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.
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.
To measure your water usage, buy a plastic watering gauge at your hardware store for about $5. Place the gauge in the lawn and turn off the sprinklers when you have reached the target amount. Or, place a small bucket or ice cream pail under the sprinkler to catch the water and measure for free. You could save hundreds this summer by not sprinkling your cash over the greens.
2. Water early in the morning
The best time to water your lawn is early in the morning when it’s cool out and before any winds kick up and carry your water away. By watering in the mornings instead of in the hot afternoons, you can reduce your water use because heat and evaporation are not diminishing your watering attempts.
3. Grow a taller lawn
Growing your lawn to heights between 2 and 3 inches can save you up to 50 percent of the water consumed by a shorter 1 to-2 inch lawn. Keeping grass cut short causes the roots to grow shallow, which exposes them to drier soil at the surface, so the grass then requires more frequent watering.
A taller lawn also helps to crowd out weeds, saving you additional dollars on weed-busting maintenance costs. When it comes to farming tall grasses I used to wonder how much does a bale of hay weigh? The answer is, it depends. The first bale of hay is light. The next 100 bales are a bit$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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Your Thoughts: Got any tips for saving some green on lawn care or share your frugal weeding ways.