The Garden’s long history with lawns

Beyond the chirping of birds and buzzing of bees, there’s another sound synonymous with Spring… the whir of lawnmowers being called back into action after taking the winter off. Just like other plants in your garden, grass requires certain care to keep your lawn healthy and looking lush. Luckily, the Missouri Botanical Garden has been helping St. Louis learn about lawns for nearly a century.

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The first power mower used by the Missouri Botanical Garden (1918)
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A member of the Garden’s turf crew uses a modern mower to cut the lawn in the Lehmann Rose Garden (2005)

The bentgrass experiment

The Garden’s long history with grass began with a small experiment in 1918, known to visitors as the “wheel of grasses.” The two circular study areas contained 12 wedged-shaped plots of different grasses and grass mixes.

Within five years, the study grew to 35 plots, as Garden staff tried to determine which varieties grew best in the St. Louis climate. Gardeners would experiment with fertilization, watering, and mowing, taking note of the most durable species.

After nearly a decade of experiments and observations, an article in the 1928 Bulletin declared creeping bentgrass the best lawn option available at the time. Today, bentgrass is widely used on golf course greens.

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Experimental plots of grass being fertilized (1927)

To Mow or Not to Mow

In 1947, Garden researcher Robert W. Schery took his interest in lawns to a new level. Schery went the entire year without once turning on the mower at his St. Louis County home.

“It was decided, as an experiment (that’s my story and I’ll stick to it), not to mow – at least until neighborhood pressure demanded otherwise.”

Schery documented the condition of his lawn in each season, culminating in the following list of pros and cons:

Advantages Disadvantages
Better weed control Poorer appearance to most people’s taste
Better crab-grass control Difficult late mowing
Blue-grass withstands summer better? Encourages “clumpy” autumn turf
More vigorous blue-grass clumps Smothers some blue-grass, as well as weeds and crab-grass
Better conservation of soil Allows unsightly seed stalks or tall weeds to develop
More time saved for golf Human complications from being “different”

A useful resource

Years of studying and caring for grass at the Garden has yielded a treasure trove of information. The William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening has visual guides, FAQs and factsheets for all your lawn care questions.

These resources can help you learn how often to mow your lawn, when to water and fertilize it, and how to deal with weeds and pests.

You can also call the Horticulture Answer Service at (314) 577-5143, or visit the Plant Doctors at the Center for Home Gardening.

Grass plots at the William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening



Cassidy Moody, Digital Media Specialist

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