Another Man’s Revolution-Scaling Back the Lawn Care

by andrewodom on February 1, 2011 · 19 comments


Years ago as a youngster, I used to marvel at the manicured emerald green lawns my older neighbors meticulously tended to as I tenaciously waited for the shot at my own. Years had passed and we purchased our first home which was a semi-fixer upper with less than average soil for a lush lawn. After doing my homework I took a soil sample to the local feed and seed and found out our soil was highly acidic. I bought the recommended tonnage of lime and potash among other ingredients to make my emerald fields come alive in the way my elders’ lawns did.

I created a carpet like front lawn that was deep green as emeralds with not a weed one in sight, tending to it as if it were a child of mine sparing no expense and time. On my hands and knees combing through the rich and lush blades of fescue looking for any rogue weed even daring to emerge was a favorite past time as hours were spent performing the tedious task. Stretching out the water hoses and sprinklers morning and evening to keep the soil and root systems alive was a task itself. Then came the weed and feed fertilizers, pelletized iron (organic), pelletized and pulverized lime (organic), and weed pre-emergent which I dispersed on a monthly basis unless I saw there was a need for lime and iron for deficient spots here and there. These items came at a decent cost and were also easily stock-able in my garage for future use.

A couple years had passed and we sold that house and bought the abode in which we currently reside. The lawn here was nil as far as beauty. There were weeds and tall grasses which needed to be tamed and I was the man for it. Countless hours and money were spent just as I had done at our previous home with great results. Water hoses, sprinklers, ferts. and many other tools and amendments were used to gain the sea of emeralds I previously worked so hard for. This yard is twice the size of the earlier and received more direct sunlight thus increasing the water requirements as well as all the soil amendments. This became quite the chore as our family grew once more, my job title changed, the real estate market hit rock bottom, and we were scrambling to make all our ends meet as a result thereof. My January 25th, 2011 post “Squeeze a Buck Lately?” is also a result of the same.

What we are up against now is a desolate lawn. The past couple years we have not set any money aside for our lawn and it has gone downhill. We miss our lawn dearly, but what were we gaining from it? A compliment here and there and a lot of work and money wasted. So, basically we have lost nothing. We’ve gained time and money by not tending to it in the extreme fashion. We’ve been pondering ways to rejuvenate our picturesque landscape and have come up with a couple ideas.

  1. Planting all sorts of food crops and  fruit trees on our less than 1/4 acre lot. It is understood that there is a movement across the nation to utilize the complete lot, or as much as possible to grow food for our family and community. And as much as we would love to, I don’t think we can dedicate the time necessary to keep it afloat without losing a lot of hard work and money. If we were in a more rural area, and the j.o.b. wasn’t so demanding I can see this working for us.
  2. Reseeding with fescue grass and return to the same maintenance schedule as before. Although, one of the most beautiful lawns, this method has obviously been one of the many drains on our pocket in the past and requires a good amount of attention and money to keep this type of lawn healthy. We would also incur the cost of a sprinkler system and the digging of a well to insure the success of this type of lawn. Fescue and other turf type lawns require overseeding every fall which is yet another costly expense.
  3. Buying a couple pallets of sod. This day and age anyone can buy sod for almost any type grass. This type of application is costly up front including fixing the bed so the sod roots will take. And there’s always patches that will need to be tended to throughout its first year.
  4. Seed with a stolon type grass; Zoysia to be precise. These grasses thrive in heat, require much less water, create and utilize atmospheric nitrogen, and only needs to be cut once every week or so. Zoysia, and many others in the family (Centipede, St. Augustine, Kentucky Bluegrass), should only need fertilzer amended to the soil in early spring and just before the first fall frost. Stolon type grasses are also known for choking out weeds and other rogue plants thus dismissing the use of weed killer, the use of which may harm the very grass we are trying to protect. Each bag of seed costs roughly $40.00 and we will need two. The only downside is it will go dormant after the first fall frost and leave us with a brown lawn until spring beckons its wake. 

As you can see there are many different options to a nice and healthy lush lawn. From expense to time to ease and cost effectiveness, Zoysia is the way for us. We don’t want to incur these annual and monthly costs along with the wallet pilfering installation of a pump and well and sprinkler system and the maintenance therein. As for watering our Zoysia, we will set up the occasional sprinkler or two, but our area is prone to evening summer showers and storms which will sustain the grass and keep it beautiful for us.

What type of lawn do you keep? Is having a manicured lawn important to you? Have you had any success with stolon type grasses? Do you have any recommendations for folks keeping any of the lawns listed here?

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  • Jinxica

    there is another option: native grasses and plants which you can often get free from the native plants society in any area. these attract wildlife and native butterflies, require no care, and look beautiful!

    • http://www.scissorsanddrumsticks.com Kevin “Drumsticks” Gilkes

      That’s a great idea. Attract the beneficial insects and animals to help the food plants along. Plus, they’re nice to look at and watch.

  • Nebraska Dave

    @Kevin, I know what you are talking about with the manicured lawns. Every neighborhood has one. Ours is at the bottom of the hill. Picture perfect in every way. I’ve decided the front lawn will be taken care of to keep neighbors from giving the frowny look as they pass but the back yard will not get so much care as it slowly transitions from lawn to raised garden beds. It’s a slow process but I would rather have not quite enough garden than way to much to handle.

    Have a great lawn care planning day.

    • http://www.scissorsanddrumsticks.com Kevin “Drumsticks” Gilkes

      You are more than correct. Some of us live in subdivisions and have Homeowner’s Associations (we don’t) and there are certain parameters one has to stay within. I see it this way; If we grow what makes us comfortable and happy then, where’s the wrong? Unless of course the wrong type of plant(s) are used requiring mass amounts of wasted water and fertilizers.

