10 Ways to Grow Grass and Cut Lawn Care Costs

If you grow it, you have to mow it. There’s no doubt that growing grass and maintaining your lawn can be costly. Routine lawn care activities like mowing, watering, and fertilizing can add up to hundreds spent each year just making your outdoor space greener – and this doesn’t include planting grass seed or laying sod!

After moving to an organic farm with several hundred acres of alfalfa and grass fields I’ve learned a few frugal tricks for cutting lawn care costs – and any plot or yard size can benefit.

is eating grass bad for dogs

So to make the grass greener on your side of the fence try these lawn care tips and grow some savings. You might just have fun watching the grass grow.

1. Stop over watering your lawn!

An established lawn requires only 1 inch of water each week, whereas many people water double this amount. Grass is a neat little plant with roots that grow deep. The less you water your lawn the deeper the grass roots grow – costing you less in water use. On the farm we stopped irrigating our fields a few years ago and have yielded awesome hay since encouraging the grasses to grow deeper in search of water.

lawn care grass water

To measure your water usage, buy a plastic watering gauge at your hardware store for about $5. Place the gauge in the lawn and turn off the sprinklers when you have reached the target amount. Or, place a small bucket or ice cream pail under the sprinkler to catch the water and measure for free. You could save hundreds this summer by not sprinkling your cash over the greens.

2. Water early in the morning

The best time to water your lawn is early in the morning when it’s cool out and before any winds kick up and carry your water away. By watering in the mornings instead of in the hot afternoons, you can reduce your water use because heat and evaporation are not diminishing your watering attempts.

3. Grow a taller lawn

Growing your lawn to heights between 2 and 3 inches can save you up to 50 percent of the water consumed by a shorter 1 to-2 inch lawn. Keeping grass cut short causes the roots to grow shallow, which exposes them to drier soil at the surface, so the grass then requires more frequent watering.

lawn mowers lawn care grass

A taller lawn also helps to crowd out weeds, saving you additional dollars on weed-busting maintenance costs. When it comes to farming tall grasses I used to wonder how much does a bale of hay weigh? The answer is, it depends. The first bale of hay is light. The next 100 bales are a bit$h. So maintaining a taller lawn on an urban plot should be a breeze.

4. Convert part of your lawn to a vegetable garden

Adding green space around your home in the form of a lawn is attractive, but it’s also expensive when you consider the costs of growing grass over the savings gained from having your own vegetable garden. By converting a portion of your greenery to a small vegetable garden, you get more bang for your soil buck and can save money on your food budget.

vegetable garden

Besides, growing some salad tastes a whole lot better than eating grass.

5. Use vinegar and dish soap to kill weeds

Herbicides can eat holes in your pocketbook while being hard on the environment. Skip expensive chemicals and cultivate your own weed-killing solution by mixing vinegar with a bit of food-safe dish soap. Just fill an old spray bottle and apply directly onto your weeds.

dog eating alot of grass

This frugal and environmentally safe mixture kills most weeds and can be safely used anywhere near pets and children. I opted to pass on herbicides years ago after adopting Pivo and observing that she’s one of those dogs who eats a lot of grass. (Yes, I think it is normal for a dog to eat grass. And no, eating grass is not bad for dogs as long as the lawn is pesticide and herbicide free. I just think of my lawn as “dog salad”.)

Anydoggyinthegrass, I’ve used this trick for a few seasons with excellent results. For tougher weeds that don’t respond to vinegar and dish soap, a bit of digging is free and guaranteed to work.

6. Make your own fertilizer with compost

Skip spending good dollars on expensive synthetic and petroleum-based fertilizer each year by starting a compost. A properly maintained compost can break down waste from both your kitchen scraps and garden trimmings. The compost from a single household can replace about $20 worth of synthetic fertilizer each year and will help keep chemicals off your lawn and out of your vegetable garden.

7. Sow grass seed and skip sod

If you need an instant lawn it will cost you. Laying weed-free and pretty sod runs 30 to 40 times more than planting grass seed. So if you’ve got the time, opting for sowing grass seed will save you hundreds. The best time to plant is after the last frost in spring or late in the fall. Seeds will lay dormant over the winter, then be the first plants to sprout in the spring. Seeding grass is dirt cheap and easy – just sprinkle your grass seed onto your soil and rake it in so it’s just under the surface.

