Photo by Salt Water New England

Monday, June 15, 2020

Reader Question: Has your approach to lawn care changed?


A question received this morning was timely, as we have been shifting a bit our model of lawn care.

While I have never treated our lawn with chemicals (instead adding compost to less healthy patches), we have changed a bit.   

After many years of hiring a neighbor to do full-service mow, trim and weeding, we now have more of a hybrid arrangement thanks to the purchase of this surprisingly terrific reel mower from Fiskars (https://amzn.to/3fCKghR).  It does a fantastic job on the relatively flat grassy areas.  (It is not quite as good on the heavily shaded/mossy ground.)  It is a greatly improved version of the ones we have tried in the past that almost always jammed.   No gasoline, no fumes and no unpleasant noise. In fact, this sound is quite pleasant, akin to the wooden screen door closing, the wooden gate latching, or the porch swing. 

I have resumed the duties of weeding the gravel walkways and near the salt-water pool. And a local arborists drops off wood chips for paths to and around the compost area and stone walls.

But our mowing area is quite sizable (and we have cleared some land over the years) so we augment with a twice a month complete mowing/trimming with a professional and we keep it up in between.


Averyl sent the following question(s) for the community:
Lawns: 
Treated or untreated? Organic or Scott’s et al?
Manicured, uniform golf-course aspirations or natural applications including clover and other green ground cover?  Are they weeds or flowers? 
Save the bees or your quest for perfection?
Status symbol or place to express your true nature?
Do it yourself or farmed out?

28 comments:

  1. I mow my lawn twice a month and have a pro come in twice a month who cuts, mows and edges. It saves me money I get some physical activity and since we've got an acre I don't overdo it. We hire someone to weed and mulch each year, but the job I can't stand is weeding our pebble driveway. Spraying white vinegar to kill weeds and this handy device have been a lifesaver. https://www.homedepot.com/p/Flame-King-Propane-Torch-Weed-Burner-Self-Lighting-PQ810CGA/308804237?mtc=Shopping-B-F_D25T-G-D25T-25_1_HAND_TOOLS-Multi-NA-Feed-PLA-NA-NA-HandTools_PLA_PrioritySKUs&cm_mmc=Shopping-B-F_D25T-G-D25T-25_1_HAND_TOOLS-Multi-NA-Feed-PLA-NA-NA-HandTools_PLA_PrioritySKUs-71700000067189882-58700005873234873-92700053720272514&gclid=Cj0KCQjwuJz3BRDTARIsAMg-HxUPiQqTM08RU7xqbpZcNY7OOFku4qKaIcUPg_aDcOP5p1q48gYQbUEaAjrTEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

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  2. Roderick B. SalisburyJune 15, 2020 at 9:46 AM

    Averyl's fourth question - isn't the quest for a perfect lawn an expression of identity? As is save the bees. We go with save the bees, do it ourselves, untreated, a reel mower, and plenty of flowering weeds. We don't plant the weeds, so maybe we don't do it all ourselves...

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  3. Neat and untreated. Occasional volunteer dandelions, creeping Charlie, or moss. I'll manually remove these to keep them under control, but am not out to rid the law of them. Weeds in brick walks get boiling vinegar or clove oil when they get out of hand. The crushed shell paths and drive rarely have any issues. We rarely enlist help, but will call it in if we're going to be away or need some tree work done. Nothing should be too perfect.

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  4. I had one of those reel mowers and I enjoyed it but it seemed like I had to get it sharpened too often. The newest generation of battery operated/cordless mowers are really nice- I like the Echo one.

    I've tried natural lawn services and pest control services but I found it was a waste of money and I had to be home to supervise them. I do all my own lawn care and pest control now. I am a bee-hugger and allow more weeds ( which are really wildflowers) like dandelions in my backyard than I do my front. I don't know if any of the readers here are familiar with the Glebe House in Arlington, VA, but the Ball family were my neighbors and very close friends of my family. When I was young, I spent a lot of time at their house and Mrs. Ball would ask me to kill all her dandelions with one of those Scott's plungers filled with weed killer. I hated that job! It seemed so cruel to kill such beautiful flowers and ever since then, I vowed not to kill another dandelion.

    I'm not a perfectionist. I set my mower high on Fescue grass ( front yard) to 3-3.5 inches so that I can keep clover in bloom and I tend to mow around dandelions. My backyard looks like a maze in the spring because I have large patches of buttercups and other wildflowers that I mow around. One year a family of bunnies lived in the buttercups and we named it Bunny Island.

    I would recommend getting a soil test because the results will tell you why you have the weeds you do since they are pH dependent and will also indicate which specific nutrients/micronutrients you need. Your local extension office may provide soil testing. Make sure you know how to collect the samples.

