The article below is part one of a series graciously contributed by one of our clients. Watch next month for part 2!

A New Look At the Intermountain Home Landscape Green Spaces

By William Habblett, CNP, CPD
Landscape Industry Certified Manager
CWI Horticulture Instructor

Acres upon acres of Kentucky bluegrass (KBG), dusted with some perennial rye cover the landscapes of residential and commercial areas. These fields of green give back a feeling of serenity that stems from the open view that we can see for miles and the actual calming, “negative space” in the landscape where your eyes can rest. All that it asks for is just a few things: weekly mowing, edge trimming and removal from the flower and shrub beds for 36 weeks, at least 36” of moisture through the growing season, 5 pounds of Nitrogen per 1,000 sq ft per year, weed controls and at least aeration once per year. So you ask, what’s the problem with this for the simple visual serenity that has driven us for the last 150 years?

Most people average at least an hour per week mowing and maintaining their lawn. While this can be considered some great physical activity, most of us use motorized equipment that for every hours used, releases more pollutants than ten cars driven for an hour. Moisture? We average eleven inches of moisture per year in snow and rainfall in the Treasure Valley, where KBG requires at least 36” moisture to maintain summer green but will do best with 56” of moisture. But how much water does that equal? You need to apply 22,450 to 34,900 gallons of water per 25’ x 40’ section of turf per year.

Now in fairness, it is also the most drought tolerant as long as we are all willing to allow it to be dormant throughout the summer months. KBG is one of the heaviest feeders of fertilizers and we are regularly sold on programs that apply significantly more than what they require. For that same 25’ x 40’ section of turf, 25 pounds of petroleum based, synthetic fertilizer to that same area to equal the five pounds of nitrogen needed per 1,000 sq ft each year. This doesn’t include the fact that a lot of cheap fertilizers have highly soluble nitrogen that is known for polluting the water table from over usage.

Plus many landscapes are treated with multiple types of pesticides for control of crabgrass and dandelions, billbugs, and a few fungal outbreaks, such as snow mold and brown patch. While many of these things can be a destructive issue of your turf environment; realistically, they are easy to repair after the damage has passed. It just won’t have the ‘perfect’ look that a chemically treated landscape will have and maintain. Did you also know that KBG is also the most susceptible residential turf to insect and disease issues? While I could go on about the proper and improper usage of fertilizers and pesticides, the effects that some of these have on the soil, the micro and macro environment and the cultural living ecology, I would like to take the opportunity to allow my friends at Pulse Holistic to inform you of the short term and long term effects on you and your family.

Most of the chemicals used in pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are not recognized by the body and as such the body will do its best to expel them. If, however, the body is not strong enough, these chemicals are stored in fat cells for safe keeping until the body is strong enough the process them out. Either way, before they are excreted or stored, they have an effect on the body’s ability to balance its self.

Generally the first organ system affected is the Lungs through inhalation or absorption through the skin. Weakened Lungs can cause asthma, increased susceptibility to colds, and allergies. The other most commonly affected organ system is the Liver as it tries to cleanse and nourish the Blood by removing these toxins. The Liver most commonly will react by increasing the likelihood of headaches and migraines, tinnitus, vertigo, agitation, and anxiety. It is also quite likely that the Liver will disrupt digestions causing such symptoms as heartburn, acid reflux, indigestion, constipation, bloating, and loose stools.

If the body is not rebalanced after exposure to these chemicals acute symptoms can become chronic which take more time and effort to clear. Prolonged agitation of the Liver can lead to such diverse symptoms as tremors, neuralgia, numbness and paralysis, even stroke and heart attack.

But you probably already heard this before so you are ready to look at new options. First off, let me share with you the thought that the majority of families only need 850 square feet for average family activities. So in that perspective, I suggest lots of great beds of beautiful plants and a nice section of vegetable plants to cover the mass of your property. Properly established, a landscape of this concept will only require a few hours of maintenance a year!

One of the things that we always need to remember is the expected traffic on the area. Thoroughly evaluate how your family uses your outdoor environment and how close is the local park is for great activities. Is the grass just out there to mow or something to walk across to get to your garden beds? Do you go out and throw the Frisbee once per week? Is it just out there so your dog has something to hang out on? Personally, I think that you will find that you rarely use this green space for anything more than visually negative place. Ponder your usage and traffic patterns for now, and next month, we will discuss some turf alternative options and how to get your landscape there.