Anthropological polymath René Girard found a difference between humans and animals: While it is obvious that animals only exhibit “periodic sexual excitation,” Girard saw significant social implications to the fact that humans are permanently sexual. I don’t think Girard realized that the human fixation on sexuality extended to our lawn care industry.

Grass seed farming drives $1 billion in Oregon alone. That number does not count Idaho or Washington. Between those three states, 90% of the world’s bluegrass seed is produced. (Isn’t it Kentucky bluegrass?)

Grass seed is the product of sexual reproduction: When grass is mating, humans are sneezing. Now I have no intention of making that industry go away, I merely want to remind my readers that just because they cannot grow a son or daughter from their foot or arm, it does not mean that grass behaves this way. In other words, while both humans and grass can reproduce sexually – by seed – grass can also reproduce asexually.

Why am I saying this? This week, I met with a customer who wanted to improve her turf. Many times these discussions turn immediately to seed. When can we over-seed? What type of seed will we use? How will we prevent mowing from disrupting germination?

But the odds of success are stacked against these questions. Grass seed germinates best at the same time mowing is needed the most. Furthermore, the more desirable grass types require the most time to germinate.

So even if your attention span is long enough that you are willing to tiptoe on your lawn for a month, establishment might not be guaranteed, since some varieties take nearly that long just to germinate. And if your lawn is excessively shady – which would be ideal for keeping the seed moist – only the most finicky grass varieties will grow in shade. Not only are these varieties slow to germinate, they might not even thrive in your location.

So in every case, by over-seeding, there is a good chance that you might just be sending your money to the Pacific Northwest and flushing the product into the storm sewers.

But that is sexual reproduction for grass.

What if you could just use the grass you already have – grass that already grows in your location – to fill in your thin turf? You might try to give asexual reproduction a chance. In grass, asexual reproduction occurs in two primary ways: Either stolons (above ground “runners”) or rhizomes (below ground root “runners”) reach out from the parent plant and spawn new plants. (You already know how well this works along the edge of your freshly mulched flower beds.)

My customer had never treated her lawn with anything but a mower. So I suggested that we coddle the existing turf a bit with heavy, regular, organic feeding, soil improvements, and pH adjustment. And thereby promote asexual reproduction.

Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at

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