The Neatest Little Paper Ever Read ®

Issue 974



by Janet Spencer

What’s the biggest cultivated crop in the U.S.? That would be grass, in the form of lawns, which out-ranks all food crops grown in the country by acreage. Come along with Tidbits as celebrate National Lawn Care Month!


• The United States devotes about one-fifth of its land to agriculture, and the largest single food crop is corn. However, lawns take up three times more acreage than corn. In fact, turf grown in parks, golf courses, and yards takes up more space in the U.S. than corn, wheat, and fruit trees combined. About half of the grass grown in the U.S. is located in micro-plots of American lawns.

• Lawns became fashionable in the 1600s. A lawn was a status symbol. Only the very rich could afford to grow a completely useless crop on their property. Lawns had to be cut by hand with sickles and scythes. But all that changed in the year 1830, when English engineer Edwin Budding invented the lawn mower, inspired by the revolving bladed reel he saw trimming fabric in cloth mills. Lawns began to crop up in public spaces and then on private land. The first lawn care book, “The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds” was published in 1870. Today, about 85 million households in the United States have lawns.

• A lawn absorbs rainfall and prevents run-off. In fact, a lawn is six times more effective at retaining water than a wheat field.

• Lawns are better at producing oxygen than trees, and their season is longer, too. A lawn 50 feet by 50 feet produces enough oxygen to meet the needs of a family of four.

• Landscapes that include grass lawns, trees, and shrubs can reduce the air temperature surrounding a home by up to 14°F.

• Lawns are healthier if clippings are left behind. Clippings shade the ground, slowing evaporation. They decompose, providing nutrients. Grass is healthier if allowed to grow taller, which gives it more surface for photosynthesis, and also crowds out weeds.

• The drawback of lawns is that about 80 million pounds of pesticides and up to 70 million pounds of fertilizers are applied to lawns in the U.S. every year, far more per acre than crop land.

• The smell of freshly mown grass or newly cut hay is actually the odor of a set of chemical compounds called green leaf volatiles which are given off by the plant when it is injured. Some of the chemical secretions rush to the injury to bind the wound and protect against fungal infections. Other chemicals act as airborne messengers, signaling predatory insects such as wasps who prey upon grass-munching caterpillars. And some chemicals merely taste bad, in order to discourage animals and insects from continuing to eat the plant. Plants downwind of the injured grass will also begin to produce these bad-tasting chemicals to protect themselves in advance of being eaten. This is the reason giraffes have learned to eat from a tree, and then continue to graze upon other trees that are upwind instead of downwind.


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