8. Use a manual push lawn mower

Save yourself lots of green by cutting your lawn with a manual push lawn mower instead of a gas-powered unit. Manual push lawn mowers slice the grass using the energy you provide and cost anywhere from $100 to $150 with virtually zero maintenance costs.

grass riding lawn mowers expensive

On the other hand, gas-powered lawn mowers (especially riding lawn mowers) are expensive to buy, cost big dollars to fuel, and may require a mechanic to service any breakdowns. Don’t get me started on the costs of lawn tractors, the annoyance of sourcing replacement lawn mower parts, or the impossibility of using an electric lawn mower in the middle of a farm. Sigh.

As an added free bonus though, push lawn mowers are quiet, are non-polluting and give you a great workout. Now that’s a new way to find splendor in the grass.

9. Keep your lawn mower sharp

You don’t need to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to know that dull lawn mower blades do not cut grass well. If you’re using a gas or electric mower, dull blades can increase energy use by 10 percent. To get your lawn mower blades sharp, get a sharpening stone for under $10 at most hardware stores and sharpen your lawn mower blades at least every other month. Just be sure to turn off or unplug your lawn mower before sharpening. Ouch!

10. Mow your own lawn

Rather than hire a company to mow your lawn, get your motor running and cut it yourself. Lawn maintenance contractors can charge $100 to $200 each month to care for an average lawn.

lawn care grass seed

If you don’t have the time to be your own lawn boy, consider hiring your neighbor’s teenager to mow for less than the cost of a pro.

More great gardening stories:

Your Thoughts: Got any tips for saving some green on lawn care or share your frugal weeding ways.

Your two cents:

  1. Hi you smart cookie!
    I feel quite radical about this particular issue. I believe lawns are the anti-christ or the power-mongers way to keep the proletariat poor and busy. Why lawns? I mean really – why? Sure a meadowy place for playing ball or Mother May I (which by the way I played for two hours today!)But are mowed green absolutely weed-free squares of flatness required by every home-owner? We have a cliff feature. We have rocks and perenials mixed in with clover and yes – what some might consider weeds – I just consider them things that grow on our property probably because they are suited to what we provide. heck we even have mushrooms. We don’t have a lawn mower, a snow-blower, an atv, a skiddoo, a seado or a sit-on suburban tractor. Who are these people kidding? Get a shovel, a goat, a couple of bored kids, a canoe, a dog and you can borrow a pig or two if you need to get rid of tree trunks and roots. Let’s stop burning gas for no reason. It’s enough to make me vote for Ralph Nader. And I’m a Canadian so that’s out. alright – I’ll stop ranting. I looked at an O magazine today because it had something on the cover like 45 ways to save money and they all involved spending money. STop it!

  2. Davina June 17th, 2009

    Hi Kerry. These are great tips! We used to use a manual push lawn mower on the farm. I remember it quite well because it made cutting the grass fun… and LESS noisy! And I’m all for planting a vegetable garden. Cultivates a virtuous feeling :-)

  3. dlm June 18th, 2009

    Love your doggie pictures.
    It looks so peaceful where you are. If only noisy noisy noisy lawn mowers and leaf blowers were banned in cities!
    Why not use ground cover or paint cement green? Push mowers mean virility! Power mowers for wusses.

  4. Chiot's Run June 18th, 2009

    So true, I have been expanding my gardens beds and getting rid of my lawn little by little.

    Buying seeds and planting a meadow that you don’t have to mow will create a great natural environment, be beautiful and you won’t have to mow! I’m planning on using this method in my backyard, which is currently just unmowed weeds!

  5. Doctor S June 18th, 2009

    One of the opening lines to a post I have ever read “If you grown, then you have to mow it!”. How you come up with this stufff Squawk?

  6. Brian June 18th, 2009

    Don’t you think it a bit wasteful to be using perfectly good potable water for your grass? Some people have to travel miles to get clean water but you do it for your grass???!!!??? Maybe people in general would have more times to spend with their families and lives if they didn’t spend so much time messing with something that yields nothing. I agree that you should grow a garden, at least you get some return on your investment there!

