Ah, spring: Sun-dappled mornings, budding flowers and the ear-splitting cacophony of lawn care workers swarming through the streets, at least in a lot of places here in Florida anyway.
Luckily in my new neighborhood, everyone parks their pickup trucks on their lawn and mows the grass around it themselves. In a way, it’s much more civilized than a neighborhood with an overbearing homeowners association — lawn care is usually done on an evening after work, in pajamas or boxer shorts in some cases.
And yet, the temptation remains: Should I pay for this chore in time and effort or lie down indoors in the air conditioning while someone else mows my lawn? For the low cost of just $75 per month, my roommate has been maintaining the grounds once per week. It’s kind of a deal in that a professional service could charge up to $100 to $140 per month, according to CostOwl.com.
DIY lawn care could add up to even heftier savings. As part of Bankrate’s yearlong experiment in saving money, I mowed my own lawn. See if I held on to some cash.
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DIY lawn care do’s and don’ts
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Lawn care can present a steep learning curve to newbie homeowners. You may wonder: How hard can it be to sprinkle some water around and shove a mower around the yard? A little hard, actually. To avoid mowing and other lawn-related mishaps, there are some basic rules that should be followed.
Don’t: Overwater. “A healthy lawn needs 1 inch of moisture per week, whether that is from Mother Nature or irrigation. Watering mistakes often include overwatering, which increases disease,” says John Buechner, director of technical services for Lawn Doctor.
Don’t: Cut too much. “Mowing should follow the one-third rule, never cutting off more than one-third of the length of the grass blade. The height of cut is determined by the type of grass. Warm-season grasses are normally maintained at 2.5 inches, while cool-season lawns are cut at 3.5 inches,” Buechner says.
Do: Mow frequently. “While frequency changes throughout the year, don’t wait too long in between mowing intervals,” says Kirk Hurto, Ph.D., chief scientist and vice president of technical services at TruGreen. “Not only does it make the job harder, it isn’t healthy for your lawn. Mow grass as needed and not as a scheduled weekly chore.”
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First up: Growing the grass
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The natural flora in South Florida runs toward short, scrubby bushes. Many native plants also love oppressive sunlight and being flooded and then starved for water in turns. Instead of plants, yards are typically full of grass, which may need a little help to grow.
The easiest way to feed the lawn is simply by not cleaning up after mowing.
Lawn clippings are actually good for your lawn, Hurto says.
“Rather than bagging grass clippings when you mow, recycle the clippings back into the soil,” he says.
This can reduce the amount of fertilizer that your lawn requires, according to Grounds-Mag.com, a website for golf and green industry professionals. Leaving grass clippings on the grass can add up to 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet and reduce fertilizer needs by 25 to 35 percent.
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Next thought: Fertilizer?
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Fertilizing is a whole other can of worms that somebody has to pay for. Plus, it’s fraught with peril.
“Fertilizing at the incorrect rate or the incorrect time of year for your type of grass can seriously damage your lawn,” TruGreen’s Hurto says.
A quick check at the closest big hardware store reveals a range of costs and options for lawn fertilizer. The organic options narrow the choices, but it’s still a little baffling. About $23 will cover 4,000 square feet, while $13 covers about 2,500 square feet.
I chose a slow-release organic option to try out through spring. An 8-pound bag cost $11, and I purchased it in the hope that it would be just efficient enough to not be a waste of money.
As I left the store, I noted that it is about three times the cost of the other fertilizer options because they come in 36-pound and 30-pound bags. Then I realized why it’s so hard to save money: poor choices. I also realized I don’t care about fertilizing my lawn and returned it. Good thing I plan to leave the clippings strewn around the yard.
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I did it, but …
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Not feeling too confident about this whole process, I figured I could just take a little off the top and call it a day. Complicating things, the lawn mower has a cord. Electric seemed like the way to go, but in practice it’s a little terrifying to imagine a worst-case scenario.
But I digress. I did it; I mowed the lawn. It was hot; there were bugs. That pretty much sums up every outdoor activity in Florida. And then I went inside. That part was worth $75.
For now, I’ll keep doing it to save money, but I may consider replacing my lawn with low-maintenance rocks and dirt.