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Low Mow Project Underway

Sara Wielenberg | Staff Writer | 11-11-2011

Bemidji State’s Sustainability Office launched their Low Mow Project between the Upper Union and Memorial Hall this fall.

The Sustainability Office came up with the Low Mow Project last year. Sustainability Coordinator, Erika Bailey-Johnson says, “We were brainstorming ways to make our landscaping more sustainable.”

The project is a test of low or no-mow grasses. In that space between the Upper Union and Memorial Hall, the Sustainability Office is trying out grasses with those qualities.

The beginning stages of the Low Mow Project took two days. This September, the turf grass that grew there was covered in old newspapers. Hannah Hutchins, President of Students for the Environment, worked on the first day of the project. “We put down seven layers of wet newspaper,” Hutchins says.

The newspapers were then covered with four to five inches of compost from a local farm. “We had to dump the compost over the railing,” Hutchins says, “which was an event within itself.” (Pictures of this process are available on the Sustainability Office’s website). The last of the dirt was laid on October 22 and is awaiting the spring planting. The combination of the newspapers and compost will kill the underlying turf grass and create a rich soil for the new grasses to grow in.

The next step is the planting of the various grasses. The grasses that will be used are fescues and blue grama and buffalo grass. The grasses are coming from Morning Sky Nursery, a Minnesota nursery that specializes in native plants.

Morning Sky calls this particular fescues grass “Absolutely No Time,” and the mix of blue grama and buffalo grass is called “Western Laid-Back.” Absolutely No Time can be planted right away in spring, but the Western Laid-Back must wait until the ground is warm.

By using these native grasses, the Sustainability Office is hoping to see several changes. Because they require less or no mowing, there will be less general maintenance and a reduction of air and noise pollution from lawn mowers and other equipment. Use of native grasses reduces the amount of water used and decreases the need for fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. In fact, some of these things may be reduced to the point of elimination.

Although the Sustainability Office is responsible for the project, it has a lot of other groups contributing to the Low Mow Project. Hutchins says that the project has involved Students for the Environment and People and the Environment classes. According to Bailey-Johnson, there has been no shortage of volunteers.

The BSU maintenance and grounds crew are also an integral part of the Low Mow Project. Bailey-Johnson says, “They have provided critical feedback and support for our efforts!”

This included the selection of the location. “We had picked out several locations, actually,” says Bailey-Johnson, “and this is the one they [Grounds Crew Physical Plant] approved.”

Part of the appeal of this location is its limited visibility. “So as we make a mess,” says Bailey-Johnson, “community members aren’t driving by thinking ‘what’s going on there?’”

Another aspect of the space between Memorial and Upper Union is how difficult it is to mow that area. “There are no ramps or anything,” says Bailey-Johnson, “so they have to haul the lawn equipment up there.” This alone is a good reason to do their test project in that location.

The Sustainability Office is hoping that this is just the beginning of low or no-mow grasses on campus. “If the project goes well,” says Bailey-Johnson, “and the campus is supportive of the aesthetic and sustainable qualities of the grasses, we hope to implement this type of project in other areas.”

Bailey-Johnson wants those other areas to include “almost every area that isn’t used for recreation and is difficult to mow.” The reason she is wary of planting in recreation areas is because she doesn’t yet know what height to expect of the grasses. If it is a reasonable length, then there likely will be further use of the low-mow and no-mow grasses on campus.