News Release

Knowing your neighbors may shape US household yard care practices

Income, climate also considered in assessing yard fertilization, irrigation and pesticide use

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Neighbor peer pressure may be linked to increases in yard fertilization and irrigation across several distinct climate regions of the US, according to a study published November 13, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Dexter Locke from the USDA Forest Service, US, and colleagues.

Household yards in the US use nearly four times as much land area as farmed corn (163,800 km2), suggesting even small changes to individual properties could lead to big environmental change. In this study, Locke and colleagues investigate the practices of yard care across the US.

In November-December 2011, the authors conducted telephone surveys of 7,317 households in six city regions covering major climatic areas of the USA: Boston, MA; Baltimore, MD; Miami, FL; Minneapolis-St Paul, MN; Phoenix, AZ; and Los Angeles, CA. Respondents were asked about using fertilizers, pesticides, and/or irrigation water on their yards, as well as their age, household income, and the number of neighbors they know by name.

Over 80 percent of respondents irrigated their yard in the last year, while 53 percent applied pesticides. Unsurprisingly, households in hot, dry climates were especially likely to water their yards. However, irrigation was also linked to higher household income, as was fertilization and pesticide use. In general, higher-income households were approximately 16-23 percent more likely to report irrigation, fertilization, and pesticide application than lower-income households, likely because of the associated costs of these practices. Households which knew more neighbors by name were also nine percent more likely to irrigate and to fertilize their lawns, and the authors suggest that peer pressure might influence yard care practices.

The yes/no telephone survey questions make specific practices (such as paying others to perform yard care) difficult to discern, and it is not possible to determine causation from the associations found. Nonetheless, this study provides initial insights about yard care practices across the US. The authors note that in-depth surveys and interviews across different regions will be important in future research.

Locke adds, "Lawn care is really important: it is an ~$76 billon / year industry that is resource intensive with uncertain environmental impacts. We examined how irrigation, fertilization, and pesticide application vary by household income, age, the number of neighbors known by name, across more than 7,000 households in climatically diverse Baltimore, Boston, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. We found that higher incomes are associated with greater odds applying water, fertilizer and pesticides, but this relationship varies by climate."


Citation: Locke DH, Polsky C, Grove JM, Groffman PM, Nelson KC, Larson KL, et al. (2019) Residential household yard care practices along urban-exurban gradients in six climatically-diverse U.S. metropolitan areas. PLoS ONE 14(11): e0222630.

Funding: This research is supported by the Macro- Systems Biology Program (US NSF) under Grants EF-1065548, -1065737, -1065740, -1065741, -1065772, -1065785, -1065831, and -121238320 and the NIFA McIntire-Stennis 1000343 MIN-42-051. The work arose from research funded by grants from the NSF LTER program for Baltimore (DEB- 0423476, DEB-1027188); Phoenix (BCS-1026865, DEB-0423704, DEB-9714833, DEB-1637590, DEB-1832016); Plum Island, Boston (OCE-1058747 and 1238212); Cedar Creek, Minneapolis-St. Paul (DEB- 0620652); and Florida Coastal Everglades, Miami (DBI-0620409). Edna Bailey Sussman Foundation, Libby Fund Enhancement Award and the Marion I. Wright '46 Travel Grant at Clark University, The Warnock Foundation, the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Baltimore and Philadelphia Field Stations, and the DC-BC ULTRA-Ex NSF-DEB-0948947 also provided support. This work was supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) under funding received from the National Science Foundation DBI-1052875. Anonymous reviewers supplied constructive feedback that helped to improve this paper. The findings and opinions reported here do not necessarily reflect those of the funders of this research.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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