5 Ways to Save Time and Money on Your Lawn

by Jeff Yeager on 7 August 2009 9 comments
Photo: Xenophod

I'm always struck when I travel outside the United States how rare it is to see large expanses of lawn in residential areas in most other countries. Americans are truly grass crazy. We're downright sod-o-maniacs, you might say.

But our dandelion-free, putting green-perfect lawns are tough on the environment and tough on our wallets. Between the water they require, the pesticides and fertilizers, and pollutant spewing, four-cycle lawnmowers, our lawns really aren't as green as they look.

And with U.S. lawn care services now a $12 billion annual industry, our lawns are cutting a lot of the green out of our bank accounts as well. Basic lawn-care service averages about $120-$150 per month, which could easily be an expense of $1,000 a year or more depending on where you live and the length of the growing season.

Author Michael Pollan wrote, "A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule." Down with the dictator!, I say. Why not reduce the size of your lawn this summer -- or even eliminate it entirely -- and save money, time and the environment too?

Here's how:

Mulch

Mulching over areas of your yard will help to control weed growth and retain moisture. This is particularly effective for shady spots and other areas where grass is hard to grow in the first place. And you don't need to pay a lot for mulch: Make your own from shredded leaves and twigs, or check with your highway maintenance department, landfill, or your local arborist to see if they have mulch for free/cheap.

Hardscaping

My dad, who hated mowing the lawn, was always threatening to "pave over the whole damn thing with green cement!" Apparently dad had totalitarian issues of his own. Environmentally friendly "hardscaping" alternatives to pop's cement plan include the use of river stone, gravel and flagstone as a sort of indestructible mulch. Think Japanese gravel garden or faux dry stream bed. It's best to put down a fabric weed block -- or a thick layer of old newspapers -- under your hardscaping material.

Ground Cover

A combination of ground cover and mulch/hardscaping is an ideal eco-friendly lawn alternative for most homeowners. It's much lower maintenance, far more cost effective, and so much more interesting than a boring expanse of grass. Choose ground covers that are native to your area or which otherwise don't require watering or fertilizer and block weed growth effectively. Some favorites include pachysandra, creeping thyme, phlox, liriope, sedum and creeping juniper. The cost per square foot to plant most ground covers is roughly the same as to plant sod -- but you'll save big money and time in maintenance over the years to come.

Tall Grass & Wild Flowers

For a beautiful, natural looking yard that still incorporates grass, consider using native prairie and other tall grass seed, mixed with wildflower seeds conducive to your climate. Just let this drought resistant combination do its own thing all year long and maybe cut it back once a year at the end of the growing season, if at all.

Return of the Push Mower

If you still have a patch of grass that needs to be cut and you haven't tried an old fashioned push or "reel" mower in the past 20 years, you'll be surprised at how far that old piece of technology has come. They're now incredibly light, easy to push, and oh so wonderfully quiet -- not to mention pollution free and low maintenance. With the soft clipping sound of the razor sharp blades and the smell of fresh air and fresh-cut grass, cutting the grass with a reel mower seems more like meditation than yard work.

This post from the Green Cheapskate by Jeff Yeager is republished with the permission of The Daily Green.  Check out more great content from The Daily Green:

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Guest's picture
MichaelM

"consider using native prairie and other tall grass seed"

Careful, some communities have front yard garden and grass height restrictions. If yours does, you could get hit by a fine!

Guest's picture
Kris

Tall grass is not a great alternative if you have kids or pets who use the yard. Tall grass harbors fleas and ticks, among other pests.

Guest's picture

Thanks for sharing this article on the benefits of natural gardening. Not only are the techniques mentioned good for the pocketbook but they're also a great way to attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife to your backyard. I work for the National Wildlife Federation and we have a program to help people create wildlife habitats in their own backyards. If any of your readers are interested, they can learn more at http://www.nwf.org/gardenforwildlife

Guest's picture
Guest

Thanks for the comments. The National Wildlife Federation website really is a terrific resource for the type of lawn-alternative landscaping approach I'm proposing. I'm not just saying, "let your grass grow and forget about the neighbors."

Agreed re: communities that have restrictions on tall grass ... that's why I'd never live in such a community or, if I did, lobby to change it.

As for tall grass harboring "fleas, ticks, and other pests," yeah, Mother Nature is a b*tch, isn't she? If only we could sod over - or better yet pave over - all that natural stuff. ;-)

Stay Cheap!
-Jeff Yeager

Guest's picture
Rob O.

You can help your grass retain - and therefore be more efficient in its use of - water by cutting the grass tall. I have my mower set to max height and it really does help it hold in moisture better and makes it much more naturally resistant to weeds, thereby reducing the need for harsh chemicals.

Guest's picture
kyle5434

I actually got a reel mower a few years ago, thinking I'd be green and old-fashioned and quaint. The problem is, I've got two mature maple trees in my front yard that are forever dropping sticks and twigs. And even the smallest of twigs can bring your reel mower to an abrupt and annoying stop, making it pretty much worthless unless you're willing to crawl around your yard on your hands and knees to find and pick up all sticks and twigs before mowing each time.

Guest's picture
Brigid

I am surrounded by people who, I am convinced, are being ripped off by their lawn companies; they are in here at least three days a week with a tractor mower (for a lawn so small it can barely turn around), leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, etc. They arrive at 7:30 in the morning, waking up those of us who are trying to have a vacation, and they go all day.

Today I mowed my lawn in less than 20 minutes, without breaking a sweat or annoying my neighbors, with my reel mower. It really is the way to go, especially for small lawns.

Kyle5434, I suggest you rake your lawn before mowing. That will get all the sticks up.

Guest's picture
Justin

Great ideas Jeff. The neighborhood pressure of the nice lawn doesn't always come with a huge price tag.

Guest's picture

Great tips here, thanks for this!