    The absolute best organic lawn care products that I have used are made by Jonathan Green. They also offer synthetic and chemical products but I stay away from synthetic high nitrogen fertilizers because they cause more environmental problems and disease than natural products. Their organic pest control products are also amazing. They smell like peppermint and other herbs but are extremely safe and effective in controlling ants, mosquitoes, spiders and more. If you speak to a rep at the company with your soil test results, they are happy to advise.

    I've had Lyme disease so I keep my backyard turf a lot lower once the wildflowers are finished blooming because I don't want to attract ticks and because I like to play croquet.

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    Replies
    1. ^ With respect, this sure sounds like perfectionism to me!!

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  5. We live in a townhouse complex that contracts a landscaper who is 100% natural. No chemicals of any kind. He is around 55 and has been doing it this way all his life. He does use gasoline powered tools though.

    Somehow he keeps a 60 home complex looking great with only him and a helper, 2 days a week. The reason he has always done it this way according to him is he loves dogs and his own health.

    David J Cooper

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  6. Weekly lawn service. Weekly flood irrigation during spring to early fall. I’m the official weed puller, husband the official lawn feeder. No status symbol lawn, just a nice place to enjoy the squirrels.
    MaryAnne

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  7. I live in Austin now and have very much embraced natural gardening with native plants. My yard is a typical 80x150 city lot. In front the remaining lawn grass (Blue grama, needing six inches of water per year) is small enough that it could be mowed with a string trimmer if I wanted, but I use a corded electric mower. Gasoline mowers pollute horrifically. Most of the front yard is native grasses like inland sea oats and lindheimer muhly. The beds are full of things the bees and butterflies like such as zexmenia, various asters, diverse salvia, lantana, native milkweed, and penstemons. The back is sloped and shaded. In place of lawn there is Lindheimer sedge edged with beauty berry, Mexican buckeye, desert willow, eupatorium gregii, and, where there is sun, things like flameleaf sumac, kidneywood, various clump grasses, bicolor iris, red yucca, and yellow bells (tecoma stans). I use slow release organic fertilizers, liquid sea weed, home made compost, and granular molasses. My "weed killer" is agricultural strength vinegar, but more often than not I just let the good things out compete the weeds. The bottom of the yard is wild native grasses and separated from the green belt by a hog wire fence to let little critters come and go as they please. My yard is a refuge and gets compliments. The deck has three levels, the middle one nestling under Mexican plum. That is where we have had many pandemic evening meals. Our neighbors are now following suit.

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  8. The pandemic finally has reached me in a personal way: I used to have my yard work done by college baseball players who were in town to play in a summer league, but all the games were canceled, and there went the labor pool. Back to the riding mower and line trimmer for me and my all-natural yard. I try to pretend I'm one of the guys in all those old ads in National Geographic, wearing a spiffy small-brim fedora, slacks, and a nice golf shirt, smoking a pipe. I try, but it's not working.

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  9. Not really, just at home all day, so more time to work on it!

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  10. I still do just about all of my own yard work, with some assistance and advice from my wife. She grows things; I cut them down.

    We finally have the front lawn in fair shape but unauthorized growths attack at all the edges. The back doesn't get enough sun now to have a decent lawn but at least the ground is covered in something green. We rarely fertilize but we sometimes have to water the lawn.

    We haven't had much luck with trees, though. The dogwood in the front up and died and had to be removed and so did one of the two in the back for no apparent reason. And the big maple in front was hit by a car a few years ago under mysterious circumstances and knocked off a large chunk of bark. Now insects have managed to get in under the bark and seemed to have caused the tree some pain. It's losing leaves prematurely.

    Speaking of ticks, I'm in the woods everyday or so for a long walk (about two miles there and back) and I haven't picked up a tick in years. There are lots of deer in the woods (this is in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.) as well as foxes and it is a curious thing that ticks seem to have disappeared. It's said that if there are deer, there will be deer ticks but this is really strange. I don't think anything else is missing, if it can be said that anyone is missing deer ticks. We're also seeing more foxes than ever and we've been in this house over 30 years.

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    Replies
    1. Out on the East End of Long Island property owners have started buying Guinea hens to fend off the tick population.

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  11. 1.Do a soil analysis
    2.Type of grass
    3.Organic, granular Microlife, Humates Plus, Liquid Trifecta of Fish Emulsion, Seaweed Kelp & Molasses, Aerated & treated with Leaf Mold Compost
    4.If grass is healthy, you are going to choke out the weeds, will use a pre & post emergent herbicide if required, water only in early am
    5. Mow high, have an aversion to contactors mowing my lawn....their mowers may contain diseases they could infect my lawn, have a self mulching mower with sharp Y shaped blades, independent rotary blade speed & independent wheel speed, chops the grass & leaves very fine, hence quick decomposion, been mowing for 60 years, as the owner I have been acosted by passerby's asking me how much does she pay you...resorted to the Lee Trevino answer
    6. Lawn & landscaping is old school, old guard, old colonial Southern neighborhood, neat & attractive with exacting deed restrictions, Houston not Austin

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    1. I love your advice! I used to live in Houston (after growing up on the other coasts). I have been in Austin a long time, long enough to know the long term benefits of organic gardening! I miss John Dromgoole on the radio! "Best height to trim red hawthorne?" "Oh, about six inches below soil level."

