5 tips for a low-cost, low-stress yard
Trim the hours you spend on lawn and plant care, and have more time to enjoy the outdoors. Plus, you’ll save money over the long term.
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There's nothing lazy about summer if you're constantly working in the yard.
If the thought of a weekend conjures visions of backbreaking work pushing a mower in the hot sun or trying to coax reluctant plants with gallons of water or fertilizer, maybe it's time to change the relationship you have with your yard.
It is possible to have lush, green inviting outdoor spaces with less mowing, watering and work.
With a few easy steps, you can cut the hours you spend on lawn care and have more time to enjoy the great outdoors. Not only will you have a yard that's inviting you to come out and play, but it will be less expensive to maintain.
Here are five ways to make it happen.
Keep grass longer
Want the lawn healthier? Let it grow a little longer, says Susan Littlefield, horticultural editor for the National Gardening Association. "It doesn't give you the putting-green look, but the grass stays healthier," she says. (Bing: Find landscape-design software)
Not only does it hold moisture better, but the taller grass also "shades out" germinating weeds, giving you natural weed control that you don't have to pay for or apply. But you won't necessarily be mowing the lawn less. Ideally, she says, "You don't want to cut more than a third of the grass blade" each time you mow, she says.
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Just how long you want to keep your grass will vary with where you live and the type you've planted, she says. The cool-season grasses, popular in Northern climes, typically do best at 2½ to 3 inches, says Littlefield. The warm-season grasses favored in warmer regions do better "a little lower," often around 2 inches, she says.
But if you want to get the ideal length for your lawn, find out the exact species you're growing and do a little research. Two good sources are the National Gardening Association and your local cooperative extension office.
Leave the cuttings on your lawn
Want to skip some stress when you mow? Leave the clipping bag in the garage, drop that rake and leave those clippings where they fall.
Research at the University of Connecticut has shown that you can cut your use of nitrous fertilizer by 50% or more, just by letting the grass clippings do the work for you. "It's kind of a no-brainer, but people don't do it," Littlefield says. "They will decompose and the nutrients in them will return to the soil," she says. "It's recycling."
You also don't have to worry with emptying clipping bags and leaving more yard waste bound for the landfill.
A lot of homeowners worry that those clippings will contribute to thatch and endanger the health of their lawn. Not so, says Littlefield. Because you're letting your grass grow longer, you're only taking a little off the top. And that's not going to get matted or cause problems, she says.
Make the plants do the work
Want to minimize your labor, costs and stress? Plant for the yard conditions you already have.
"You make the plants do the work," says John Greenlee, author of "The American Meadow Garden," and owner-founder of Greenlee Nursery in Chino, Calif., and Greenlee & Associates. "If you have a shady area that is wet all the time, you don't install drainage," he says. "You plant something that likes shady and wet.
"When you try to partner with nature, gardening is so much easier," he says.
His tip is to look for regional plants native to the area and conditions.
Three sources include local native plant societies, local and regional horticultural gardens, and independent gardening centers.
It may mean a little detective work to investigate the growing conditions in your yard, then to discover what plants would do best there, he says. "Based on a lot of the research coming out, Americans really don't know what they're doing," Greenlee says. "They're trying to change their gardening world, rather than acknowledging their gardening conditions."
Once you plant for your actual conditions, he says, "you would be amazed at not only how beautiful your garden is, but how you now have all this time on your hands."
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Get the most out of your water dollars
Looking for a cheap way to save water, prevent weeds and help plants thrive? Use mulch. "It's one of those things people overlook," says Liz Primeau, author of "Front Yard Gardens."
Her formula is "No less than 2 inches (deep) all around plants." And don't mulch right up to the plant itself, she warns. "That will suffocate them." Instead, stop about 2 inches from the stem.
If you (or a neighbor) have a tree or stump removed, ask the workers to leave the resulting wood chips for your yard, Primeau says. Not only does it save money and landfill space, but you'll get a ton of garden-ready mulch.
When Primeau recently had a dead tree removed, the result was 12 yard bags of wood-chip mulch — enough to cover "the whole garden," she says.
Another key to less stress and smaller water bills is to use a network of drip hoses. They use minimal water and soak roots, which is exactly where the plants need water, Primeau says. Instead of buying a couple and moving them around, get enough for all of the areas you water regularly and leave them in place for the season.
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Break up that lawn
Love summer but hate mowing? Consider reducing the lawn space in your yard.
"Lawns take a lot of work," Primeau says. "They also use a lot of water." And homeowners "try to make it look like a golf course, and that's a lot of stress," she adds.
Large expanses of lawn also aren't that visually interesting, and often don't add much to curb appeal.
For a simple approach, establish (or extend) planting borders around walkways, patios, decks, trees or the footprint of your home. Select native plants (or their hybridized versions), so that you don't have to spend much water or time, Primeau says. Perennials will come back next year, reducing the cost of new plants.
For a lush green that requires zero care, try meadow grasses or — if you need something low and green — fast-growing ground cover.
Don't be afraid to personalize your yard with outdoor living spaces, Primeau says. Create a small Zen garden or meditation area with pea gravel. Or, craft a cozy relaxation space with some seating and a water feature or birdhouse, paving stones and some low-growing ground cover.
Don't put fresh wood chips on your garden beds. To decompose they will use up the nitrogen from the soil. Chips need to compost for a while (dried chips with no additives may take up to 10 years) before they are ready to put around your plants. Other than that, great article.
