Sidebar: Key points Turf Benefits Checklist
do you do for a living? I grow grass.
Too often, turf is thought of as an attractive lawn or golf course amenity that guzzles scarce water resources. It's not a valid assessment. Turf reduces runoff and soil erosion, protects groundwater and surface water quality, is linked to decomposition of polluting organic chemicals, dissipates heat, gives cushioning against injuries, and reduces stress, benefiting human health, Gibeault said.
"Turf has a multifaceted story that we need to tell. The scientific research findings in the literature are compelling," Gibeault said. Summarized herein are the benefits of turf to the environment and human health, based on recent reviews and findings in the scientific literature. References are noted at the end of the article.
Erosion Control and Dust Stabilization
Perennial turfgrasses offer one of the most cost-effective methods to control water and wind erosion of soil, reducing dust and mud problems around homes, schools, factories, and businesses.
Turf can function as vegetative filter strips that greatly reduce the sediment transported into surface streams and rivers, especially when positioned down slope from cropland, mines, and animal production facilities. The reduction in sediment movement not only protects soil resources, but it also reduces sediment-linked nonpoint surface water pollution in rivers, lakes, and streams.
Recharge and Surface Water Quality
Results of a research study in Maryland that compared surface water runoff losses from a perennial turf and a cultivated tobacco grown at the same site were noteworthy: During the tobacco-growing season (May - September), surface water runoff losses for the tobacco were 11 times greater than the runoff losses from the perennial turf (6.7 mm ha-1 4 wk-1 for tobacco vs. 0.6 mm ha-1 4 wk-1 for turf). Surface runoff losses for total nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) also differed and followed the same pattern. Runoff from the tobacco plantings had 195 times more N and 240 times more P than runoff from the turf. For turf, surface runoff losses of N and P were 0.012 and 0.002 kg ha-1 4 wk-1 , respectively, vs. 2.34 and 0.48 kg ha-1 4 wk-1 losses of N and P, respectively, for tobacco.)
Turfgrass ecosystems support
abundant earthworm populations, which contribute to increased macropore
space in soil, resulting in higher soil water infiltration rates, higher
water-holding capacity, and improved soil structure. The reduction in
runoff volume linked to turf can lead to a decrease in stormwater management
Improvement and Restoration
In addition to soil restoration, urban landscapes planted to turf (home lawns, parks, commercial landscapes, recreational facilities, golf courses and other greenbelts) provide an important sink to offset C emissions (increases in atmospheric CO2). Recent research in Colorado assessed the rate of soil C sequestered in turfgrass systems using long-term soil testing data. Nonlinear regression analysis of historic data indicated a strong pattern of soil organic matter response to decades of turfgrass culture. The researchers concluded that C sequestration in turf soils occurs at a significant rate (12 to 15 million t C/yr), which is comparable to that reported for land placed in the USDA's Conservation Reserve Program (13 million t C/yr).
It is unwise to cut the school maintenance budget (irrigation, fertilization, pest and thatch control) for athletic fields planted to turf because developing athletes are put at significant risk. In a study of football injuries at 12 Pennsylvania high schools, researchers determined that one-fifth were definitely or possibly field-related. Fields with good quality turfgrass cover have higher traction, cushioning, and resiliency, and lower surface hardness, reducing the probability of injury in contact sports.
A smooth, durable, uniform
turf surface is important to the play and outcome of a game. Ball roll
and bounce are influenced by the turf cover and its management, as are
player movements, such as running, cutting, veering, stopping, pivoting,
dodging, lunging, jumping, landing, and walking. The overuse of many community
sports facilities can push the limits of turf to recover. Certain grasses
have been bred to better withstand traffic from cleats.
and Health Benefits
Psychologists who study people-plant
interactions quantify their results by testing blood pressure and heart
rate to document the health benefits of "nearby nature" (turf
and mixed landscapes and natural settings). Views of open green space
promote quicker recovery from experimentally induced stress when compared
to busy mall scenes. Hospital patients matched for age, gender, pre-surgical
health, and socioeconomic status who were provided an outdoor view of
nature recovered more quickly and required fewer, less potent analgesics
than patients whose rooms viewed a hospital wing.
Turf Benefits Checklist
and Water Resources
& Health Benefits