      We have active kids who love playing ball, hide n’ seek, ghost in the graveyard, and the rest alike in their yard and i just can’t take all that from them.

  • http://www.wbnm.typepad.com Beverly

    Our front yard is made up of trees, native plants, and vegetable garden with very little grass. My husband, who studied landscape architecture as an undergrad, has created a beautiful space in the back with lots of natural-looking flower beds and clover, all ringed by woods. Eventually we hope to add a few berry patches and a small “orchard”.

    • http://www.scissorsanddrumsticks.com Kevin “Drumsticks” GIlkes

      Berry Patches? That’s what we would love to have. There’s just no room for them here. Small orchard? Jealous I am.

      We have two oak trees on our lot and the rear property line is lined with neighboring pines and maples. So having fruit trees isn’t an option either. The other (north) side of our house isn’t suitable for growing apple trees and such, so I think. I may have to do more research on that.

      Thanks for planting the seed in my head. haha

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    My vote is to grow your own food. Let your neighbors see it and be envious. Share your fruits and veggies with them. Inspire them to do the same. Make that shift and change happen.

    • http://www.scissorsanddrumsticks.com Kevin “Drumsticks” Gilkes

      We are actually expanding our garden by two-fold which encroatches the front yard and plan on utilizing and creating other planting beds around our whole house so as to take advantage of the sun for the plants who love the heat and sun, and partial sun for the plants who can’t handle the heavy heat. As each growing season ticks by, the plan is to have most of our “land” (postage stamp) growing some type of edible goods.

      P.S. The garden expansion comes with a video………

  • Tiny

    a humorous look at lawns:
    God on Lawns
    http://www.richsoil.com/lawn/god.jsp

    –sgl

    • http://www.scissorsanddrumsticks.com Kevin “Drumsticks” Gilkes

      That is one funny read. Sad part is, it rings very true this day and age. Glad you shared it as a your comment. I encourage all who read this blog to also click the link for a good laugh….and lesson.

  • http://twitter.com/CherylBreuer Cheryl Breuer

    I really like the “no-mow” grasses and hope to add some to our landscape soon. My goal is to have as little lawn as possible, and lots of native plants. I think a big, green square of traditional grass is boring, and a waste of water.

    • http://www.scissorsanddrumsticks.com Kevin “Drumsticks” Gilkes

      The waste of water and increased usage of fertilizers is my first kill by choosing a stolon type grower. It manicures better, and holds up during the hot summers here in southeastern Virginia.

  • http://beingariver.blogspot.com/ Lds4u

    Chipping away more of my lawn (landlord’s lawn) to have more more more food growing. If I’m going to spend time out there, it should be feeding me I figure. I have no love for lawn, so can’t imagine getting the joy i get weeding my garden, plucking tiny tomatoes, coaxing tiny buds from the ground. I honestly wish everyone would just grow food. then no one would look at the grassy parts of my yard and wonder when I’ll do the right thing and make it look the same as everyone else’s. And I look scornfully at the people on my block spraying/fertilzing (killing) everything wonderful that could live there.

    • http://www.scissorsandddrumsticks.com Kevin “Drumsticks” Gilkes

      I hear you. I was the guy giving the scornful looks. But not anymore. We are expanding our garden two-fold and plan on dropping veggie plants here and there throughout our landscape. to maximize our growing potential.

  • Brian

    I agree with the sentiment in your post. What do you gain from it? I tried to scale back on lawncare a couple of years ago. It did save us money, but my neighbors started making comments about the decline. I’ve since caved in and re-hired the lawn service, but I’ve since started replacing all the trees and shrubs with edible varieties. I guess it’s my attempt to “offset” the lawncare.

    Brian @ http://www.backyardurbangardening.com

    • http://www.scissorsanddrumsticks.com Kevin “Drumsticks” Gilkes

      Your re-focus and taking advantage of the space available and creating additional space in your yard for edible plantings for your family is admirable. While I wouldn’t cut trees out of my postage stamp for such to achieve a more sustainable urban farm, it may work well for you. After reading your blog, I find it puzzling you would hire a lawn service to take care of your turf duties while you are obviously no stranger to the green thumb. As for the neighbors? Ahh well, everyone is always going to have something to say about what we all do with OUR propertyand lives.If you live in a Home Association I can understand and appreciate your compromise.

      What my family and our eco-system will gain from changing our turf is less time manicuring(less gas emissions), feeding, watering, and trimmimg all while keeping our lawn beautiful for us. The ferts. alone are a hefty savings to our wallet, not to mention the run off from necessary excessive use to have the lawn at a level keeping neighboring batting eyes at bay. We chose Zoysia as it will only need fertilization twice per year and cut once every week or two and also requires much less water after it has established itself while fescue lawns almost always require a sprinkler system, which I almost installed saving yet even more dollars and one less thing to maintain. This stolon type grass aids in slowing erosion of our soil and does not need to be over-seeded every fall like the fescue types, saving even more time and money. I watch a few of my neighbors kill their fescue lawns every September and reseed anew annually which I have also done.

  • http://twitter.com/MercyWoman Miss Mercy

    Some hardscaping with gravel and paving stones could make your “lawn” both attractive, “cared-for” looking, and mostly maintenance free. You could have a strategically placed flower or herb bed for color and functionality.
     

  • Mary

    We have zoysia grass mostly in the backyard & love it. Replaced cesspool in the frontyard & lawn hasn’t been the same since. Know of zoysia plugs but where can you get zoysia seed?

    • http://www.tinyrevolution.us/ anotherkindofdrew

      I’m sorry Mary. I have no idea. This post was originally published by a former contributor – Kevin – who no longer writes with is and I live on a farm and don’t really have grass.

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