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Climate change and lawn growth

Climate change and lawn growth

Recently completed has been industrially funded research in the University Botanic Gardens with Director, Professor John Parker on the survival of lawns in drought (postgraduate: Angus Jeffrey) which involved not only the biotic and soil hydrochemical responses but also the psychological attachment to the lawn which actually explains management actions. Joint research papers for publication are currently: 'Lawn colour under conditions of elevated temperature and summer drought' and 'Water and nitrogen relations and the growth of domestic lawns under experimental +3oC warming' (Jeffery, Parker & Trudgill).

A series of plots featuring different types of grasses were developed to reflect the various levels of care by owners. Over the period of the study he measured their resilience to the British weather. Tests included periods of prolonged drought, sub-soil heating and varying types of surface treatments. These ranged from using proprietary fertilizers to totally ignoring the grass other than regular cutting with lawnmowers.

The main finding was that virtually regardless of the treatment given to a lawn, it will recover from drought with little or no discernible damage. Additionally, leaving grass cuttings on the lawn from spring through to late summer appears to be of benefit by speeding its recover from drought.

Other results showed:

  • Lawns treated with spring fertilizers and then subjected to drought conditions 'browned off' more rapidly than non treated lawns
  • In greenhouse trials fescues appeared to be more drought resistant than fleshy leaved grasses.
  • There is little or no need to water a lawn during summer unless a bowling green finish is required.

The findings were made public as follows:

The bottom-line message is that lawns have a full future, regardless of how climatic conditions change. There is nothing scientific to suggest that lawns will fail to cope with climate change. Grass is not a difficult plant to look after. From a social perspective, however, humans are more comfortable with open, grassed areas, such as lawns. The simple reason is that primitive man evolved in the open grassy savannas of Africa where they could easily see wild animals. These survivors evolved into us modern humans. Grasses evolved around 30 millions years ago during the Tertiary period. They developed in those areas that were too dry to support trees. The 'drought' conditions that were created in his tests were extreme and involved the grasses existing without water for sixty days. The longest UK natural drought in recent years was 1976 and lasted for 35 days.

The picture that emerges from this research, which included questionnaire work, is that the majority of people in Britain are not concerned about their lawns 'browning off' during summer because they know it will recover.