For those claiming that clipping cause thatch: thatch is shallow root systems, which comes from light and frequent watering or poor soil conditions, or fertilizer that sits on top of the soil. The clippings, or compost, applied to the grass help with both, but most likely something else was to blame for the thatching of the grass.
Try side-discharging your clippings instead of mulching. Discharge the clippings toward the middle of the area and mow over the residue in the middle a few times to disperse them. The mower doesn't have to work as hard and the grass gets a cleaner cut. You don't use nearly as much gas and the yard is less stressed. Keep the blade sharp and the underside of the mower clean!
As someone who has to deal with thatch issues, which absolutely come from recycled clippings, this article is total bull.
You want a good looking yard? You gotta pay the price one way or another, either to the lawn care service or to yourself in the time it takes to make it look good.
Nothing is free.
Pretty good article with general info.
My only comments are, that everyone also needs to consider the size of the property and what works best for them. I didn't see that mentioned in the article, or in Mr. Thomas Hooker's criticism below.
For one, If you're mowing and you're NOT bagging the clippings, it means that you must mow much more often because otherwise the clippings will be too long to leave in the grass and you WILL create lots of thatch. So, that is a lot of additional time and if it's raining....well then you're limited again as to when you can mow that week. In the heaviest growing season you might have to consider mowing every 3rd day to keep clippings short enough to decompose properly. Yeah, how many of us have time for that? Along with all the rest of the tasks to do.... I find it simpler to bag and put it in a compost pile.
The other thing to consider is kids, dog or other traffic in and out of the house. If you don't bag the clippings expect them to be inside your house.
As for "know-it-all" Mr. Hooker below;
- we all can't use reel-type mowers. Yes, they cut great but consider the size of the property. That's why they sell gas lawn mowers, riding mowers, tractors etc. Also remember, even your electric mower uses energy that had to be created; you're fooling yourself if you think otherwise.
- "let the weeds come up"?? Well, I don't want you coming near my lawn if you do this for a living. The concept of having a thick and lush lawn is not just for good looks. The thicker and denser the root system, the less likely to have a big weed problem. Focus on the things that detract from a thin lawn; insects, disease, fungus, overwatering.....less chemicals are used over the long haul when the lawn and garden are maintained properly year after year.
I'm a gardener. As in, I do stuff for a job like this. Yuppies like to do the following: Water the grass, mow the grass (already you're creating a vicious cycle, but it gets worse), take away grass clippings (which provide nutrients), add nutrients through chemicals, add mulch in the winter, take it away, etc, etc, etc. It's stupid, and it's expensive, and no sane person who wasn't brain-fried from an equally stressful job would do it this way.
Let your grassy area vary. Let "weeds" come in. Keep it mowed, but let the cuttings stay (don't pay someone to haul it off). Do however, remove leaves in fall (some of them are acidic, because the tree likes to hedge out the competition, so having leaves stand is a less good idea than you think). If you really want something to work on, make a garden. Not only is it more visually appealing than miles and miles of grass, but a more savvy home buyer is gonna look at this grassy area and see a headache just as they would an overgrown yard.
For that matter, don't bother with a gas mower. You'll end up with oily grass, which will make you sick, and the point which it cuts is far beyond what's healthy or proper. Rather than clean cuttings, it leaves clumps. I use a reel mower (if it wasn't shiny and new, it would be an antique style), to essentially cut our lawn. It chops everything in nice short cuttings, and leaves behind a nice grass smell. My dad uses a gas mower, and while it does cut stuff shorter, it leaves behind an oily smell, gives everyone asthma when it misfires, and is generally heavier and harder to push. The reel mower? Easy to clean, easy to fix, and it always keeps going with no need to start. The fifth time the gas mower was in the shop we bought this and an electric mower. If you're more lazy, you can use one of those electric ones. It's even lighter than a gas one as the parts can primarily be plastic with the exception of a few. It cuts great and doesn't clump either, and I fell in love with the fresh grass scent. The only drawback is that it really has a short range due to needing a cord. It starts very easily, just hold the tab in and release to stop (basically it's drawing energy so the only thing that can go wrong is probably with the cord, no clogged oil, no old gas, no other nonsense, just clean work).
keep grass and shurbs tight do not let them become overgrown ,...if you do shame on you for making alot extra work...if your outside and you let things stay small and tight...carry your pruning shears ...trim the pieces puppoing up...not much work strolling through your yard...and bend pull the few weeds popping up...before they r so tight in the ground u are stuggling and buying tons of chemicals...unlike what the author says here...do not let the grass get longer...if your grass is damp now your struggling with your lawn mower gettting packed with wet grass...keep things cut and u wont have much work to do...if you keep the grass cut regularly it is easier walking and letting your SHORT clippings drop...
Easiest way to do: Put in plastic flowers and trees and lay astroterf, everything else in the world is phony and plastic!!!!!!!
Many homeowners are not aware of how important it is to have a house nestled in a nice green surround - not just looking as if it was just ' plopped' on a green square. Soften the edges, have plants lead to the front door - gradual scale to the house - I mean from the grass, to a level of myrtle or pachasandra,,, to lower bushes and a few ' anchor' trees at the corners of the house.
This is for the Northeast properties - the southwest is different - but gardening should add eye appeal and 'frame' the house with soft and attractive plantings, Plants and pushes should not be trimmed to round balls, but rather natural growh shapes. Maybe they have grown too big - so trim or get rid of older overgrown hedges and shrubs.