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The grass is greener . . . on my side of the fence

Whether motivated by nostalgia or the drive for a brilliant-green swatch, Americans, mostly male, are obsessed with their lawns.

The US now counts more than 25 million acres, or 40,000 square miles of lawn under cultivation. Picture nearly the entire state of Pennsylvania as turf. No other single crop grown in America occupies more land.

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Boosted by a strong economy and home sales, Americans spent roughly $40 billion on their lawns last year. Of that, a record of $16.8 billion went into the pockets of professional landscape/lawn-care services in 1998, according to a Gallup survey. That's more than is spent on movies and video games combined.

Or to put it another way: people who hire lawn services spend an average of $533 a year on their lawns, according to U.S. News & World Report. Do-it-yourselfers typically spend $146 annually.

"Americans feel passionate about their home, and their lawn is a part of that," says Bob Andrews,past president of Professional Lawn Care Association of America. "People also take care of their landscaping because the house is a big investment, and they're concerned about its resale value."

Mr. Andrews says a well-manicured lawn can add as much as 15 percent to the selling price of a home. But for most men, it goes beyond economics.

It's a rite of passage. "Part of the attraction for me was bonding [with my father]," author Warren Schultz says. "And I would get lost in the noise of it. I was in control."

Although grasses have been a part of landscape designs for thousands of years, the yard as we know it emerged over the past two centuries, says Georges Teyssot, editor of "The American Lawn" (Princeton Architectural Press).

Today's lawn is a hybrid of two traditions: the Colonial garden, a small, fenced-in plot next to the house used for growing vegetables or flowers, and the European aristocratic lawn, a sweep of short grass surrounding an estate that was popular in 18th-century England. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson brought the style to the US, Mr. Teyssot says. "Since then, front lawns have become part of public space, an American invention."

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Europeans, he says, tend to be more private and their smaller turfs reflect this. In the US, the lawn reflects a love of wide open spaces. It fulfills the "American notion of Democracy. You are serving the community. The front lawn is like a common park.... One lawn flows into another, knitting suburbs and the country together...."

*Stephanie Cook is on the Monitor staff.

Grass-root sites

How about a nice Kentucky bluegrass with a blend of perennial ryes? If you want the best grass seed for your climate, check out the Lawn Institute site. You can download booklets on seed selection, fertilizing, and watering.

The Professional Lawn Care Association of America site has tips on choosing a lawn-care service and how-to videos (turf aeration guidelines, anyone?). It links to other lawn sites.


The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute will guide you through repairs, safety tips and environmental lawn tips. It also lets you take a spin on the 'Cyber mower.'

Lawn facts

*61 million out of 100 million US households mow the lawn nearly every week.

(National Gardening Association)

*The annual cost per acre of maintaining a lawn: $327. The cost of per acre to maintain a golf course: $2,000.

*New mowers with low-emission engines run 70 percent cleaner than 1990 models.

*The top 6-inch layer of 1,000 square feet of soil will contain up to 40 million weed seeds. That's more than 5,000 seeds per square foot.

*Lawn and garden equipment users spill 17 million gallons of fuel each year - more than the Exxon Valdez spilled in the Gulf of Alaska.

*200 pounds of clippings are generated annually by a 1,000-square-foot lawn.

*Number of grass plants in a 1,000-square-foot lawn: 850,000

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