    Anyways, it’s sick to water grass. If someone lives in a place where there isn’t enough water for grass, that should be a clue there to plant things appropriate for the climate!

  7. Sue June 18th, 2009

    Hi Kerry,

    I recently discovered your blog via the Globe & Mail article – congratulations! As a fellow North Okanagan-ite, I’m glad for your success.

    I share your concerns about fertilizers and herbicides, and go organic with our lawn. The one thing that’s worth doing, if you don’t mind spending a little, is to apply a corn gluten treatment in the spring; it prevents new weed seeds from sprouting and fertilizes at the same time. You still have to dig up the established weeds (if they’re a concern), but over time, it makes a big difference.

  8. beth June 18th, 2009

    I suspect what Brian was getting at is “use a rain barrel to collect water to water your grass if you insist on watering it.”
    I would like to second that.
    Do ensure that if you have a rain barrel, though, and you have asphalt shingles on your roof, that you’re not using the rain barrel water for watering food.
    You’ll be disappointed to hear that I got rid of my push mower and fixed up a lawn mower that someone was throwing out on garbage day. Push mowing meant I had to mow my lawn every second day to keep the lawn short enough to discourage rodentia from nesting in it and short enough that the push mower would still work.
    It’s worth noting that on my city’s “spring cleanup” garbage day, the number one item seen in the trash was power lawn mowers. Sad to see our landfills filling up with them.

  9. FupDuckTV June 18th, 2009

    I recommend more radical suggestions…

    Pave the lawn and paint it green.
    Park old cars on it.
    Grow putting green golf course grade grass.
    Grow crops instead of grass.
    Buy a Billy-Goat.
    Threaten your neighbor until he mows it for you.
    Buy a condo.

  10. Sagan June 18th, 2009

    Caring for the lawn (and a garden) is also great therapy. So you can cut back on the costs of a therapist! :)

  11. marci June 18th, 2009

    Luckily, here in NW Coastal Oregon, rain (more than enough) takes care of the watering for me and I don’t worry at all about fertilizing the lawn – then I’d just have to mow it more! In late August, Brown is a perfectly acceptable color for the lawn – it always grows back in October :)

    I have a little electric mower – luv it – and it works great for my city lot, which is ever decreasing year by year as I put in more and more edible landscaping. The more edible landscaping I put in, mostly in raised mulched beds, the less lawn to deal with anyway :)

    Leaving it to grow without mowing would result in a nasty letter from the city, and a fine if it was not mowed – I tried it once, so know from personal experience :(

    I let the dandylions grow for salads, but will be trying the vinegar/soap mix on the thistles. Thanks.

    Firm believer in Food, Not Lawns :)

  12. Colleyville Lawn Care Guy June 20th, 2009

    Great weed killer tip! I love to see earth friendly tips for lawn care. It’s where our food comes from. It’s where our children and animals play. We should take care of our own patch of land like we would if we were in charge of caring for the whole earth.

  13. Meaghan June 26th, 2009

    These are great tips to save green while being green and growing your green lawn! LOL Thanks for sharing!

  14. Truly Scrumptious August 23rd, 2009

    I’m with Jen from Nova Scotia. Grass is evil.

    If you do a Google for “steppable ground covers” you get all kinds of ideas for a nice green carpet (often with pretty flowers!) that can handle traffic; no lawn mower needed.

  15. flacoman December 31st, 2009

    Here’s two that I do :
    Use coffee and coffee grounds for fertilizer.
    Very helpful here in S Florida where’s there’s no organic matter to speak of
    If you have a fish tank, use that water also. Fish p00p works really well and keeps water waste down.

  16. Kerry December 31st, 2009

    @flacoman Coffee grounds are an amazing tip! I completely forgot my husband composts our grounds. Good call on the fish “p00p”. :)

  17. Jon January 8th, 2010

    who doesnt love a healthy green garden. This article is all about that. Good work

  18. Tom July 4th, 2010

    Rain barrels are a great suggestion. However, keep in mind that a 55 gallon barrel will fill quickly and won’t water much flora. We have a rain barrel (55 g), but if we don’t get several more of these or replace it with one very large container, it will end up more of a conversation piece than an effective tool to reduce water usage. Again, these are great ideas and every little bit helps. But it is easier to plan for a much larger storage capacity up front than it is to modify an existing system.

