While in some parts of our country, people are replacing their lawns with rocks, mulch, cacti and plastic grass—deadening the landscape in order to conserve water—you may not have to.
“Having a lawn and being a good environmental steward are not mutually exclusive,” explains Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI). “Grass is a vital part of our living landscapes that contribute to our communities, our families and our health.”
Lawns provide a safe place for families to gather and for children and pets to play. But grass is also brilliant at combating many environmental challenges. For example, a good lawn:
- Filters and Captures Runoff. When it rains, water “sheets off” hard surfaces, such as hardscapes, parking lots, driveways and roads, turning rainwater into fast-moving, storm water runoff. Grass, however, slows down and absorbs runoff, while also cleansing water of impurities and dust. The grass filtration system is so effective that rainwater filtered through a healthy lawn is often as much as 10 times less acidic than water running off a hard surface.
- Reduces Heat. Lawns can be outdoor air conditioners. Turfgrass dissipates the heat island effect caused from asphalt, concrete and other hardscapes. Remarkably, studies have shown that lawns can be 31 degrees cooler than asphalt and 20 degrees cooler than bare soil. That means lower energy bills for you and a nicer environment for everyone.
- Improves Air Quality. Grass also plays a vital role in capturing dust, smoke particles and other pollutants. Without grass, these pollutants will remain in the air, resulting in more “code red” air quality days.
- Absorbs Carbon Dioxide. The lawn is the largest carbon sink in the United States. Carbon sinks are natural systems that suck up and store greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The dense canopy and fibrous root system in a lawn sequesters carbon so well that it outweighs the carbon used for maintaining the lawn by as much as sevenfold.
- Generates Oxygen. Lawns are incredible oxygen producers. A turf area 50’ x 50’ produces enough oxygen to meet the daily needs of a family of four.
- Supports Biodiversity. Grass, trees, shrubs and other plants provide food and habitat for birds and small mammals. Insects, spiders and worms live among the grass blades and below the surface of the turf, so your lawn can support biodiversity and wildlife.
- Controls Soil Erosion. Turfgrass controls erosion through its natural, dense and fibrous root system. Without grass, soil erodes into streams and lakes, muddying the waters and limiting how sunlight penetrates the water. The nutrients and chemicals carried with soil can cause algae blooms, which steal oxygen from the water and kill fish.
Lawn or No Lawn Is Not the Question
So how to maintain a living landscape—even under tough conditions like a drought?
First, choose the right turfgrass for the climate zone and lifestyle. Hundreds of varieties of turfgrass exist, and some of them—such as buffalo and Bermudagrass—are excellent for drought conditions. When established, these grasses require very little water and are hardy enough to survive foot traffic, children’s play and pets.
Secondly, know that too much water is actually bad for grass. Overwatering causes the grass roots to grow horizontally, rather than vertically. With less water, the grass has to work harder and will grow its roots deeper into the soil in search of moisture. This helps it do a better job of trapping carbon and releasing oxygen.
People also need to change the perception that lawns must remain green. It’s okay to let your grass go brown. Grass will grow in cycles, “turning on and off,” based on the resources it gets. As water becomes less available in an area, grass will slow down, go dormant and turn brown. Turfgrass is resilient. It will green up again when the rains return.
Lastly, incorporate native plants with adaptive plants and grasses suitable for the climate. Add pollinator plants that provide food and habitat for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other animals and insects.
Is your yard “pet-friendly”? Fall is a great time to review your lawn and landscaping and make plans for improvements. Who better to ask for advice than a dog? Lucky the TurfMutt is a rescue dog who is “pawing it forward” by teaching children about how to take care of green spaces. But even Lucky needs a backyard break for relaxation. Here are Lucky’s fall tips for having a pet-friendly yard.
- Think about what your dog needs. Many homeowners re-assess their yards in the fall and consider where things are planted and what features they want to enhance. Pets love living landscapes and love being in your yard. What does your dog need the most in a yard? A place to romp and exercise? A place to relax in the shade for an afternoon nap?
- If you are reseeding your yard this fall, pick “dog-proof” ground coverings. Grass is one of the best ground coverings around because it can handle the wear and tear that comes with pets and children. Bermuda and buffalo grass are especially hardy, and they are drought-resistant, too. Grass also delivers great health benefits for you and your family by producing oxygen, sequestering carbon, capturing water runoff, and cleaning and filtering rain water.
- Select appropriate plants. For areas near your garden paths, select plants that have soft foliage, but are still sturdy enough to withstand a little canine “ruff”-housing. If your dog is a “plant chewer” but sure to check the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic garden plants for advice on what known toxic plants to avoid. Also, don’t forget to check the climate map so you can choose the right trees, shrubs, grasses and flowering plants for your climate zone.
- Use barriers to keep your dog out of flower or garden beds. Now is a great time to add barriers to beds that were a challenge for your dog to avoid over the spring and summer. A low fence, rocks and other obstacles can encourage your dog to stay out.
