Organic Lawn Care for the Cheap and Lazy
July 20, 2014 7:35 PM   Subscribe

Organic Lawn Care for the Cheap and Lazy : What it says on the tin.
posted by bq (43 comments total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
[this is good]
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:53 PM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

This page is a classic, which has governed my thinking about lawn matters for years. Nice to see it on the blue!
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:55 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

This whole website is great. I just read the page on cast iron.
posted by postcommunism at 8:51 PM on July 20, 2014

I thought this was going to be about hiring goats to take care of the yard.

I set my standards of laziness a little higher. Fertilizer? Watering? Mowing *before* you get a threatening letter from city hall? Feh.
posted by Foosnark at 9:22 PM on July 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

Blacktop. Asphalt over the whole f'ing thing.

This message brought to you by the Pave the Earth Society.
posted by sourcequench at 9:37 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Clover isn't necessarily a bad thing to have in your lawn due to the nitrogen fixing. Bees also like the flowers.
posted by pashdown at 9:55 PM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Clover isn't necessarily a bad thing to have in your lawn due to the nitrogen fixing. Bees also like the flowers.

Having a yard like this growing up, it does make one think like a minimum of twice before setting barefoot in your own yard. Too many bees... too many bees.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:21 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Amazon reviews for his favourite cordless electric mower (discontinued by manufacturer) are pretty entertaining.
posted by effbot at 10:50 PM on July 20, 2014

Blacktop. Asphalt over the whole f'ing thing.

Permeable paving, please.
posted by madajb at 10:53 PM on July 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

The trick is to set the mower as low as it will go at the beginning of summer, mow like 3 times in a row and the shrug and act stupid when the neighbors ask why your lawn's all brown.
posted by mcrandello at 11:04 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've been "mowing high" for a couple of years now. I also mulch-mowed, at least until my mulcher mower was stolen. Last year was pretty difficult with an extended drought but my lawn never went brown, and I've gradually been getting more grass in the front yard under the heavy shade of two lindens. I actually have a custom setting for nearly each part of the four properties (three rentals) that I mow -- 3" being the standard, 4" for that shady yard, 5" for some side yards, and 6" for the backiest of all back yards because nobody will complain if it gets too high and sometimes I let it get near the legal max in our city. Anyway, without doing a weed and feed at all last year, partly because of the drought and heat, I still have very, very few weeds. A fair number of clover and violet patches, to be sure.

Anyway, the main thing that I got out of reading up on lawns with a couple of books is that almost everyone cuts their lawn too low and fertilizes way too much. You end up with weak grass plants that can't resist disease or outgrow weeds and have poor root depth, leading to other problems like summer dormancy (when it's brown, but not quite dead; in northern climes most people plant a "cool season grass" which means it's growing even in winter as long as it isn't covered over by snow). Healthier grass will break up the soil better and self-aerate. The one thing you still have to attack with chemicals (or very tedious handwork) is stuff like crabgrass (use a pre-emergent at just the right time, which happens to be when fuchsia are in bloom in your area) and quackgrass (which is too close genetically to regular lawn grass to kill with a targeted herbicide). Anyway, the end result should actually be less work for you -- no juicing the lawn with feed and then having to cut it sixteen times in the next week, for instance.
posted by dhartung at 12:05 AM on July 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was hoping this page might tell me how to avoid the lawnmower altogether.
posted by Enki at 12:05 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

StaySharp Reel Mower

Pricey, but the burst of power made it worth it to me.
posted by dragonsi55 at 1:43 AM on July 21, 2014

Got rid of our silly little lawn two years ago. Paved over part of it with brick and turned the rest into a flower garden. I do not miss mowing.
posted by octothorpe at 3:41 AM on July 21, 2014

That Fiskars Reel Mower looks interesting. I had a Scotts 20" clone that was finely tuned and sharpened, but it was just useless on lush, high grass.
posted by klarck at 4:43 AM on July 21, 2014


Lawn care for the cheaper and lazier, crazylegs style:

1 - Purchase a reel mower, the kind with no motor.

2 - Run it over your grass once every two weeks.

3 - Done.
posted by crazylegs at 4:44 AM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Lawn care for the cheaper and lazier

Law care for the even cheaper and lazier:

1. Get a goat or two.

Lawn care for the cheapest and laziest:

1. Don't care about your lawn.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:30 AM on July 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Overseed with clover. This ties up all the nitrogen, starving everything else out. Grass is for losers.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:41 AM on July 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've been trying to convince the lady up the street to let her grass grow longer before mowing it. We live in the city, so it's just the strip between the sidewalk and the street, but she insists on mowing it to golf course height as soon as it gets about an inch long. But she's a fussy retired lady and I'm a 30-something dude, so my opinions on gardening are rejected out of hand.

