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Mar 11, 2014 04:26 PM EDT

Lawn Care Practices Across The United States Vary More Than Scientists Anticipated

You grow up destroying your front yard lawn; when you're grown you spend a good portion of your time preserving it. Rusty Cohle from "True Detective" would describe the process as an endless flat circle. Scientists from the U.S. Forest Service's Northern Research Station are wondering if the latter stage -- the caring part -- is carried out the same way across the country, Science 2.0 reported.

Researchers are working off the "Homogenization Hypothesis," or the idea that suburban lawns throughout the United States are more similar than they are to their natural environments.

"Neighborhoods in very different parts of the country look remarkably alike, from lawns and roads to water features," Peter Groffman, a scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and one of the paper's authors, told Science 2.0. "This study is the first to test if urbanization produces similar land management behaviors, independent of the local environment."

Groffman and colleagues surveyed nearly 10,000 residents in six cities with significantly different environments, from Pheonix to Minneapolis. They were particular about fertilization, which contaminates freshwater environments. They also asked about water use; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, irrigating one's landscape accounts for a third of all residential water use nationwide.

The findings didn't perfectly align with the principles of Homogenization, at least in terms of watering rates. For example, in drier climates like Phoenix and Los Angeles, wealth impacted watering tendencies more than it did in other places.

"One of the take-home lessons is that responding to lawn care-related environmental challenges may require locally-tailored solutions in more cases than we initially thought," said Clark University's Colin Polsky, who led the research team. "Place matters, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach."

In Boston and Miami, however, the use of fertilizer was about the same -- even though the two cities have drastically different climates.

"These numbers are important when we bear in mind that lawns cover more land in the United States than any other irrigated crop," said Groffman. "What we do in our suburban and urban yards has a big impact, for better or worse, on the environment."

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