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Native Vegetation Alternatives to Urban Turf Crispin H. Pierce, Ph.D.
Why Consider Alternatives to Turf? • Turf is wasteful of valuable natural resources. • Turf maintenance is expensive. • Turf requires watering and causes stormwater runoff. • Turf requires addition of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, which pollute our waterways. • Turf mowing causes noise and air pollution.
Turf is Wasteful of Natural Resources • 20,000,000 acres of the United States are used as residential lawns. • Turf installation requires removal of native vegetation, leading to stormwater problems, animal habitat losses, and soil compaction.
$ Turf Maintenance is Expensive • Lawn installation requires vegetation removal and grading. • Grass must be mowed regularly. • $5,250,000,000 is spent annually on lawn fertilizers derived from fossil fuels. • $700,000,000 is spent on lawn pesticides
Pesticide-Caused Losses • The estimated pollination losses to food production from pesticides' effects on honey bees and wild bees is $200 million per year. • Destruction by pesticides of the natural enemies of pests costs an estimated $520 million per year. • Estimates of costs of fish killed per year by pesticides (6-14 million) ranges from $24 to $56 million. • The total number of wild birds killed by pesticides is estimated at 67 million. The value of this bird loss from pesticides is $2.1 billion annually.
Turf Requires Watering • Grass requires more water than virtually any other crop. • 60% of urban fresh water on the west coast is used to water lawns.
Turf Contributes to Stormwater Runoff • Darkened squares reflect housing project construction (1994 - 1998). • Blue squares represent surface water complaints (1996 - 2000).
Turf Requires the Addition of Pesticides, Herbicides and Fertilizers • 67,000,000 pounds of synthetic pesticides are used on US lawns each year. • Of the 18 major lawn chemicals, 85% are toxic to fish. • Chemicals used on turf are carried by stormwater runoff into the Snohomish and Pilchuck Rivers, home to endangered trout and salmon.
Turf Mowing Causes Noise and Air Pollution • 580,000,000 gallons of gas are used for lawnmowers each year. • Lawnmowers pollute as much in one hour as driving 350 miles, contributing to respiratory problems such as asthma.
How Are Native Plants Better? • After initial installation, they are less expensive to maintain. • They control and filter stormwater runoff. • They are adapted to Northwest weather, soil, and insects. • They provide natural beauty and inspire relaxation.
Native Plants Are Less Expensive to Maintain • Require 1-3 weedings the first year, then once per year thereafter. • No fuel costs. • No pesticide or fertilizer costs. • Reduced or eliminated stormwater costs. • Little to no watering costs.
Native Plants Slow and Filter Stormwater • Deep-rooted vegetation such as trees, shrubs, and perennial bunchgrasses absorb up to 14 times more rainfall than turf.
Natives store or degrade stormwater-related pollutants before they reach natural water systems. • These plants help transfer surface water back into the groundwater, not into the overburdened storm water drainage system.
Native Plants Are Natural • They are resistant to insect, drought, and storm damage. • They prevent erosion by holding soil and by working with existing soil organisms. • They provide wildlife habitat for birds and insects, including butterflies and pollinators.
Native Plants Add Beauty and Value • Native landscaping can enhance the visual appearance of urban landscapes. • People find natural areas to be both beautiful and restful.
Property values of landscaped homes are 5-20% higher than those of non-landscaped homes. • Consumers say they'd spend up to 13 percent more at businesses that have trees in their landscape.
Suitable Species and Costs: Wet areas Hooker Willow(Salix hookeriana) • Very hairy flowers, does well next to water, good for erosion protection. • Spacing 2 feet. • $3/two-gallon pot
Vine Maple(Acer circinatum) • A favorite for fall colors with its brilliant orange and red hues. Tolerant of shade & dampness. Grows to 20 ft. • Spacing 4-6 feet. • $1.50/Bare Root 12-18"
Slopes Kinnikinnick(bearberry, sandberry) (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ssp. uva-ursi) • Grows in well-drained soils, especially sandy to rocky ones. Full sun to partial shade, tolerates dry soils. Its wide-spreading rooting stems make it especially useful for stabilizing steep banks. • Spacing 1 foot. • $0.95/ 4" Pots
Red Osier Dogwood(Cornus sericea) • Produces pretty white flowers and white berries. Good for holding soil on steep banks and for shade for fish. The attractive red bark makes it colorful all year. • Spacing 4-6 feet • Shade tolerant, likes wet soil • $1.25/Bare Root 12-15"
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) • Easily recognized in the wild by its clumps of waxy, white berries (inedible). Excellent soil binding roots for erosion control. Grows 4 - 6 ft. • Spacing 4-6 feet, is shade tolerant, good for steep slopes. • $1/Bare Root 12-18"
Dry areas Nootka Rose(Rosa nuttalii) • The most common bush rose, makes a great hedgerow. Blooms May to July, white to deep rose flowers and rose hips. A favorite of native plant gardeners, it grows up to 10'. • Spacing 4-6 feet • Likes sunny dry sites • $1/Bare Root 12-18"
Red Flowering Currant(Ribes sanguineum) • An early blooming shrub that attracts migrating hummingbirds. Pink to red, drooping flowers and palm-shaped leaves. Grows 5 to 10 feet high, best in dry areas. Berries are blue-black. • Spacing 3-9 feet, good in shade or partial sun. • $7/2 Gallon container
Ocean Spray(Holodiscus discolor) • Covered with masses of loose, creamy plumes that persist into fall, leaves become tinted red, can reach 15 to 20 feet tall. Prefers little water and can range from full sun to full shade. • Spacing 5-10 feet, likes partial shade and moist soil. • $1.25/Bare Root 12-18"
Oregon Grape (Berberis nervosa) • Grows in dry to moist, well-drained soils, in sun or shade. • ~ $3/two-gallon pot
Advantages and Disadvantages • Greatly reduced maintenance costs • Provides “natural” beauty • Slows and filters stormwater--- reduction of complaints • Provides bird and insect habitat • Reduces chemical load into groundwater, and the Snohomish and Pilchuck Rivers • Reduces noise pollution • Fewer insect-related problems (such as West Nile Virus) • Native landscaping increases property and business values • Initial installation cost • May not look “neat” to some people • Requires some knowledge of which plant is best for a given location
Turf and Native Vegetation Can Be Mixed to Allow Multipurpose Land Use
References • Impervious Surface Reduction: Parking Lot Design, Minnesota Urban Small Sites BMP Manual. • Green Neighborhoods, Chapter 6, Center for Housing Innovation, Corvalis, OR. • Trees for the Twenty-First Century, Washington Arbor Day Foundation. • Alternatives to the American "Lawn" Part III: Let Your Landscape Work for You (Not Vice Versa), GASP.