Lawns are an important part of American culture and are nearly universal throughout the urban landscape. As a result, turfgrass covers more acreage in the United States than any other irrigated crop (Milesi et al., 2005). Over half of U.S. households participate in lawn care practices and spend an average of $213 annually on lawn care services and products (Butterfield, 2003). Haydu et al. (2006) estimated the total value added to the U.S. economy from the lawn care industry in 2002 was ≈$13.3 billion.
If managed properly, turfgrass benefits both society and the environment. Turfgrass can reduce soil erosion and surface runoff (Krenitsky et al., 1998), mitigate urban heat island effects (Peters et al., 2011), sequester carbon (Qian et al., 2010) as well as provide recreational and aesthetic benefits to society (Beard and Green, 1994). However, turfgrass culture and management practices in the urban landscape have come under scrutiny for potential negative impacts on the environment such as freshwater contamination from fertilizers and pesticides and excessive water use for irrigation (Milesi et al., 2005; Robbins and Birkenholtz, 2003; Robbins et al., 2001). Consequently, restrictions have been placed on residential lawn care practices in several states such as restrictions on phosphorus-containing lawn fertilizers and municipal water restrictions regarding lawn irrigation (MassDEP, 2010; State of Minnesota, 2010; State of Wisconsin, 2011), which are likely to become more stringent as the availability of natural resources becomes more limited.
In response to public concerns and regulations, researchers and turfgrass managers have focused on strategies to reduce resource inputs. A few of these strategies include the use of deficit irrigation to reduce water use (DaCosta and Huang, 2006; Devitt et al., 2008), the use of economic thresholds to govern pesticide applications for turfgrass pests (Castle and Naranjo, 2009), breeding for turfgrass cultivars with improved drought tolerance and pest resistance (Abraham et al., 2004; Bonos et al., 2006; Karcher et al., 2008) as well as the initiation of community educational programs about sustainable lawn care (Carpenter and Meyer, 1999).
Another promising strategy is the use of non-traditional turfgrass species that require fewer resource inputs or low-input turfgrass species. For example, kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) are the most widespread grass species found in residential landscapes in the northern Midwest, but they require considerable amounts of resource inputs to maintain a lawn of satisfactory quality (Turgeon, 2005). Several non-traditional grass species that provide acceptable, even superior, quality when maintained with fewer resource inputs have been identified in studies conducted throughout the northern Midwest. Diesburg et al. (1997) established field trials in seven states throughout the northern Midwest to evaluate alternative grass species under minimal fertility and no irrigation over a 3-year period. Although they observed some variation in species performance between sites, in general, tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.), sheep fescue (Festuca ovina L.), and colonial bentgrass (Agrostis capillaris L.) performed well across the region. In a similar 2-year low-input, alternative grass species field trial conducted in the northern Midwest, hard fescue [Festuca trachyphylla (Hack.) Krujina], tall fescue, sheep fescue, and colonial bentgrass provided an acceptable turfgrass stand throughout the region under the low-maintenance regime (Watkins et al., 2011). Additionally, several native grass species, including tufted hairgrass [Deschampsia caespitosa (L.) P. Beauv.] and prairie junegrass [Koeleria macrantha (Ledeb.) Shult.], have also shown potential in regional trials for use as low-input turfgrasses (Mintenko et al., 2002; Watkins et al., 2011).
There have been multiple studies conducted to investigate residential landscape preferences, but most have focused on homeowner preferences for xeriscapes (Larsen and Harlan, 2006; Spinti et al., 2004; Yabiku et al., 2008). Results from these studies are currently most relevant in arid regions where the strain on freshwater resources is greater than in the humid northern Midwest. Homeowners generally value traditional, well-groomed residential landscapes (Zheng et al., 2011), and an aesthetically pleasing landscape can even enhance the perceived value of homes (Behe et al., 2005). Studies also suggest consumers are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious and making more ecologically minded purchasing decisions (Yue et al., 2011). Helfand et al. (2006) found that consumers in the northern Midwest were likely to adopt more environmentally beneficial landscape designs. Previous research suggests that a potential market may exist for low-input turfgrasses in residential landscapes (Helfand et al., 2006; Wolfe and Zajicek, 1998), but there have been no formal studies investigating consumer preferences for turfgrass attributes. For the use of non-traditional, low-input turfgrasses to be a successful strategy to reduce resource inputs in the urban landscape, the consumer market for low-input turfgrasses as well as consumer preferences for aesthetic and maintenance attributes of turfgrasses must first be investigated and characterized. Therefore, the objectives of this study were to 1) characterize the relative importance of both aesthetic and maintenance attributes of turfgrasses with residential homeowners; and 2) identify and characterize potential market segments within the residential turfgrass market. This information is not only useful for marketing and sales professionals to identify the target consumer market, but it also provides valuable information and direction for turfgrass breeders and seed producers.
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