I've literally seen her seed in the spring, let the new seedlings grow for about two weeks, then mow them down as they're longer than the lowest setting on her mower.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 5:44 AM on July 21, 2014

Our back yard has looked like crap since we moved in. Every year I tried to add more grass, only to see the baby seedlings get scorched by the summer sun (for some damn reason it's gone from cool and damp to blisteringly hot and dry overnight, two years in a row,must as we've left town for a trip...). This year I bought a pound of white clover seeds and scattered them all over. The lawn is green, a nice mix of grass and clover, and the weeds seem to be getting crowded out. Clover seed is cheap. It fertilizes your lawn. Monocultures are unnatural. If you don't pick the invaders, the weeds will pick for you. Get some clover. You know, the stuff that used to be added to grass seed as a matter of course, on purpose, because it's good for your lawn. Bonus: when it gets hot and dry, clover stays green. And it shades the grass to help retain moisture. Plus, bees. They need the help. May have nothing to do with anything, but more flowers in the yard gave us more bees, and the squash we planted is actually giving us fruit, where last year we got flowers but not one single squash. I'm crediting the clover for bringing in more pollinators.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:52 AM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Substantial movement in SF Bay area to get rid of lawns. Yay! Guy down my street has a black-plastic-with-boards front yard now. I grow very envious when my lawn mowing comes again, which is not too often because I don't water or weed the damn thing. We are planning to eliminate most of our lawn now, to be replaced with a "dry climate" garden.

Conversely, some of the older retirees in my nayb are completely obsessed with their lawns looking perfect, mowed to within an centimeter of their lives every two weeks, regular fertilizer and automatic sprinkler systems....this in a severe drought.
posted by telstar at 5:53 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is pretty great, though his rationale for avoiding commercial fertilizers makes me winder about the relative ease of getting a Master Gardener cert versus, say, an ag degree of some kind. His argument is that commercial fertilizers have salt, and back in the day, people would salt fields of their enemies because salt kills living things. But salt (NaCl) is not the only kind of salt there is, nor is it the kind of salt that the fertilizer you buy for lawn care will have. A salt is a way to get N/K/P into a water soluble and accessible to plant form. Too much will harm a plant as plants won't be able to take it up, but the idea that fertilizers are like salting the fields of your enemy is totally stupid. He's also off base about stoking the terrors of using a herbicide, but I have fewer problems with that position, since all herbicides have knock on effects, need to be used with knowledge and care, and some might pose unknown risks (meaning there is lots of debate on the harm / danger, and that debate is muddled since all the research is directly conducted by ag companies or at least indirectly sponsored...).

But mow high with deep good soil is good advice.

Alternatively, you can do as my friend in Ottawa has done, which is to "restore the native tall grass prairie to a small patch of the Ottawa valley" (i.e. his small front yard). opinions onthis among his neighbours are divided....
posted by bumpkin at 5:54 AM on July 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I will say that one of the issues with a reel mower and "mowing high" is that if you don't mow every week, your lawn can get too high for the mower to cut. If I could do it again, I would probably go for an electric mower instead of a reel mower so it would be a bimonthly chore instead of a weekly one.
posted by longdaysjourney at 6:41 AM on July 21, 2014

I will vouch for the Fiskars mower...I've been mowing my parents' and my grandma's lawns this year, set up high (even the zoysia!) and they've both said it's the best their lawns have looked in years. All the neighbors look askance, but I can cut at 7am when it's still cool and not wake them up; plus you can't argue with results.
posted by notsnot at 7:26 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

TIL [1]: That "hugelkultur" is a thing. An interesting thing at that.

If one day I have a garden...

[1] "Today I Learned."
posted by seyirci at 7:26 AM on July 21, 2014

I have goats. Goats don't eat grass unless they are starving. They also don't eat clover, dandelions (though they will try them) or any other regular weed except plantain, so using a goat will NOT work they are way pickier than most people realize.

As for a lawn and maintenance grass is from hell and does NOTHING good for anything it is the worst mono-crop IMHO and I hate it fight grass with plants that are nice and give back like clover, dandelion and plantain.
posted by mrgroweler at 7:30 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

That Fiskars Reel Mower looks interesting.

It is, like most Fiskars products, AWESOME. Best mower I ever used. Sturdy, auto sharpening, effortless (unless the grass was too long) and just a joy to use.

I sold it though, and moved to the high desert. The house we just bought has a lawn (irrigated with tap water no less!) but we will be Xeriscaping next spring.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:39 AM on July 21, 2014

As someone who just bought heir first house in January and suddenly has a yard, this is awesome. I wish there were an up to date recommendation for a cordless electric mower, though... we bought one of the Lowes brand Kobalt battery powered ones, which looks to be a reskinned/white label version of the 19" Green works, and loved it for all 3 uses until the battery packs stopped seating correctly and the damn thing wouldn't start anymore. Returned it yesterday, but Lowes recommended not exchanging it because it's a recurrent issue. Internet says the same; "maybe they'll get it figured out for next year's model." In the meantime, our grass creeps up above 6", and I have a decision to make. We don't want gas, we're lazy, and we like buying things that last. Should I get the Fiskars manual? A corded electric? Seems like either will be a disappointment in comparison, from a functionality standpoint.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:57 AM on July 21, 2014

This is great! My neighborhood has opted almost entirely for the brown lawn of Summer since the pesticide ban. I think clover might be a nicer option.