- Avoid plastic grass. Plastic grass, also known as artificial turf, gets too hot for humans and pets, especially in summer months. A 2002 Brigham Young University study revealed that synthetic-turf surface temperatures were 37 degrees higher than asphalt and 86 degrees hotter than natural turf [source]. A 2012 Penn State study found it wasn’t uncommon for temperatures on plastic grass to surpass 150 degrees and to go up to 200 degrees [source].
- Recycle grass clippings. Lawns sequester the largest amount of carbon when they recycle the nitrogen contained in grass clippings. Grass clippings are 90 percent water, and the remaining 10% is biodegradable [source]. So, take off your lawn mower’s mulching bag and leave your grass clippings on the ground while mowing. The clippings will break down and feed your grass naturally. This practice is known as grasscycling.
TurfMutt was created by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute’s (OPEI) Research and Education Foundation and has reached more than 68 million children, educators and families since 2009. Through classroom materials developed with Scholastic, TurfMutt teaches students and teachers how to “save the planet, one yard at a time.” TurfMutt is an official USGBC® Education Partner and education resource at the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Green Apple, the Center for Green Schools, the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, the National Energy Education Development (NEED) project, Climate Change Live, Petfinder and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. TurfMutt’s personal, home habitat also is featured in the 2017 and the upcoming 2018 Wildlife Habitat Council calendars.
By Kris Kiser, President & CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute
Whether you are working with a buyer or a seller, your clients want a property that offers the most value for the money. Of course, many factors go into determining a home’s value, including the location, neighborhood, schools, safety, floorplan, and whether it has been updated, to name a few.
But there’s another important feature that is sometimes overlooked – the family yard which has rapidly become an extension of the home. Here are the top four ways family yards and other living landscapes add value to a property and extend the usefulness of the home.
- Curb Appeal
As you know, curb appeal is an important factor in determining overall property value. After all, the first impression on a home is made before buyers even walk through the door! According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) 2016 Remodeling Impact: Outdoor Features study, 99% of Realtors® have suggested that sellers improve their curb appeal before putting their home on the market, and 98% think curb appeal is important to potential buyers. That’s good advice. Studies show that improving overall curb appeal, which includes a beautiful lawn and landscape, can boost property values by as much as 17% (source: Texas Tech University).
- Trees are Tops
Mature trees are often an indicator of an established neighborhood, which can be a positive for buyers looking for an older, classic home. But the value of trees goes beyond perception and preference and right into the pocketbook of your clients. According to the International Society of Arboriculture, each front yard tree adds 1% to a homeowner’s sale price, while large specimen trees can add as much as 10% to property values.
- Saving Green with Green
Potential buyers often ask about the energy efficiency of a home, and it turns out that living landscapes impact the monthly electric bill.
According to the Urban Forest Coalition, 100 million mature trees around U.S. residences save approximately $2 billion annually in reduced energy costs. In fact, strategically placed trees can save up to 56% on annual air conditioning bills. In the wintertime, evergreens that block winter winds can save 3% on heating (source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service). There’s even a National Tree Benefit Calculator (TreeBenefits.com/calculator/) your clients can use to estimate the economic and environmental value trees provide on an annual basis.
Cumulatively, eight average-sized front lawns can provide the cooling equivalent to air-conditioning for 18 homes (source: Alliance for Water Efficiency).
- Expanding Living Space
Yards can be outdoor family rooms, and are increasingly important to families who want a safe, inviting place for their kids and pets to play almost year-round. Merging indoor and outdoor living to increase living space is trending, making outdoor living space important for home buyers. But just how much can a seller expect to recover from ensuring a useful outdoor living area? According to NAR survey, any cost to enhance outdoor living is well worth it.
Seeding the family yard will recover 417% of the project cost, while updating landscape with sod will result in a 143% recovery. For homeowners who want to take on more of a project, adding a new patio will recover 102% of their investment and a new wooden deck will result in a 106% recovery rate.
One final note: a systematic research review concluded that knowing and experiencing nature makes people generally happier and healthier. Since nature starts in our own backyards, it’s fair to assume that the family yard contributes to overall well-being. This is priceless, whether your client is looking for a new place to call home or is just settling in to their new property.
For more information, including infographics and fact sheets you can share with your clients, visit www.LivingLandscapesMatter.com.
Spring planting season is in full swing, and as you spruce up your outdoor spaces, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) shares a few important reasons for putting the right plant in the right place. It’s more than selecting full-sun or full-shade varieties of foliage. By choosing the right plants for your climate and lifestyle, and you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful green space your entire family will enjoy.
- Know your climate zone.
Do you have long, hot summers? Are you in an arid region or a wet one? Understanding your environment will help you select climate-appropriate plants that will thrive with minimal input from you. Check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to learn which plants, grasses, shrubs and trees are most likely to succeed in your location.
- Understand your lifestyle needs.
Your grass, flowering plants and trees expand the living space of your home. Without our living landscapes, our backyards, patios, fire pits and pool areas would be hotter and less enjoyable overall. Determine how you use your yard, and then plant accordingly. Do you need a shade tree to sit under during hot summer days? Do you travel a lot in the summer, or will you be home to care for your plants? Do you need a grassy area for your kids and pets to play?
- Plant for pets.