  19. A Beginner February 12th, 2011

    Thank you for this useful article. I have a couple of dogs and am looking into something safe and relatively easy to maintain. We have artificial grass and I have never liked it even though I have an utterly black thumb when it comes to gardening.

  20. Gardener by trade April 28th, 2011

    I have read through all or most of your garden suggestions. good tips. most have been around for some time now. I graduated from Horticulture in 1974. Many things have changed in the proffesion since then. The best change made here is the ban on cosmetic use of chemicals. The planet and peoples health are more important. The biggest mistakes people make when doing any gardening outdoors or indoors with plants is either over watering or underwatering. water only when the soil feels just dry to the touch. The soil down further if you dig will be damper closer to the roots. Water deep and less frequently to encourage deep strong root systems that can tolerate longer periods between watering. As far a fertilizer,the best way to know how much, and at what proportion, to add nutrients to the soil is with a soil test. Simple soil tests can be purchased at garden center. Once you determine what nutrients are lacking or in abundance, you can amend the soil to correct most problems.

    There are four main nutrients that are most likely to be a problem in the soil: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. The first three nutrients are found in most mixed fertilizers, and calcium can be purchased separately in the form of limestone. Nitrogen is necessary for new cell formation in all parts of a plant. Compared to other nutrients, nitrogen is typically the most lacking. A symptom of a shortage of nitrogen is yellow-green stunted growth. Potassium (potash) is necessary for strong roots and stems as well as deep flower color. A symptom of potash deficiency is weak stems and yellowing or browning leaf tips and edges. Phosphorus is necessary for development of roots and stems. This nutrient also stimulates fruit and seed production. A symptom of Phosphorus deficiency is red or purple discoloration of leaves. Because phosphorus can become fixed to soil particles, it is important to place it close to the roots.

    Fertilizer needs to be somewhat soluble; available to plants soon after application. The nutrients in organic plant foods, such as compost, manure, bone meal, and blood meal are not readily available to plants. These materials must breakdown, which make them slow acting. The nutrients of inorganic plant foods are in soluble form, which are readily available to plants. Inorganic plant foods are not long lasting, therefore, frequent fertilizing may cause the chemicals to destroy the plant. If applied in concentrated form, do not allow the fertilizer to come in direct contact with foliage and roots as the plant may be damaged or killed.

    The ratio of nutrients is indicated on the fertilizer container. The numbers indicate the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash respectively – the higher the first number, the more nitrogen, etc. An inorganic fertilizer labeled as 20-20-20 indicates equal portions of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash and typically used in gardens with little nutrient discrepancies. Due to the difference between organic and inorganic plant foods, a combination of the two may produce the best results.

    Liquid plant foods are good for accurate applications for container plants.
    Slow release fertilizers feed plants over an extended period of time, which is good for lawns. This type of fertilizer can be applied without the risk of burning the grass.
    Limestone (calcium) neutralizes the acid level in soil.
    Side dressing adds fertilizer to plants during the growing period. Apply the fertilizer on top of the soil at least six inches away from the base of the plant.
    Base feeding is especially good for shrubs and roses. Apply fertilizer on top of the soil at least six inches from the base of the plant and extend to approximately twelve inches beyond the branch tips. Scratch the fertilizer into the soil without disturbing the roots.

  21. Mark June 7th, 2011

    Lawn tractors are the best way to go, in the amount of time it takes to use a push mower, and have it running constantly to the time it takes to mow with a tractor, you use as much or less fuel (or at least on my lawn with a 6.75 HP Troy-Bilt vs a 18HP Cub Cadet) And if the mower breaks down, if your slightly handy with a wrench, theyre easy to fix.

  22. Nicole May 3rd, 2012

    Love reading your articles. We have started doing the gardening option and want to get rid of our lawn. Actually bought some creeping thyme that we will be sowing, and the beautiful part…never need to mow as it doesn’t grow higher that 3″. Plus, the city accepts it.

  23. Don October 18th, 2012

    i can agree with all but #8, if you have more than a 1/4 acre, you really don’t want to use a push mower unless you are out for some serious exercise, and have about 2 days to complete it.

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