perfectly safe when used correctly, but also admitted that they could be harmful in the wrong hands. I call that the “Baby With a Knife Principle.”
“The most ridiculously common problem with pesticides,” Pete explains, “is someone going to a home improvement store, buying everything they can, then over-applying it. I’ve had more times than I can count where there’s nice dead squares all over a lawn cause someone sprayed weeds, didn’t bother reading the application rate or that it takes two weeks to work, and re-sprayed every day for a week until they’d burned up their lawn.”
“Homeowners or grounds workers that don’t know what they’re doing create tons of runoff when they do that,” which is sort of like you taking 30 Advil for that really stubborn headache you’ve been dealing with, only not really because doing that would solve all your headache AND lawn problems. Permanently.
“The main problem is blatant lying from salesmen, which results in unnecessary applications,” Pete continues. “Around here, the most common unnecessary application is for grub control. Everyone thinks they have them, but almost no one at this altitude does. Salesmen know that, so they claim every bit of damage to anything is grubs.” Though I assume they would not buy it if you got drunk one night and did donuts with your car on their lawn.
On the flipside, the other super-common issue with pesticides is under-application. “This occurs way more often than over-application and is just as bad,” Pete says. “It makes resistance development much more likely by exposing the plant to the herbicide but not killing it,” because it turns out that Nietzsche’s philosophy applies to both humans and plants.