Taking Time to Think About Turf

With the World Series finally over for the year, the Chicago Cubs’ fans are happy to celebrate their team’s victory.  As baseball fans watched the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs battle it out on both Progressive Field (home of the Indians) and Wrigley Field (home of the Cubs), I was keeping my eye on the green grass that the players battled on.  Time, money, stress, and large amounts of effort were put into making the turf as close to perfect as possible.  Close enough to make any homeowner jealous that their yard does not look that good.

progressive field world series
Progressive Field (credit: Newsday)

From professional sports fields to your backyard, turf makes up an important part of the agriculture industry and the American way of life.  Homes, parks, roadways, golf courses, landscapers, college campuses; equipment, chemical, and fertilizer manufacturers are all a part of the $40 billion turf industry.

Every person who mows, waters, fertilizes or takes care of grass in any way is a turf manager, whether they are a professional or a homeowner.  Some of us enjoy the practices involved in maintaining turf and providing a place for professional or recreational use.  Some have that one neighbor who scrutinizes their yard and spends every day making it pristine.  To some people it is a hassle to spend the time to mow.

As turf managers, many of our practices have impacts on the environment.  Our practices create pollutants from our machinery, chemicals and fertilizers along with wasting large amounts of water.  It is very important to think about how we manage our turf.  My hope is to get you to think about the impact you or your neighbors cause every time you mow or water your yard; to think about any affects your favorite sports field has made on the environment.  However, I want you to see the different benefits turf has on the environment.

The emissions created from machinery creates large amounts of pollution.  For golf courses, one hour of mowing is equivalent to driving a car 350 miles.  Sports fields, parks, landscapers and other large operations use similar and sometimes the same equipment as golf courses.  Take all of these into account and you have pollution filling the skies.  However, that is not always the case.  Golf courses and parks for example, cover vast areas of land filled with turf and other plant life.  Enough plant life that they take in more pollutants than are put out.  After taking in the amount of polluted air that was created to maintain the turf, it will take in any extra carbon dioxide from other sources.  Even the grass in your yard and the grass used along roadways all help in eliminating the air pollution we create.


Would you believe me if I said that in the United States alone, we use about 9 billion gallons of water every day just for our landscapes (lawns and gardens)?  This is true according to a report by the EPA.  Also, some of their experts believe that 50 percent of the 9 billion gallons we use is wasted by evaporation, wind, and runoff.  This does not even account for the water used daily by sports facilities, golf courses, parks and other places where turf is maintained.

Like all plants, turf needs water to survive, but with better practices it can have better tolerance to dry conditions.  It is important to note that for turf it is better to water it less than to over water it.  Here are a few issues that overwatering can cause:  it creates thinner, shorter roots; it can cause soils to reject more water than it will take in; it can literally drown turf by not allowing air to reach the roots; and it can also weaken the turf leaving it more susceptible to disease.  These not only happen to turf, but is the same for other plants as well.

As turf managers, there are some practices we can use to save money on our water bills and have lush green grass through the growing season.  Springtime in the Midwest means cool and wet weather.  Let mother nature do the watering at this time.  Sparse watering during the spring will help your grass grow deep roots which makes for healthier, stronger turf.  Now with deep roots and healthy turf, less watering is needed during the hot summer season because your grass will have a better root system to reach water deep in the earth.  Golf courses and sports fields use wetting agents and poke deep holes into the soil allowing the soils to absorb water more efficiently.  This means they can water less and waste less.

Today there are growing concerns of harmful chemicals and fertilizers running off into our water ways, and the turf industry is partially responsible for this.  Water treatment plants have to constantly battle these pollutants so they do not get into our drinking water.  In the Gulf of Mexico is an area called the “Dead Zone”, near the mouth of the Mississippi River, where aquatic life seems to not exist.  The primary cause of this is from runoff of these pollutants that reach the Gulf.  The reason that I bring this up is because turf is great at absorbing these.  It is a natural filter.  Harmful water gets filtered by the plant roots leaving cleaner water to continue traveling to wherever it may go.  This becomes very important in urban areas where the level of pollutants is greater.  Along with water runoff is erosion of soils.  Turf is one of the most cost-effective ways of controlling erosion.  Better erosion control means less runoff into our waterways.

Turf is nature’s air conditioner

One important benefit that you may not think turf has is, it can save you money on electricity.  Turf is nature’s air conditioner, reducing the amount of energy needed to cool your home.  TPI  (Turfgrass Producers International) shows how beneficial the cooling effect of turf is.  For hot summer days, a lawn can be 30 degrees cooler than asphalt and 14 degrees cooler than bare soil.  Just the front lawns of eight homes can have the same cooling effect as about 70 tons of air conditioning.  This effect is especially important in more urban environments.

Thinking about turf is not exciting to most people.  The purpose of all of this is to get you to think about it.  To think about the different factors that turf creates whether it is harmful or beneficial.  Turf is a big industry and it is big part of what makes up America.  From your favorite ballpark to your backyard, we all have a part in turf.

If you are interested in learning more about turf and what is discussed, you can go to the following:  EPA Water Report, Turf Benefits, Lawn Management

20161027_153119My name is Spencer Smith. I am a senior at Western Illinois University. My major is in Agricultural Science with a focus on horticulture and turfgrass management. My influences in agriculture comes from my hometown of Williamsfield, Illinois. It is a small town of about 600 people in central Illinois, located between Galesburg and Peoria. Williamsfield is not only surrounded by farm fields, but it used to have one in the middle of town, just outside of its school. Most kids from here either participated in 4-H, FFA, or helped on a farm. I spent little time helping on farms, but participating in FFA and working in my school’s greenhouse helped influence me. After high school, I studied two years at Carl Sandburg College, a small junior college in Galesburg, Illinois. At first I thought about studying business, law enforcement, and medicine. I soon found my calling into agriculture after working at a golf course. Already loving the game of golf, I found my love for plants and everything about them. As a senior agriculture student and Horticulture Club President at WIU, I hope to influence others in the subjects of horticulture and turfgrass management.


4 thoughts on “Taking Time to Think About Turf

  1. rachsamp2

    I have to admit that I am apart of the population that does not get excited about turf. Grass is not the plant that I pick out in a landscaping and I do not watch enough sports to appreciate the attention to detail of the turf managers when they trim the fields. After reading this post, though, I have gained a greater appreciation for turf. Chemical runoff is a big issue in the agriculture industry, so it is pretty great that turf not only makes a yard look nice, but can keep our water sources clean. Turf’s ability to be a natural air conditioner is also pretty cool. I still wouldn’t call grass my favorite plant, but I do appreciate it more now.


  2. dmartenson48

    Great post on turf Spencer! You did a really good job of relating to the general public about how turf and mowing effects our daily lives. I really enjoyed you talking about how you admired the grass during the world series. I honestly can relate to you as I was doing the same thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ashlanedwards

    Turf is an important part of our world, though not many people realized it though. People do not always realize how much goes into growing turf properly or what it takes to plan, coordinate and maintain grass.


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