11 Tips for a Less Expensive Lawn

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When I was a kid, my first job was cutting grass. At the age of 10, I was doing quarter-acre lawns all over the neighborhood for $5-$7 each.

Fast forward 40 years, and suddenly I’m paying some guy 40 bucks a week to mow a yard so small I could cut it in half an hour with a pair of scissors.

As with many household expenses, yard care is one that can get away from you. It’s easy to buy too much lawn fertilizer, over-water, over-treat with chemicals, and over-purchase expensive plants that look super in the store but begin dying of neglect shortly after arriving home.

So maybe this summer it’s time to save a little money and a little stress by using a few simple tips that will keep your yard green and save you some green at the same time. Start by watching the short news story below, then meet me on the other side for additional tips.

Here’s another look at those tips as well as a few more that weren’t in the video.

  1. Get free advice on virtually everything yard and plant-related from your local cooperative extension service. Here’s a search engine to help you find it.
  2. Don’t overdo the fertilizer. It’s expensive and most isn’t environmentally friendly. Instead of just dumping fertilizer on your lawn this spring, pay 10 bucks or so and have your soil tested by your cooperative extension service. That way you can see exactly what, if anything, it really needs and avoid wasting money and needlessly using harsh chemicals.
  3. Better yet, avoid fertilizer entirely and use compost. Use it after your lawn is green, ideally by mixing it into aerated soil. You can buy it in stores, sometimes get it for free from municipal compost sites or make your own. Here’s a link to a site that will show you how.
  4. Keep your lawn mower maintained. Clean under the deck, change the plug and oil… you know the drill. And be sure to sharpen your blade. According to Consumer Reports, a well-maintained mower combined with a sharp blade can shave 25% from fuel costs, and give you a nicer looking lawn with less effort.
  5. Don’t cut too much or too often. Don’t ever cut more than a third of the grass height: a couple of inches off the top, max. Leave the clippings on the lawn as mulch. And the hotter it gets, the less you should mow. Too much mowing stresses the grass. Also, leave your lawn longer in shady areas for maximum photosynthesis.
  6. Share the cost. When it comes to big purchases, like mowers, go in with a neighbor or two. Not only will you save 50% or more, but you’ll also split the cost of the maintenance too.
  7. Watch the watering. It can be the biggest expense in lawn care. The rule of thumb is one inch of water per week. If rain isn’t cutting it, sprinkle sparingly and always in the morning, not the evening. Better yet, collect rain water in a barrel and use that for irrigation instead.
  8. DIY Pesticides. Got a bug problem? Rather than buying expensive, nasty chemicals, try organic solutions. Use hot pepper sprays, used dishwater, or 1 teaspoon of liquid soap to a gallon of water. Planting marigolds will get rid of beetles and introducing mint, garlic and chives will discourage other harmful insects. Here’s a site that describes lots of low-cost, organic insecticides.
  9. Keep it thick. Keep weeds at bay by not giving them a place to grow. Keep your grass thick by seeding new grass into your existing lawn. Your cooperative extension service can help with a list of recommended grass species for your lawn. When you buy seed, get “weed-free” and look for a germination date that’s less than a year old.
  10. Walk around. At least once a week, walk around your yard, look at your grass and plants and pull a few weeds. Do it in the morning. Does everything look healthy? Are you leaving footprints on the grass? (If so, it may need more water.) Catching problems early means nipping problems in the bud, and walking around your yard early in the morning is a very nice way to start the day.
  11. Do it yourself. Try to avoid expensive lawn services. Get some exercise, save some money and do it yourself. If you’re too busy, at least try to hire some neighborhood kid rather than a commercial service. (Do kids still do that?)

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