Turf Management & Alternatives

June 1, 2017

The normal “expectations” of clients and visitors to an active cemetery require frequent mowing and substantial use of irrigation, fertilization and pesticide use, and historically this was the case at Mount Auburn for all lawn areas throughout our 175 acres. Beginning in the 1990s with the completion of the 1993 Master Plan, many changes have been made to our turf and landscape maintenance practices to reduce their environmental impact.


Following the recommendations of the Master Plan, we began to experiment with different mowing regimes by reducing the frequency of mowing in the “naturalistic” character zones in the historic core of the Cemetery. By the year 2000 we had established a three-tiered mowing cycle that has been used with various modifications ever since. The lawn areas in the front entry precinct and other “active cemetery use” areas are mowed weekly, while the remainder of the grounds in the older, more historic areas are mowed much less frequently. In addition, we are in the process of transitioning our riding mower fleet from gasoline-powered to propane and electric machines. Our fleet currently consists of five gasoline, five propane and one electric. The electric “Mean Green” mower in Figure 2 works really well for mowing turf but it cannot handle the mulching of leaves in the fall due to the engine overheating. We will continue to monitor technological improvements in electric mowers, but at this point we plan to continue replacing all gasoline-powered mowers with propane according to our cyclical replacement schedule.

Dwarf Fescues and Turf Alternatives

Since the mid-1990s we have been targeting steep slopes, curb and fence lots, and other hard-tomow areas to replace the existing turf with either dwarf fescues or other more sustainable groundcovers. We experimented with various dwarf fescue seed mixes on slopes in the historic core, and at first found them to be successful in eliminating the need to mow and enhancing the desired 19th-century appearance. Since we generally avoid using any broadleaf weed control, however, weeds became increasingly unsightly before the fescues could become fully established, causing complaints from lot owners. We initially hand-pulled weeds as necessary, but this became too labor intensive. We have more recently installed fescue sod in selected areas, which appears promising so we will continue to experiment with these sods.

We have also used a number of naturalistic meadow-like turf alternatives such as Liriope spicata, Carex pensylvanica, and Bouteloua gracilis, and these plantings are showing increasing promise.

Curb/Fence Lots and Underground Tombs: There are a total of 640 burial lots where granite curbing, iron fencing or underground tombs present both safety and maintenance challenges for our staff. Since 1993 we have eliminated turf in 244 (38%) of these lots and replaced with a variety of sustainable groundcover plantings. Not only has this eliminated the need to mow approximately 75,000 square feet of turf, it has added a great deal of horticultural diversity and improved the visual interest and wildlife habitat value of the landscape.

Leaf Mulching

We started mulching leaves in the fall of 1998, making adaptations to our fleet of rotary mowers to pulverize the leaves in place on the grounds rather than vacuum them up and carry them away. This has reduced the number of manhours required for fall clean-up each year and has also significantly improved the levels of organic matter and nutrients in the soil throughout the grounds. With the exception of a few highly visible areas such as the front entry precinct, we have eliminated the use of fertilizers on turf at Mount Auburn. We continue to vacuum up and stockpile just enough leaves to produce the compost we need for topdressing and other maintenance tasks. We currently collect about 1,200 cubic yards of leaves (an estimated 1-2% of the total leaves that fall to the ground each year), which results in 100 cubic yards of finished compost.

Turf Replacements

The groundcover species and varieties listed below have been successful replacements for turf throughout Mount Auburn’s 175 acres.


Environmental Stewardship

at Mount Auburn Cemetery

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