Every year, I hear about more homeowners who are going native and replacing their lawns with small prairies or large gardens. To some, growing a traditional grass lawn is no longer the green thing to do.

But I think grass has gotten a bad rap. Don't get me wrong, I'm aware of the many benefits of growing native plants, re-creating prairies and planting gardens. But there are benefits to growing turf grass, too.

Maintaining a lawn requires no more effort than caring for a garden or establishing a small prairie. In fact, grass is probably less work, particularly if you don't feel compelled to have the thick, lush, weed-free expanse of lawn like the one at your favorite golf course.

Turf grass isn't the right choice for everyone, but there are a few things to recommend it:

• The uniform green of grass -- whether a strip or an expanse -- provides the perfect foil for flowering annuals, perennials and even trees and shrubs. Some of the best-looking gardens are those punctuated by at least some grass.

• A healthy lawn acts like an enormous sponge, absorbing such pollutants as pollen, dust and soot. When it rains, grass helps the soil absorb and filter water, storing it for later use. That reduces runoff and prevents erosion, particularly on slopes, and keeps soil out of storm sewers and, ultimately, out of our waterways.

• Like other plants, grass takes in carbon dioxide and gives off large quantities of oxygen, which is good for humans and other living things. A lawn also absorbs and muffles noises and provides a safe, cushioned surface on which children can play.

• Grass can provide natural air-conditioning around your home. On a summer day, a lawn is 40 to 60 degrees cooler than a concrete sidewalk or asphalt driveway.

• Mowing provides regular exercise.

• And the sight of an attractive, healthy lawn can instill a sense of pride and stewardship that appeals to our inner farmer.

Deb Brown is a garden writer and former extension horticulturist with the University of Minnesota. To ask her a gardening question, call 612-673-7793 and leave a message. She will answer questions in this column only.


Here are some lawn-care tips that minimize maintenance and its effect on the environment.

•As weather warms, set your mower high, 3 to 3 1/2 inches. This helps shade the crowns and roots, keeping them cooler and more moist.

•Water thoroughly when the grass gets dry enough that walking leaves footprints. If you water early in the morning, less water evaporates so more moisture reaches the roots.

•Don't be too persnickety about weeds. If you feel you must spray, wait for fall when most herbicides are more effective.