Sustainable Lawn Care

Folks may remember Jacquie Gist's line in the 2005 campaign to the effect that "lawns grass makes us stupid." Well OWASA is trying to do something about it by sponsoring Sustainable Lawn Care Workshops:

To help our customers learn more about effective and sustainable lawn care principles and practices, OWASA is sponsoring three public workshops in September. Come learn about the “myths and mistakes” of lawn care, as well as the proper and sustainable methods of fertilization, reseeding, weed control, scheduling and watering. Mr. Mark Danieley, Horticulture Extension Agent, NCSU Cooperative Extension Service, Orange County will lead the workshops.

Choose the date and time most convenient for you:

• Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - 10:00-11:30 am
• Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - 7:00-8:30 pm
• Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - 2:00-3:30 pm


Orange County Cooperative Extension Service at
245-2050 or 968-4501 or 967- 9251, ext. 2050

The workshops will be in the Community Room on the lower floor of the OWASA Administration Building, 400 Jones Ferry Road, Carrboro. For more information:
Paula Thomas, OWASA Sustainability Administrator, 537-4230/; or
Mark Danieley, Orange County Extension Agent, 245-2062/



Lawns do make us stupid, as Jacquie announced so effectively. I hope this OWASA offering gets lots of publicity and participation. OWASA presentations are well worth the price of admission -- always persuasive.

Jacquie continued to show leadership on this last night. She raised the the issue in regard to the Ballentine subdivision off Old 86 which led to several permit stipulations regarding landscaping and water use.

Actualy I said GRASS Makes Us Stupid
Let's declare a war on grass!
There are so many more efective and attractive ways landscape.I am happy to see OWASA increasing thier efforts on this.It is time for the towns and county to make some water saving changes to their devlopment policies and perhaps lead the way by making changes on town own properties
JAcquie Gist

its pretty simple: If you can't eat it, don't water it.

I am registered! Its actions and awareness by people like Jacqui that make me love this town. I have been reconsidering the landscaping of our condominium community for exactly this reason and was in need of information and resources. Jacqui's efforts will have an effect on at least one community of homes in town.

While we are on the subject of water, may I ask if there's a reason the appropriate agencies haven't mobilized bulldozers, earthmovers or cranes to University Lake or Jordan Lake to scoop out some of the extra muck?

Extra capacity would sure be nice.

Just seems like the obvious lemons-to-lemonade thing to do.


Happy to declare war on grass, at least the kind that people expect to be short and bright green and weedless/cloverless/dandelionless, etc.

What seems to want to grow in our corner of Chapel Hill (and I'd guess most equally forested areas of this part of the Piedmont) is moss. Moss is lovely. Moss doesn't need loud mowers and blowers and sprinklers, etc. Above all, it doesn't want the pesticides that will kill all the fireflies that breed and rest near the ground. All firefly lovers should join the "war on grass."

OWASA has looked at scooping out University Lake. It's incredibly expensive for the capacity to be gained. And with the benefits that we are seeing from conservation, it's not necessary here.

If these other jurisdictions would get serious about water conservation they wouldn't have nearly the problems they are having now. They just don't seem to get it. And of course the state legislature is out to lunch.

Doesn't Cary use a gray water system for outdoor water needs? Seems like that'd be a good long-term solution if things got too terribly bad.

Someone who goes will have to report back with tips on the reseeding and fertilization bits, though. Not much worse than spending an afternoon doing those two things to a lawn or pasture.

Is there such a thing as an environmentally friendly lawn? Earlier this week the N&O reported that organic lawns are slowly catching on.

Fed up with lawn-care companies that pour on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, Greer opted for an organic service that uses treated sludge from municipal sewage plants. When dandelions and chickweed sprout, Greer happily pulls them by hand, because she's not poisoning them with herbicide.

"It's all about putting your health first and your neighbors' health and kids' health," said Greer, who lives in the Devereaux subdivision near N.C. 55. "Most people with carpet-like lawns have lawns on life support. They have to douse them with chemicals, herbicides and irrigate it for it to look like a carpet.

"They don't know if it will cause cancer down the road," said Greer, who signed up with NaturaLawn of America in March.

Unfortunately, the sludge this woman thinks of as environmentally safe is now known to be full of endocrine disrupters which are slowly killing our wildlife and there is growing evidence that municipal sludge is also associated with a number of human health problems, including cancer.

The NC Conservation Network blog reported on a company that will come PAINT your lawn green with environmentally friendly paint. Isn't the environmentally friendly decision to give up lawns altogether?

