July 17, 2010

Sustainable but illegal landscaping.

Northern Colorado (and Fort Collins in particular) has established itself as a national leader in renewable energy and sustainable development. It is unfortunate that the City of Fort Collins does not have a more progressive view when it comes to the sustainability of landscaping and native grasses.

Our neighbor across the street grew up in New Mexico and loves the soft, golden tresses of our native blue grama grass and wanted to grow it in her yard. As a horticulturist and avid promoter of native plants I believe that people would use native grasses more often if they knew how to establish and maintain them properly. So, I offered my neighbors advice on how to prepare the ground and thoroughly eradicate tough weeds like bindweed before planting. Last year they put in the blue grama seed while the soil was warm and watered well until it germinated.

This year I have frequently admired the results of their efforts as the soft fine bladed, ten inch tall, grass has sent up its signature “eyebrows on stick” inflorescence. I consider theirs to be one of the best stands of native grass that I have ever seen.

"eye brows on a stick"

The typical blue grass lawn receives about one gallon of water per square foot per year but my neighbors beautiful grama grass is still green in ninety degree weather without ever having been watered once. And unlike the million of pounds of pesticides and fertilizer applied to American lawns every year my neighbors have applied zero.

Native short grasses such as blue grama are not very successful when they are mowed short. As a non-rhizomatous grass, this grass does not have side shoots that will fill in bare spots and must do so by reproducing seed. Excessive mowing also opens up the soil to air and light allowing weed seeds to germinate, as well as increasing evaporation.

However, the City of Fort Collins has written my neighbors a citation because their grass is taller than six inches. If they do not mow it themselves the city will come out and do it for them and if they do not pay for the mowing the city can fine them up to $1000.

Looking at my neighbors perfect but non-compliant stand of native grass and then down the street to yards full of bindweed and koshia mowed two inches tall, all nice and legal, this law seems quite ridiculous, indiscriminant and crude.

In the City of Fort Collins, we seem to be willing to dam the last free flowing waters of the Cache La Poudre River without even considering water conservation as an option. And when someone manages to re-establish a remnant of our regions unique natural beauty they can be penalized for it. This is a regressive and pointless rule for a city that prides itself on being progressive leader.

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