The City of Sioux Falls started using unmowed strips along the Big Sioux River several years ago to help improve water quality.

The city issued a press release on Friday (May 11) to remind citizens of the program -- and why the grass is so long in places -- and announce some new signage along the bike trail.

“Sioux Falls needs to be the leader when it comes to protecting and improving our rivers and streams all across our great state. Buffer strips make a big difference not only for farm fields and feedlots but also in cities like ours,” Mayor Mike Huether said in the release.

The city has been doing this for a few years now and it’s a very good thing. Every now and again I hear people complain because they think the city is just trying to save money by not mowing the lawn, which leads to, “If I don’t mow my lawn I get fined.”

It’s a silly thing to say, to be sure. But it brings up a larger point. Maybe we shouldn't all be mowing our lawns down to a half-inch carpet of grass. Maybe all this Kentucky bluegrass we’re running in the city isn’t such a good idea to being with.

It’s time to have a legitimate and significant discussion about what sort of lawnscaping is best, not just for some idealized version of aesthetics, but something that more accurately reflects the biome in which we live. It’s a semi-arid plain (NOTE: It's not really a semi-arid plain, but we're close and I just like the phrase), not a high-precipitation environment conducive to the well-manicured lawn.

Consider that we average about 26 inches of rain annually in Sioux Falls. The national average is about 40.

That means we have to use more water – a waste when you think about it – to maintain the grass.

What should be the standards? Right now residential lawns must have 90 percent living cover. That seems high. But even under that number, other forms of grass -- buffalo grass, for instance -- requires much less water and maintenance. It has a different look, but it’s still green and provides good cover and filtering of runoff.

We probably won’t do that. But we should.

In the meantime, good for Sioux Falls to allow the buffer strips to thrive. Appreciate what they are and why they are there and don’t complain about mowing the lawn.

Or better yet, plant something else.

Here are the "fun facts" on buffer strips from the city:

  • Healthy grass needs only one inch of precipitation a week. Overwatering causes grass to have shallow root systems and also wastes an important natural resource.
  • No-mow zones have many benefits, including improving water quality, filtering stormwater runoff, minimizing fertilizer and herbicide applications, reducing labor and equipment costs, increasing habitat for animals and insects, and reducing pollution because of reduced use of gas-powered mowers.
  • About 150 acres are established as native plantings or no-mow areas.
  • The Sioux Falls park system includes more than 3,000 acres of park land.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Results Radio, Townsquare Media, its staff, contributors, affiliates or advertisers.


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