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The Knoxville News Sentinel, Tenn., Larisa Brass Column

July 29, 2008

By Larisa Brass, The Knoxville News Sentinel, Tenn.

Jul. 29–LAWNS TURN GREEN — NOT JUST IN COLOR: These days, keeping a green lawn can refer as equally to its state of environmental friendliness as to its color.

Green lawn care spans all aspects of maintaining yards and gardens, from the plants one chooses to maintenance practices to products and equipment — believe it or not, those old-fashioned, muscle-powered push mowers are seeing a revival.

Sam Rogers, associate professor at the University of Tennessee and director of UT’s Environmental Landscape Design Lab, teaches what he calls “environmental landscaping” and practices it in his nonuniversity work as an environmental landscape designer. Rogers said he’s seen a surge of interest in green landscaping overall as well as an increasing demand for consideration of environmental landscaping such as greenways and green spaces in more traditional new development projects.

“I’m getting a lot of inquiries in terms of the private consulting I’m doing, and I think people are really looking for alternatives to high-impact development,” he said.

So how do you green your green? Here’s some advice from Rogers:

— Think toward energy conservation: Rogers said homeowners don’t realize how much energy they can save by studying sun and shade patterns and using deciduous trees to shade windows from summer sun, screens of evergreens to block winter winds. When it comes to lawns, minimizing turf areas reduces the need for mowing, which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, demands 800 million gallons of gasoline per year and represents 5 percent of the nation’s air pollution. Rogers recommends creating “pocket woodlands” using native plant species to break up areas of turf. You don’t always have to use natives, he said, but certainly avoid non-native invasive species such as shrub honeysuckle, privet, English ivy, wintercreeper euonymous, mimosa and Bradford pear.

— Water conservation and water quality: Rain barrels are a great idea, Rogers said. In addition, he said, plant a rain garden or create a riparian buffer, a band of trees, shrubs, or grasses that border a body of water, to combat water runoff from driveways and parking lots.

— Habitat gardening: Plant a diversity of plants for all seasons, he said, in order to attract a variety of birds, butterflies and other wildlife and help offset habitat loss to urbanization. “The thing about it is aesthetics go well with this kind of gardening,” Rogers said.

Demand for organic and earth-friendly yard care products is impacting mainstream home and garden suppliers as well — such as Lowe’s of North Knoxville.

“I know we’re carrying more and more stuff. It seems to be the trend, especially with the 20- to 30-year-olds,” said Moira York, a live nursery specialist at the Lowe’s store. She said Lowe’s has set up a special organic section selling 40 different products from potting soil to weed killers to insect repellents.

Some companies are forging into the green garden business for the first time, she said, while others, such as the fish fertilizer brand Lowe’s carries, are old standbys.

Lowe’s, along with other local stores including Home Depot and Sears, also carry electric plug-in and old-timey reel mowers along with electric weed eaters — as well as the traditional gasoline-powered varieties.

Demand for the alternatively powered equipment started strong but has tapered off as the summer has worn on, said Darrell Cox, outdoor power equipment sales specialist at the Lowe’s store.

But, he said, while being green is motivating some customers, it’s not the primary reason people are getting away from gas-powered equipment.

“It is the gas prices,” Cox said.

For more information on green gardening check out:

— Native and non-native species: www.se-eppc.org, “Gardening with Native Plants of Tennessee” by Margie Hunter.

— Green gardening practices; www.safelawns.org.

— Water use and conservation: www.wateruseitwisely.com.

Business writer Larisa Brass may be reached at 865-342-6318.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Knoxville News Sentinel, Tenn.

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