Confessions of a (Former?) Lawn Care Addict
I started this site mainly to keep myself entertained, maybe shed some light on stuff I dig that just might interest one or two others…But I also created this site to attempt to take ordinarily mundane (i.e. boring) subjects important to me and make them well, if not quite entertaining, then at the very least palatable.
Stuff like lawn care. It’s finally spring, and it’s a beautiful sunny 63 degrees here in Michigan. If you know Michigan at all, you know that if you get a sunny day in the 60’s in early April, you’d better get outside and start undoing the damage that the just-ended horrifyingly cold and snowy winter has done to the lawn.
I’m a lawn addict; this is how I think. When the weather is gorgeous, when other people head for the beach or the lake for fun in the sun, I spend my time slaving away at my lawn. Mowing, trimming, weeding, fertilizing, watering…the lawn’s gotta be perfect. For almost twenty years now, I’ve spent summer days making sure my yard was lush and green. But over the last few years, something’s slowly been changing to my thinking. My level of caring, you see, has started to drop.
I still love a thick green lawn. I grew up in the suburbs where summertime meant Dads worked for hours every weekend making sure the yard looked great. When we moved into our own suburban paradise, it never ever crossed my mind to not do the same thing. I still work probably way too hard at lawn maintenance, but as I said it’s changing. Why? Part of it is the fact that I’m just getting older, and I really don’t feel like spending so much of my valuable spare time mowing. And mowing. And mowing. Luckily, I’ve got kids now who can pitch in and help. Thank God for them. Part of it is seeing the lack of attention some (most) of my neighbors pay to their own lawns and feeling a bit envious. I mean, their yards don’t look as good as mine, but they’re alright, and I mean it’s not a contest, right? But there’s another reason, another much more important reason I’m starting to care about my lawn less:
Keeping a Grass Lawn Thick and Healthy and Green Takes Enormous Amounts of Water and Toxic Chemicals!!!
The All-American Suburban Grass Lawn is a massive water and energy hog. We all have been conditioned to surround or homes with oceans of grass. Many neighborhoods and towns flat-out require it. Want your neighbors to turn on you in the quickest way possible? Stop mowing your yard for a month or so.
The truth of the matter is that all that grass requires inputs that in most places around the country just don’t exist in nature. Grass requires tons of water. Literally. About an inch of water a week on average; most areas don’t get an inch a week. Some don’t get anywhere near that. If the skies don’t provide the rain, the grass has got to get water from somewhere else. Lawn irrigation is the biggest source of water, by far, in homes that have lawns. For our average-sized yard, our water bill would skyrocket into the hundreds of dollars a month, for thousands, THOUSANDS, of gallons of water. Just to keep the grass green.
We have underground sprinkling in our yard, which is really nice and convenient, but it makes using way too much water way too easy. Last year, in an all-too-regular fit of stupidity, I blew out the irrigation plumbing on the side of the house while attempting, key word attempting, to turn on the sprinklers after the winter shutdown. This is a story for another time, but it’s a story I’m not eager to tell because, well, how can I say this, it wasn’t the first time I’ve done it. And I wasn’t in the mood to pay hundreds of dollars to get it fixed. Again. So, I used it as my excuse to try to use less water. And… it worked. What sprinkling we did was done with the old-fashioned hose and sprinklers. And… our water usage last summer plummeted. And guess what? The lawn didn’t die. Not even close.
With so much drought around the country, and even here in Michigan where we’re blessed with so much clean water, it just seems silly and wasteful to use so much water on our grass lawns, which other than looking nice, don’t really do anything.
What happens if we don’t water our lawns? Well, if it goes without water, it dries up. Duh! Most grass lawns will go into a form of dormancy without adequate water. If it goes too long without water, the grass will die. In this day and age, with the water issues we’ve got, something’s gotta go. I’d rather it be the lawn, and not the food supply or the drinking water.
So Many Chemicals!
The other thing our perfect lawns love is chemicals. Without chemicals, horrible things like weeds and bugs will get into the lawn and make things all imperfect. So what that weeds are natural, and that insects can be beneficial and provide food for other critters? THE LAWN’S GOTTA BE PERFECT, DAMMIT !!! NATURE BE DAMNED!!!
The lawncare chemical industry makes billions each year selling us toxic products that kill kill kill unwanted weeds and bugs. Stuff that shouldn’t be on our lawns, because if it’s on our lawns it’s in our ground, our water, our birds and squirrels and other things that don’t deserve it.
So Many Fossil Fuels!
The last nasty little secret about the perfect lawn lie is the fact that the fertilizer that we dump on our lawns to keep them green is mostly made from non-renewable petrochemicals. It’s like junk food for the grass. A quick green up at the expense of the long-term health of the soil and the grass. Yuck.
