July 20, 2008

Turf War: Weaning From the Green

By David Damron, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

Jul. 20--Some Central Florida governments are launching a war on St. Augustine grass.

Lake County leaders are considering a ban of the variety in new neighborhoods, and Orange County Commissioner Bill Segal plans to announce a similar push as part of a revamped landscaping ordinance. Cities such as Oviedo and Orlando are also looking at ways to curb St. Augustine and other water-thirsty lawns.

"There's a lot of concern about water-quality and water-quantity issues, and lawns in general. St. Augustine is looked at as a main culprit," said Laurie Trenholm, a University of Florida professor of environmental horticulture. "It's an easy target."

Trenholm said a ban is not the answer in itself. Other factors come into play, she said, such as what effect the new landscaping has on water use and in filtering runoff.

But she said the movement against St. Augustine reflects a statewide trend that "the days of huge lawns are over."

For many environmentalists, the problem is that many residents tend to overfertilize and overwater lawns.

Charles Lee, Audubon of Florida's advocacy director, said he likes Segal's push but hopes it includes a requirement for residents to use sensors that would keep irrigation systems from wasting water.

Segal said revenues from higher water rates could be used to encourage residents to replace St. Augustine with more drought-resistant turf strains or native plants, or to buy moisture sensors for sprinkler systems.

Orange County Commissioner Linda Stewart and Mayor Rich Crotty back similarly aggressive measures. But Segal said he's tired of waiting.

"I know the wheels of government move slowly," Segal said. "This is going to be my [way] to get it going."

David Damron can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-5311.


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