You may enjoy the doc "lawn and order" from Back Alley Films. Its about the extent people will go for their lawn care obsession -- including hiring people to spray paint your drought starved lawn green biweekly--and is quite hilarious. Sadly there doesn't seem to be a trailer online.
posted by chapps at 8:16 AM on July 21, 2014

Maybe it's somewhat of a derail, but does anyone here have experience with EcoLawn? I've found out about it recently, and the idea of replacing what grass I actually might want to keep with something like this is appealing.
posted by evilangela at 8:47 AM on July 21, 2014

Nth-ing the Fiskars reel mower. I've been using mine for four years now, and it still works great, and I get to mow without earmuffs, and I can muscle it around without fearing the blades, and I can let the kids push it around every now and then. I do worry that some day the blades will dull, but I take care of them and it hasn't been a problem so far.

Three things, though:
It hates sticks, so I have to pick them all up before I mow.
If the grass gets too long, it will press it down more than a powered mower.
That big open front means that you have to be much more careful around other plants and suchlike, because it'll hoover them right in.
posted by Etrigan at 8:56 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

mrgroweler: using a goat will NOT work they are way pickier than most people realize.

Amen to that! I once took a plate of leftovers out to three goats. The billy went first (natch), and ate only one thing. The big nanny got in second, and ate two things. The dwarf nanny ate something else, but left the broccoli (IIRC, some vegetable).

NONE of them would eat the remaining veg! WTF, "herbivore" goats? Picky buggers.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:58 AM on July 21, 2014

This whole website is great. I just read the page on cast iron.

You got that right. I just bought a complete set of cast iron cookware on his recommendation. Intellectually, I'm not sure I agree with his arguments for cast iron's superiority, but I love it when people geek out over stuff like this.

I became a wet shave aficionado for exactly the same reasons
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:04 AM on July 21, 2014

Re: EcoLawn

This stuff works as long as you get the variety tuned for your locale. And then use as directed.

That means your first month or so, you are watering. A lot. You can't let it dry out at all while it is germinating. It is a pretty good mix of various grass like plants that help each other crowd other things out. Don't mix more than one part white clover to 10 parts grass with it, as the clover will pretty much crowd it out.

The nice thing about EcoLawn is that once established, you never have to mow if you don't want.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:17 AM on July 21, 2014

Reel mowers are a joke if you have any decent sized piece of property to mow, and/or any sort of uneven lawn.
posted by stenseng at 10:01 AM on July 21, 2014

This was great. So far my approach to lawn care has been to mow occasionally and move house regularly, but our new weedy lawn will benefit from some care.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:18 AM on July 21, 2014

I can give first hand account: goats will nibble on grasses, mainly they want leaves and bushes. But they will trample the grass down a bit so it kind of seems mowed. This is bullshit, total bullshit, believe me brothers and sisters this person is not lazy. Here is lazy: buy goats, let them trample the lawn and eat the bushes and leaves. Their poop will help new stuff grow. My lawn has daisies, thistles, all kinds of good shit. No machines near it ever.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:40 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lawn care for the ultra-lazy: Move into an apartment where someone else cares for the lawn.

But seriously, try the clover. Lady at the garden center didn't know what it was for, or why I wanted it. She seemed interested when I told her. It was so cheap maybe I'll get another couple bags and do the front lawn next year.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:24 AM on July 21, 2014

Seconding bumpkin, the misinformation about "salt" is really off-putting.
posted by exogenous at 11:31 AM on July 21, 2014

I replaced the lawn with beds and gravel. The "beds" don't really have all that many plants in them, because plants take watering and generally require work, but I've found that if you have mulch down (only have to do it every year, sometimes less), people will just accept that many there aren't any flowers sprouting at that particular moment in the season and move their picky neighbor property-values-obsessing eyes onward to other things.

So yeah, mulch and gravel. Doesn't require mowing, drains pretty well, doesn't use water... win.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:22 PM on July 21, 2014

mrgroweler: "I have goats. Goats don't eat grass unless they are starving. They also don't eat clover, dandelions (though they will try them) or any other regular weed except plantain, so using a goat will NOT work they are way pickier than most people realize."

Is this a YGMV kind of thing? This paper says that Angora and cashmere goats consumed more than 80% of their diet as green grass and there are several Rent-A-Goat businesses targeted at grassy areas around here.
posted by Mitheral at 5:35 PM on July 21, 2014

If those rent-a-goat businesses are basically starving their goats so that they'll eat whatever someone's property happens to have on it, I'm going to be really depressed.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:47 PM on July 21, 2014

There's a guy a few blocks over that has solved this problem by placing a large blue tarp over his entire lawn. At first I thought it was to kill off the existing grass so he could start fresh, but it's been there for going on 4 years.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 10:47 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

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