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Low-maintenance lawns

North Americans have a deep-seated love affair with their lawns. While some consider the 1950s as the golden age of lawn care, visit any hardware store or garden centre in the spring and you'll shopping carts filled with the latest and greatest in grass seed, fertilizers, weed control, sprinkler systems and lawn mowers. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians spent a total of $28.8 million on hardware, lawn and garden products in 2007.

But in our current age of water restrictions, soaring fuel costs and cosmetic pesticide bans, there's a growing trend toward cultivating a low-maintenance lawn.

So, if you're tired of tending to your wannabe putting green, read on to learn some ways to reduce the time spent tending to your grass so you can free up more time to enjoy it.

The trouble with turf grass
Lawn care can be a lot of work. That's because conventional lawns, especially ones installed as sod, are typically made up of a single species of fine turf grass, such as Kentucky Bluegrass.

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According to organic lawn care provider Steve Wraggett, of Nature's Choice Landworks & Design, in Hamilton, Ont., this grass species has its perks: it's got a deep, sought-after green colour, it's thick and it tolerates foot traffic reasonably well. When put down as sod, it's a quick and relatively inexpensive way to get an instant lawn.

But there are downsides. "It looks nice when it's first installed, but it always requires a huge effort and expense to maintain it," says Wraggett.

That's because it takes much longer than other species to establish, so it requires much more initial support in terms of water and fertilizers. Even when rooted, it still needs lots of water and good light conditions, it's more prone to disease and requires frequent mowing.

This translates into increased water consumption, air and noise pollution from electric or gas-powered trimmers and mowers and the use (and sometimes abuse) of additives such as pesticides and fertilizers.

But there is an alternative. Low-maintenance lawns provide the benefits of a conventional lawn without all the inputs and extra costs -- and these costs can be considerable.

In fact, according to a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, or CMHC, study of 30 residential landscapes, residents with low-maintenance lawns spent 50 percent less time, 85 percent less money, 50 percent less fuel, 85 percent less fertilizer, 100 percent less pesticides and 100 percent less water per year than residents with conventional lawns.

What is a low-maintenance lawn?
As defined by the CMHC, low-maintenance lawns are made up of a diverse mix of hardy, drought-tolerant, slow-growing and low-height turf grasses, fescues and wear-tolerant broadleaf species.

A typical low-maintenance lawn is made up of 40 percent fescues (such as chewings, creeping red and hard fescue), 40 percent other grasses (such as Kentucky Bluegrass and perennial ryegrass) and 20 percent broadleaf species (such as clover and trefoils).

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-- Posted: April 23, 2008
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