My lawn is currently thick, green, weedless and pestless; it is drought and heat tolerant. I haven't watered it in two months, and then only because it had been recently installed (with sod). That went on for a week, and no water since. No fertilizer either.

It's zoysia, variety "El Toro." I got it specifically for its toleration of drought and heat, and the fact that it grows so thick that few weeds can push through. (I pluck weeds because they're so easy to spot and so few, and don't use herbicides.) On zoysia "El Toro" :

I look on the selection of grass as a decision similar to other decisions about what to plant in a landscape. I also don't plant perennials or trees that require me to water them (except when first establishing, when most all plants require some watering to get going).

Grasses of various sorts have been important elements of garden design for centuries. The trick is to know that there are hundreds of varieties of grass, and if your vision for your landscape includes some of the gentle curves and rolls of a lawn, to pick a grass that will thrive in your zone.

That means, to me, that the fescues and the bluegrasses have no business being grown around here. (Most of the dying lawns you see around here are some sort of fescue or bluegrass.) You might be able to sustain a fescue lawn in this climate, but you'll have to water and feed and weed so much, what's the point? And the same goes for most elements of garden design, in my opinion. If, say, you want to grow a date palm or a banana tree and every year you've got to wrap it up and pack it in hay against the cold, what's the point? Pond gardens are cool and work well here, but it's a waste to plant a bog garden if you're having to water it to keep it wet. Might as well put wings on a pig.

The grasses that do well here are pretty familiar and well-established, with a variety of cultivars available for each: bermuda, St. Augustine's, centipede, zoysia. I know someone who cultivated the bermudagrass already in the lawn (and considered an invasive weed by many), keeping the growing conditions optimal for bermuda, and over several growing seasons was able to establish a bermudagrass lawn without planting any bermudagrass. It doesn't have to be hard or expensive to get a climate/zone appropriate lawn.

Anyway, I understand the reasoning behind the declaration that "grass is stupid," since so many people seem to be stupid about grass and try to grow grasses not suited for our climate. But grasses, properly selected, planted, and employed, are a legitimate design element and don't have to be harmful to our water supplies and the quality of our waterways. It just requires that you think of your grass as another plant in your garden, and select it accordingly.

Also, manual reel-type mowers have come a long way. They cut grass in a way that keeps the grass healthier (not as much tearing) so long as you keep the blades sharp, and the new mowers cut nearly as efficiently as the gas-powered (or electric powered) rotary mowers.

Finally, I am not an apologist for great huge lawns -- that just shows lack of imagination and creativity. I'm for small lawns that are used for pathways and as small clearings against which to set the various textures and colors of the summer perennial garden.

Off my soapbox,


'I'm for small lawns that are used for pathways and as small clearings against which to set the various textures and colors of the summer perennial garden."

Glad you ended with that statement. Regardless of what type of grass is used, grass lawns are still relatively impervious. For stormwater control as well as drought management, less lawn is better. But they do make for nice community gathering spaces.

My lawn is in Pittsboro. My wife and I both walk to work. The area of our lawn would barely fit a tool shed, let alone a place to live. Our house is 90 years old and has always had a front yard. (I've got photographs.)

Anyway, Jose, you could apply your logic to the airspace above homes, and wonder why we waste 100-400 feet of perfectly good housing space just so we can see the sun. And, for that matter, any greenspace in areas "near a workplace" is a waste of resources if that resource/space is judged only through the lens of housing density.

What exactly does “sustainable” mean in this context? The existence of these lawns means that other people have no choice but to drive to work at UNC. If a relatively sparsely populated area near a workplace results in other people having to live far from work and drive to work instead of living near work and walking/biking to work then is the amount of resources spent on maintaining the lawn for the few people living near the workplace even relevant?

So you save X resource units by having a lawn that needs less maintenance and meanwhile the existence of that lawn means that someone else must spend 5X resource units just to get to work. What's the point?

There is definitely a trade off as far as density goes. But jeez, two golf courses within a mile of a campus that thousands of people have to drive to each day? And Carrboro feels like a small town in the middle of nowhere even though IT'S RIGHT NEXT TO WHERE A HUGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WORK WHO HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO DRIVE TO WORK BECAUSE THERE AREN'T ENOUGH PLACES NEAR WORK TO LIVE! And on top of that UNC is growing by leaps and bounds (and I'm not even talking about Carolina North). They're putting up a building next to where I work and by the size of it I'd say hundreds of people will work there. Where will those people live and how will they get to work?

But yeah, let's preserve greenspace in Carrboro because we want to save the environment. Sorry but unless I get more evidence or reason to support that position I'm not buying into it.

