A risky spring ritual we need to rethink

April 26, 2016

It’s safer and better to just avoid grass fires

When I was a kid, it was a rite of spring for people to burn lawns, fields and roadside grass. I remember being curious about why they did it, and being told that apparently it made lawns green up more quickly. Or the ash fertilized the emerging new grass. Or burning got rid of weed seeds.

I’ve since learned that none of those reasons are valid. Lawns only look greener because of the scorched, black backdrop. Much of the nutritive value of the plant residue goes up in smoke. Weed seeds are dispersed the previous year, so most escape burning.

Three more downsides of grass burning:

  • First, it’s a risky practice. Springtime is by far the busiest time for my local volunteer fire department.
  • Second, grassfire smoke creates challenges for people with breathing problems.
  • Third, burning releases carbon dioxide into the air; allowing residues to rot naturally or compost instead preserves that carbon for the soil, where it does good. (The same goes for brush and wood residue, which enrich the forest floor when allowed to rot naturally.)

So – please share this with anyone who still thinks burning grass is a good thing to do (and here’s a nice myth-busting one-pager). It’s a spring ritual we need to rethink!

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