Designated 'no-mow' turf grass areas provide environmental, economic benefits

by Matthew J. Long
October 01, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Since 2019, Penn State's Office of Physical Plant (OPP) has been setting aside turf grass areas on the University Park campus to maintain as ‘no-mow’ spaces to allow for more vegetation growth. This operational decision by OPP has resulted in cutting down the university’s carbon dioxide emissions and overall mowing costs, while providing habitats for local wildlife and stormwater protection.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment (GLGE) accounted for 25%-45% of all non-road gasoline emissions. An OPP team selected areas on campus to mow less frequently and to cut higher than most of the other turfgrass areas on campus to reduce these emissions. Last year, OPP was able to save 1,800 gallons of fuel by reducing the number of mows in these selected areas each year from 30 to two.

The grass in these designated areas is between one-to-two feet taller than traditionally cut turfgrass and is designed to look wilder; a deliberate move to not only become host to local wildlife, but to satisfy an aesthetic appeal. OPP attempted to grow no-mow turfgrass areas on campus in 2016, but the demand for the ‘wild appearance’ of longer turfgrass was not very high. Tom Flynn, landscape architect in OPP, said he is optimistic and believes people will be much more receptive to the change in appearance.

“This concept of 'no-mow' saves energy, it reduces emissions by reducing the amount of equipment and the time the equipment is being used on a space,” said Flynn. “It encourages natural habitats that attract insects, it helps to slow and filter stormwater, and it is an aesthetically pleasing landscape type that hopefully people will get used to.”

Along with their team, Flynn and Ryan McCaughey, manager, grounds and equipment at OPP, came across furthering the strategy of creating no-mow areas on campus again while working on the Oak Road Meadow project, a three-acre parcel of land located between Oak Road, Hastings Road and University Drive that is being transformed into a pollinator habitat. This plot of land was originally chosen to pilot the initiative again, but eventually developed into a natural pollinator project. The Centre for Pollinator Research and the Sustainability Institute have been working with students, businesses and OPP on converting the parcel of land to a natural habitat, which will require killing the current grass, reseeding the parcel, and using pollinator-friendly plant mix throughout the area. Several trees and shrubs are already planted at the site, but seeding has been delayed from May of this year to May 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are two other locations on campus with no-mow areas on campus: alongside the Technology and Support Building by Science Park Drive, and the front of The Arboretum at Penn State, between the botanical gardens and East Park Ave. Future locations slated to become no-mow turfgrass areas include the turfgrass surrounding the service buildings located on Tower Road adjacent to University Drive; grass along Porter Road by the track and field stadium; and several other outlying areas of campus.

  • No Mow Project at University Park

    The turfgrass in front of the Arboretum has remained high for several years, but it is cut shorter than the grass on Oak Road.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated October 02, 2020