People want nice stuff for themselves, including their own immediate environment. Fine, I can understand that. Just say so.


What's your vision? Should we ban music and art until everyone is well-fed, all disease is eradicated, and democracy is achieved?

Watch what you wish for on housing density - there are many who would love to build everywhere they can. Look at the way the Chamber of Commerce and the Home Builders Association has embraced the Village Project. You think their goal is egalitarian living or do they see an angle to open up more land for development?

I am also interested in how Jose proposes we develop more affordable housing.

I was trying to buy my first home in the early 90s when some local real estate mavens decided they were going to start buying up starter homes and turning them into rentals. Try competing for homes with people offering cash. And there was not a thing the Town Council or the BOA could have done about it. Entire neighborhoods transformed from primarily affordable family housing to student rentals.
(No offense to the students - I was a student, I've always lived near students, I like living near students .)

As well while the Town Council and the BOA can require density and they can negotiate over "affordable" units, the North Carolina Legislature has laws that prohibit them from turning down developments because they aren't affordable. So what we're ending up with - a bunch of density that consists of "deluxe" condos for up and coming professionals who don't want children (right now) but do want top of the line stainless steel ecofriendly dishwashers - not exactly descriptive of the UNC employees who can't find housing.

So please explain to me how we can fix this.

The reason there isn't enough affordable housing in CH/C is obvious, namely that supply is much lower than demand.

Here is my home buying experience. I was a graduate student at UNC. Then I finished school and got a job and UNC but kept living in my rental unit, saving money to eventually buy a home if I decided to stay in the area.

So I continued to live a cheap student lifestyle while making a higher income than the national median and finally came the time to buy a house, by which time I had a good bit saved. I wanted to live close to work, partly to simplify my life but also to go light on the environment.

But when I looked for houses I realized that they fell into three classes. One were those where I could walk or bike to work. There were few of those, espeically at an affordable price. Another category were those where I could bus to work. There were more of those but not that many if you discount those that were total dumps. The third category were those where I'd have to drive to work. There were more of those than I could shake a stick at. It was then that I realized that something was wrong in the equation.

I ended up buying one of the few where I could walk to work because I like having an easy commute to work and because of the fact that even though the only affordable places that close to UNC are very small, it doesn't really matter since I live alone.

But now that I've made my big investment it is in my financial and personal interest to keep things the way they are, ie, keep density low so that there will be more greenery and less traffic in CH/C, even though doing so will ensure that the loss of greenery and the increase in traffic will be even greater elsewhere. And more loss of greenery and an increase in traffic isn't environmentally unfriendly, isn't it?

I like to at least be honest with myself though. How do you make more affordable housing in CH/C and help the environment at the same time? You build much more housing near CH/C. You build Briar Chapel in Carrboro instead of Chatham County. Etc. That is simple logic.

I can say all this because I know it won't happen anyway and my investment will be protected because all I do is express a message on a bulletin board and I have no real power. But if I were in a position where I were really the one making the decision I have to be honest and say I don't know what I'd do. If I protected my own investment at the expense of others and the environment though at least I'd feel guilty about it. I'd like to think I wouldn't pretend I'm doing it in the name of saving green space in Carrboro.

Here is a different municipal approach to lawn care from a report on :

OREM, Utah (AP) -- A 70-year-old woman arrested in a dispute over her brown lawn pleaded not guilty Tuesday, then stood by as a Los Angeles lawyer waved handcuffs for the cameras outside court.

Betty Perry is charged with resisting arrest and failing to maintain her landscaping, both misdemeanors.

She was arrested July 6 after failing to give her name to a police officer who visited her home.

During a struggle, Perry fell and injured her nose. She spent more than an hour in a holding cell before police released her.

"I ask the citizens of Orem: How many of you would like to have your great-grandmother taken from her home with bruises and blood and placed in handcuffs for failing to water her lawn?" attorney Gloria Allred said.

"Let's bring sanity back to law enforcement," she said.

The mayor and City Council apologized, and the police department said the situation could have been handled differently. But the city attorney still is pressing charges, and Perry is due back in court next month.

A state investigation found that Officer James Flygare acted properly in arresting Perry after trying to get her to cooperate.

Perry's water had been turned off for about nine months, at her request, although she was living at the house at the time of the arrest. Orem has a shutoff policy for people who are away for extended periods.


Community Guidelines

By using this site, you agree to our community guidelines. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will result in moderation or eviction.


Content license

By contributing to OrangePolitics, you agree to license your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.