Speaking of pets, you’ll want to keep their needs in mind when you’re mapping out your planting plans. Consider planting a hardy grass like buffalo or Bermuda, which is more likely to withstand pet traffic. When pets are in the picture, you’ll want to keep resilient plants and flowers in heavily-trafficked areas of your yard and save the delicate varieties for raised planters on your porch or patio. Finally, know which plants are dangerous to your pets by downloading the ASPCA’s list of poisonous plants.
- Plant for pollinators & wildlife.
Your living landscapes aren’t only for your enjoyment. They are also vital to pollinators (bees, butterflies and birds) and other backyard wildlife who rely on the certain plants in your backyard ecosystem for food and shelter. Planting nectar and pollen-rich flowers that are appropriate for your climate (see #1) will help nourish pollinators. Let a pile of grass clippings decompose on your lawn (rather than bagging) to shelter insects, worms and other backyard critters. Dead tree branches can create nooks for butterflies, bees, birds and other wildlife.
The Vagaries of Mother Nature Cannot be Regulated.
Outdoor Power Equipment Institute Urges Smarter Spring Landscaping Choices.
Across the nation, many regions are finding spring is arriving ahead of schedule. As homeowners and gardeners grapple with what, when and where to plant, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) reminds us all about the importance of making smart landscaping choices for the long-term. Mother Nature is not static, predictable or fixed. California’s environment is the prime example of this unpredictability, which spent the last few years in drought and is now receiving historic rain and snow. For most of California, their drought is over.
“California gave us the greatest lesson. It showed that regulating the landscaped environment isn’t smart,” says Kris Kiser, CEO and President of OPEI. “In a well-intentioned effort to save water, they experimented with replacing living landscapes with rocks, mulch and honest-to-God ‘plastic grass.’ Unfortunately, due to this short-term experiment, in those areas where landscaping and turfgrass were removed they are no longer capturing and filtering rainwater or holding it on site for the trees and plants to use.”
California state and local governments paid homeowners to replace their living landscapes, including their turfgrass, with mulch, rocks, cactus and plastic grass. California auditors later discovered this one-size-fits-all approach was the least effective water-saving measure. Now, in an extreme turn-around, the Golden State is dealing with torrential rains, heavy snowfall, mudslides and storm water runoff. Denuded landscapes don’t capture water or store it capably.
“As homeowners get ready to choose plants for spring, it’s imperative we learn from California’s mistakes,” he says. “If they’d seen their lawns and landscapes as an appropriate use of water and an investment in nature and home habitat, California cities could have helped save some of their dying, city canopy trees, which get watered along with yards and green space. And all those ‘drought-friendly’ yards of nothing but mulch? They’re washing away.”
To sum up a smarter landscape approach, Kiser says, “Plant for forever—not for short-term weather changes.”
OPEI encourages homeowners, gardeners and commercial facility managers to keep these smart landscaping tips in mind when planting this spring:
Plant a living landscape that breathes. It creates the oxygen we need and sequesters carbon.
Follow the “right plant, right place” rule. Put in living trees, shrubs, grasses and flowering plants that are right for your climate zone. Once established, Mother Nature will weather climate changes.
Remember wildlife in your planting choices. Add flowering plants to support pollinators like birds, bees and butterflies. Our yards, parks, schoolyards and other green spaces connect and form wildlife corridors.
Plant for your lifestyle. If you have kids and pets, remember our yards are safe spaces for families, kids and pets.
Put in a mix of adaptive and native plants that can handle people traffic as well as provide food and habitat for wildlife.
Don’t over water. Plants and trees will grow stronger and work harder, creating deeper, vertical roots, if they need to seek water.
Let plants go dormant in drought conditions. They will “green back up” when the rains come.
“Plants are smarter than we are when it comes to natural, cyclical weather events,” says Kiser. “We just need to get out of the way. Make the right plant and tree selections for your climate zone. Once established, they’ll do it on their own. They’ll spring back up when the rains return. And the rain always returns.”
Our living landscapes are imperative to human and wildlife health. They produce oxygen, sequester carbon, lower urban heat, capture and filter rainwater, prevent soil erosion and capture dust and particulates. They are urban habitat for us, our pets and nature’s wildlife. Ours is a shared existence. A fifty feet by fifty feet square of ordinary turfgrass produces enough oxygen for a family of four, and green infrastructure protects communities from natural disasters, including flood and drought.
“Take a lesson from the California experiment. We’ve seen, first-hand, what happens when government regulates too much and forces people to change their living landscapes for short-term realities,” adds Kiser. “The health of our communities depend on us getting smarter about working with nature. Plant for the future—our future.”
The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) is an international trade association representing more than 100 power equipment, engine and utility vehicle manufacturers and suppliers. OPEI is the advocacy voice of the industry, and a recognized Standards Development Organization for the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and active internationally through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in the development of safety and performance standards. OPEI is managing partner of GIE+EXPO, the industry’s annual international trade show, and the creative force behind the environmental education program, TurfMutt.com. OPEI-Canada represents members on a host of issues, including recycling, emissions and other regulatory developments across the Canadian provinces. For more information, visit www.OPEI.org.