Cornell Botanic Gardens is testing alternatives that are sustainable for replacing your lawn grass. The benefit is that they do not need to be cut more than once a year.
In the Cornell Botanic Gardens located situated in Ithaca, N.Y., Todd Bittner, a plant ecologist and his team were asked the question nearly 15 years ago. They were involved in the quarter-acre research project called The Native Lawn Demo Area.
“Please do walk on these plants,” an announcement on the wall informs the visitors to explain what’s going underfoot: a trial for “low-growing native plants” as an alternative to lawns that are traditionally used.
The aim is to find species that have “acceptable aesthetics” and can “tolerate moderate trampling,” Mr. Bittner said, but in no other way, are different from the various fescues perennial ryegrass, and Kentucky bluegrass, which are the principalstays of conventional lawns.
The lawn that is reimagined successfully will be sustainable and requires little or no watering added Ms. Bittner, who, as director of the natural areas in the botanic gardens, oversees 3,600 acres, which includes about one-third portion of Cornell University campus.
It won’t need fertilizer or pesticides, he added. It will require only one mowing or twice per year, which will significantly reduce the nearly 800 million gas gallons that are used each year to power the lawnmowers across the nation and the carbon dioxide emissions that result from them.
The Cornell project is also trying for plants that, once established, require only minimal hand weeding, and will result in an ecosystem that is minimum 85 per cent native, sustaining an array of native insects as well as other creatures.
If we look further ahead Looking ahead, I believe that Mr. Bittner has one more request: that the replacement turf grass could be easily grown from seeds like our lawn grasses currently are.That’s been a challenge when it comes to the sedges of certain species (Carex) which have a grass-like, low-growing appearance and have been the subject of various lawn-alternative studies. Cuba Center at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware as well as elsewhere. Some of them include Pennsylvania the sedge (C. pensylvanica), “don’t grow readily by seed, and that’s a little bit of the hang-up,” Mr. Bittner said. “We wanted this to be something that people could replicate.”
In springtime, the quarter-acre lawn at Cornell welcomes wildflowers, both planted and self-sown.Credit…F. Robert Wesley
Cornell’s Choice: Two Species of Danthonia
Researchers across the globe have examined several options for replacing the lawn, which include prairie-style meadows, wildflower meadows, and communities with a dominant presence of larger grasses. They also have groundcovers such as nonnative white clover and low-mow fescue mixtures.
In order to anchor the project to Cornell, The Cornell team working at the botanic garden did not need to look further. Krissy Boys, a staff gardener, had an idea that was inspired by a grass that was low-growing in the native landscape.
“I fell in love with Danthonia the moment I met it growing along an old seasonal road,” she declared.
She was referring two members of bunch grasses of the genus often referred to as the oat grass. She observed under power lines in the old city parks and cemeteries – being able to grow in soils that are not well-drained, with occasional mows.
“The combination of native species and a lawn aesthetic provided the inspiration for creating the native lawn,” she explained.
Poverty Oat grass (Danthonia spicata) is one of the species that is what the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center states is a native of 45 states along with areas in Canada and Mexico as well as flattened Oat grass (Danthonia compressa) which is which is an Eastern species, was the dominant species of Cornell’s lawn.
As our current turfgrass kind, Danthonia are cool-season growers and are able to produce new growth in the spring, and then again in the autumn. They are naturally slow-growing. D. spikecata stands about one foot tall, while D. compressa can reach perhaps 18 inches. When they flower, their spikelets can extend 6 to 10 inches higher than the foliage.