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  12. An acre, do it myself with everything organic since well-water abound in Southeastern Massachusetts. Crazy how they can get away with products like Roundup! Ticks, deer, mosquitoes etc we use a company, Oh Dear, all organic.
    .

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  13. We do our own yard work and go with the bee's. We use no pesticides of any kind. If weeds need to be killed, we use vinegar. We like it a bit wild here in Virginia.

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    Replies
    1. straight vinegar or cut with water?

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    2. How exactly do you use the vinegar on the weeds? Spray? Thank you.

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    3. I use undiluted agricultural strength vinegar which is more acidic than most household vinegar. I spray the leaves, top and bottom, early on a hot sunny day. If there are nearby things I do not want to harm, i pour some into a jar and use a paint brush to coat the leaves of only the plant(s) I want to eradicate. How about you, Jane?

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  14. I use boiling water from the kettle on the weeds in the walk. I weed my flower beds each morning while the percolator chugs along.

    The "lawn" is an amalgam of green things--grass, weeds, whatever. I use Milorganite (google it) on the roses and plants. The deer stay away from it.

    Armadillos are now an invasive species here, so chili powder from the Dollar Store is spread around--it works!

    Nothing is 100% effective, so long as they leave my plants alone and forage in the 45 wooded acres and leave me my 5, we're good.

    Prost!

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    Replies
    1. Another way to deal with armadillos is using beneficial nematodes to kill the grubs that attract them. I was amazed at how quickly it worked.

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  15. Our front and back yard is all natural, mowed religiously (John Deere riding model), and fed to the cows by the mister. We live in the temperate rainforest so moss is definitely with us (it's green, so why bother removing it?). I'm the weeder and have overcome my fear of bees, growing plenty of flowers and wildflowers for them to feast on. Growing up we had the nicest lawn on the block. Neighbors asked how he did it: dad walked the yard every evening wielding a long, thin bladed knife and removed every weed by hand. I must've got it from him. Our therapy and exercise is the yard. With 5 acres there's always plenty to do.

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  16. At our city property, I recently relandscaped the front lawn to lay down mondo grass, which doesn't require mowing and (sadly) let the long term lawn guy go after buying an electric lawnmower (for the cost of 1 month of the lawn guy) and I'm cutting the back yard myself. The city property is pretty tight, so it is manageable for me. At our coast property, we have a lot more lawn to cut and I haven't considered doing it myself (yet) since that is a get away, specifically in my mind a getaway from chores like cutting the grass.

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  17. When I was a little girl our dad used to pay us 5 cents per dandelion pulled but it had to include tbe root. We'd use the dandelion fork and get a huge pile of them and then go buy Hostess cherry pies and Yoohoo at the village store. I have three boys...only two left at home now and they selectively mow and weed whack. I am letting more of the yard turn over to native plants like elderberry...it is a bird paradise by my pond! The grass in the back field is full of buttercups and forget me nots. I have a fenced in side yard with a shady perennial garden and a small patch of grass...that is the only spot in my yard that has a manicured look.

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  18. As a tyke I played/helped in the vegetable garden and later I enjoyed lawn care and landscape work with my parents and through the years my wife and I both enjoyed that labor of love. Our yard may have not been the best looking on the block but it was always very close and we’ve relocated many times in our married life. A few years ago I gave up my lifelong love of vegetable gardening and now while I still mow, edge, fertilize, trim and water when needed, I find all that to be a chore, rather than a love for doing it. Don’t get me wrong, it all looks good but it’s a chore and no it doesn’t interfere with my other activities. Didn’t mean for my comments to be negative...some people have shared my currents feelings for a lifetime.

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    1. It's a chore for me. I love looking at a garden, but have no desire whatsoever to tend one. Like, I hate it - lol! The entire time I have to actually work in the yard/garden I'm counting the minutes 'til I'm done. How's that for negative?

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  19. Mow the lawn myself. (1 qt Gatorade post-mow, while sitting in a/c under a ceiling fan.) Would prefer woods — any woods — to "grass" and grass-like weeds.

    Still, it looks nice for about two days, post-mow. After that, I'm figuring when I'll need to do it again.

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  20. We used to have a lawn guy, but he just wasn't very consistent, so I now take care of our lawn and beds. Toro Timemaster set at the highest setting (4"), organic fertilizer that will not burn about every five weeks from May-September. Usually Anderson's PGF Complete (best), or Milorganite. Fiskars weed removal tool for dandelions and certain other tough weeds. Weeding by hand for beds. Little by little in the early mornings, or early evenings after dinner.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

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