And then there’s the lawn mower. The gas burning, pollution belching suburban lawn mulching machine. A lawn’s gotta be mowed, so there’s not much to say about the mower. Buy the cleanest, most efficient mower you can afford (their emission levels are printed on their engines these days. Convenient.) And keep it in tip-top running shape. Change the oil annually. And the spark plug. And the air filter. The better care you take of your mower’s engine, the cleaner it’ll burn.
Or… you can buy an electric mower. They’re getting better, and cheaper, all the time. Better yet, buy an old-fashioned reel push mower with no engine at all. We have one, and use it occasionally. But for a yard our size, it’s kind of a massive workout. But if you’ve got a smaller yard, these things are perfect. Clean, quiet, and I can vouch for the fact that they do a pretty decent job.
My Plan to Be a Better Steward of the Planet and Still Have a Decent-Looking Yard
So here’s my dilemma. I love a nice, green lawn, and I live in a perfect suburban neighborhood where I’ve pretty much got to have a yard. But I am also very concerned about how much water and chemicals and energy needed to make it so. So, over the last few years, I’ve sort of been forming a plan (mostly in my own head) on reaching a happy medium. Lighten up on the water, use less chemicals, spend less time, relax a little bit and not be so anal about the grass. Here’s my plan:
– Water, but only when absolutely necessary: The underground sprinkling still isn’t fixed, so hauling the hoses around the yard should hopefully keep watering to a minimum this summer again. Let the lawn go a bit brown, but water (early in the morning, and enough to deeply soak the lawn) when necessary to keep it from dying outright.
– Fertilize, but Naturally: I’ve kind of had it with the toxic fertilizers. I will fertilize my lawn with the most natural fertilizers available for my budget. I’m real fond of Milorganite. Have you heard of Milorganite? How can I best describe it… Well, it’s like this. Milorganite is shit. Human Poo. From Milwaukee. You heard me. Milorganite is an organic nitrogen product made from treated biosolids from the fine people of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s safe, and it’s 100% natural. And call me sick and twisted, but I kind of like the way it smells. There, I said it.
There’s lots of other types of organic lawn fertilizer out there. Most of it is manure based, usually from chickens or cows. And don’t forget to mulch your grass when you mow instead of bagging it. You’ll need a mulching lawn mower, but most new mowers today are. Mulching chops the grass into fine little pieces and puts it back on the lawn, where it breaks down, becoming a form of (free) natural fertilizer. And no bagging means no landfill waste!
– Weeds and Bugs: What about the weeds, and what about the bugs? I’ve always tried to use as little herbicide on my lawn as possible. I can live with a few dandelions. A healthy lawn is naturally going to be resistant to weed infestation, but I find that for the occasional weed, it’s easier (and healthier) to just pick it than to spray the yard with chemicals. I use a Weed Hound like the one pictured here. It pops the weed right out of the ground, roots and all. It’s actually kind of fun. (Do you see? Do you see why I consider myself to be an addict to all this lawn care? I’m a weed-popping, fertilizer sniffin’ maniac.)
The bugs I simply don’t worry about. The lawn care companies want you to worry about grubs and ants and all kinds of scary creepy crawlies, but I’ve never had a real problem with bugs. They’re a part of the ecosystem, and I leave them to become part of the food chain. And worms? My God, worms are the best thing ever for your lawn’s soil. They naturally aerate it, allowing oxygen and moisture to easily penetrate down to the grass’ roots. And worm poop is solid gold fertilizer. Lots of worms is a sign of a healthy lawn.
Extreme Lawn Alternatives
What if you’re more extreme than wishy-washy me? What if you’re as mad as hell about how much water and chemicals your grass lawn is using, and you’re not going to take it anymore? There’s options out there for ya. Go crazy.
If you love your grass but are sick of the constant mowing and the constant watering, modern science has created new grass hybrids that are much more drought resistant, and some grasses that even grow to a certain height, then STOP GROWING, effectively eliminating (well, reducing anyway) the need for mowing.
If you’d rather just do away with the grass altogether, there are lots of alternative groundcovers that require very little maintenance. I’m becoming friends with clover, for example. I fought it for years in my yard, but it just kept spreading. It never turns brown, it never needs mowing, it’s soft on the bare feet, and now I’m learning that bees, which are in so much trouble right now, love the stuff. So I’m letting it grow. And spread. Plant your whole yard with it, and never mow or water again!
For more on these new alternatives and further lawn maintenance info, click HERE.
So if my lawn goes a little dry, a little brown this summer, and there’s a few more weeds popping through, I’m going to take a deep deep breath and just do what the Beatles do: Let it be.