Turf Magazine - June, 2014

FEATURES

Tell the True Story About Lawns

Lawn service pros have the knowledge to educate the public
By Bryan Ostlund


Grass Photo Courtesy of Getty Images/iStockphoto.

In recent years, homeowners have shown increased interest in alternative lawn options, such as hardscaping and xeriscaping. The reasons behind this trend are varied. Some property owners want a lower-maintenance option, while others believe that turfgrass is not environmentally friendly or they are concerned about irrigation costs. Many of these arguments are rooted in a lack of information or misunderstanding of the natural benefits of grass.

Natural turf offers benefits that landscapers and turfgrass professionals need to be able to communicate to their customers in order for them to make informed choices. By doing so, professionals will be in a better position to clear up misconceptions, win over skeptics and secure long-term partnerships.

Landscape maintenance professionals, given their regular visits and their hands-on services, are in a unique position to advise customers about the most suitable options for their properties. Taking factors such as soil, light, slope and drainage into consideration, landscapers can offer many ideas to make a home's natural environment more inviting. And by providing customers with viable choices to improve their property's appeal, they serve as partners in boosting property values and providing life-enhancing outdoor spaces.

While assessing the landscape for potential improvements is crucial, so is assessing a homeowner's perspective. If a property could benefit from the installation or expansion of natural turf, take some time to talk with customers about their use and vision of the space. Such conversations should reveal potential roadblocks and preconceived notions that may be surmountable with a few facts.

Debunk the myths

From games to barbecues to lounging in the shade, lawns provide an ideal setting for outdoor recreation, entertainment and relaxation. Grass areas are naturally calming and stress relieving, and the visual appeal contributes to improved mental health and quality of life. In cities, grass absorbs noise, and studies have shown that well-maintained lawns also promote greater community pride and deter littering and vandalism. Despite these social benefits, numerous myths abound that may discourage homeowners to maintain a lawn.

Myth #1: Lawns stress the environment -

The Facts: As anyone who has ever walked barefoot on a hot day knows, grass is much cooler than cement, asphalt and dirt, which trap heat. And grass is not just cool to the touch. Each grass blade acts as an evaporative cooler, and by transpiring water to cool itself, it also cools the environment, reducing air-conditioning requirements in buildings surrounded by lawns. The front lawns of eight average-size homes have the same cooling effect as the air-conditioning systems of about 20 homes. Plus, grass absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen. A lawn of just 50 square feet releases enough oxygen to meet the needs of a family of four.

Myth #2: Native plants are best at erosion control -

The Facts: As a groundcover, turfgrass is one of the most efficient and inexpensive ways to prevent erosion. A thick lawn absorbs rainfall, virtually eliminating runoff, and the extensive root systems of the grass plants bind the soil very effectively. A healthy lawn discourages the growth of weeds, as grass will easily outcompete other plants when the right conditions are created. Grass also helps enrich the soil by generating organic matter that is broken down by worms and microorganisms.

Myth #3: Grass is too sensitive and damages easily -

The Facts: If the right variety is selected for the climate conditions and lawn use patterns, the grass will be highly resilient and regenerate quickly in response to stresses such as drought, frost or foot traffic.

Myth #4: Natural turf is costly -

The Facts: A lawn increases the curb appeal of a home and makes it more attractive to potential buyers, increasing a home's value by as much as 15 percent. Good landscaping provides a higher return on investment than many other home improvement projects. Homeowners can generally expect to recover 40 to 70 percent of the cost of building a deck or patio, for example, while landscaping can offer a 100 to 200 percent return.

Myth #5: Lawns require too much water -

The Facts: Homeowners tend to overwater turfgrass. A thorough watering once or twice a week during the cooler hours of the day and sprinkler settings adjusted to produce larger drops closer to the ground can reduce waste. Investing in a sprinkler system can lower irrigation expenses and pay dividends over the long term, particularly if systems include a rain sensor and properly programmed controller. In addition, selecting the appropriate type of grass for the local conditions can minimize irrigation needs, and turfgrass experts can explain the best options.

Proper maintenance is critical

After educating potential customers about the benefits of grass, discuss the maintenance issues. Turfgrass is a relatively low-maintenance form of landscaping, but customers who have never had a lawn or who have had problems in the past may need some guidance and reassurance about their ability to achieve a healthy lawn.

Whether or not a homeowner relies on the help of landscaping professionals, they will likely be responsible for keeping their lawn irrigated. Keep in mind that a lawn is an investment for a customer, so help protect it with clear watering instructions. Be aware of water costs in their particular region, and look for opportunities to pass along water-saving tips and recommendations. Share a simple trick to determine whether watering is needed: push a screwdriver into the ground; the lawn is fine if the blade enters the soil easily, but it needs a drink if the blade goes in with difficulty.

Customers who mow their own lawns should understand that although turf is highly tolerant of mowing, it still stresses the grass. This stress can be reduced by mowing in the early morning or evening, and only when the grass is dry. Mower blades should be kept sharp to prevent tearing, and no more than one-third of the grass blade height should be cut off at a time. Frequent mowings that cut off less also allow the clippings to break down easily and provide nutrients to the soil, eliminating the need to bag clippings and reducing fertilizer requirements.

For maintenance steps that are performed less frequently and require specialized equipment, such as aerating and dethatching, many customers will want to call in the experts. Winterization and flood or drought repair, along with fertilization, overseeding, pest management and weed management, also require specialized knowledge and the ability to identify the best solutions for specific conditions. Homeowners may require advice and consultation from turfgrass professionals to determine an approach.

The goal: happy customers

Whatever the mix of products, services and guidance that landscapers and turfgrass professionals provide, the end goal is always to ensure that property owners are happy with their lawns. Professionals who provide customers with the information they need to feel good about choosing a lawn will create long-standing, trusted relationships that can translate to year-round care and boost business over time.

Bryan Ostlund is executive director of Grass Seed USA, a national coalition of grass seed farmers and academic turf specialists that seeks to inform and educate residential and commercial customers about the benefits of grass and best practices for responsibly growing and maintaining healthy turf. For more information, visit http://www.weseedamerica.com.