Undisturbed grasslands can sequester significant quantities of organic carbon (OC) in soils. Irrigation and fertilization enhance CO2 sequestration in managed turfgrass ecosystems but can also increase emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs). To better understand the GHG balance of urban turf, we measured OC sequestration rates and emission of N2O (a GHG ∼ 300 times more effective than CO2) in Southern California, USA. We also estimated CO2 emissions generated by fuel combustion, fertilizer production, and irrigation. We show that turf emits significant quantities of N2O (0.1–0.3 g N m−2 yr−1) associated with frequent fertilization. In ornamental lawns this is offset by OC sequestration (140 g C m−2 yr−1), while in athletic fields, there is no OC sequestration because of frequent surface restoration. Large indirect emissions of CO2 associated with turfgrass management make it clear that OC sequestration by turfgrass cannot mitigate GHG emissions in cities.