Sustainable Lawns at Smithsonian Gardens

July 10, 2013 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Smithsonian Gardens continues to make significant improvements to its lawn maintenance program, which in turn has contributed greatly to institution-wide sustainability efforts. Since 2008 Smithsonian Gardens has reduced its fertilizer runoff and pollution to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, reduced pesticide applications, and reduced the total number of mowings each year. This year we are experimenting with more environmentally-friendly lawn maintenance equipment and collaborating with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension to evaluate the use of different types of grasses that require less maintenance.

Smithsonian Gardens is asking its contractors to switch to more eco-friendly mowing equipment.

Smithsonian Gardens is asking its contractors to switch to more eco-friendly mowing equipment.

In 2010, we started reducing lawn mower emissions by asking our mowing contractor to switch their riding mower from gasoline to propane. Our mowing contractor has switched all of its mowers over 42 inches from gasoline to propane powered. In addition, the contractor has agreed to replace all of the gas-powered handheld equipment it uses (backpack blowers, stick edgers, and string trimmers) with battery-powered equipment. The contractor hopes to replace its 21-inch gas-powered mowers with battery-powered mowers this summer thereby eliminating all gas-powered lawn equipment used by the contractor.

Evaluation of various types of grass the the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Facility.

Evaluation of various types of grass at the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Facility.

Smithsonian Gardens and Maryland Cooperative Extension have teamed up to evaluate different types of grasses that require less maintenance. Fine fescue grasses have a reputation for being environmentally friendly as they require less water, fertilizer and–most important–less mowing. Last fall, we planted 10 x 10 foot plots of creeping red, chewings, sheep, and hard fescue grasses at our Greenhouse Facility in Suitland, Maryland. All the grasses were planted in the existing soil as well as in compost-amended soil to determine the best way to establish them as a lawn. The goal of this project is to determine which types of fine fescue grasses will work best in our climate. If they require less maintenance and can still be considered an acceptable lawn, we hope to use these types of grasses in the future.

Both of these initiatives have made Smithsonian Gardens’ lawn care program substantially more sustainable and do much to contribute to a healthier Smithsonian community and environment.

-Graham Davis, Horticulturist

Entry filed under: Green Team, Horticulture. Tags: , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. michaelawanders  |  July 10, 2013 at 10:55 am

    I think a good question to start with as well is can lawns BE sustainable? Obviously, social sustainability is a huge component and aesthetics play a part in that but lawns are America’s biggest crop, which I think is interesting to think about. Nevertheless, improvements are improvements and for that I applaud the effort!

    Reply

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