Lawns for Less

by Deana Ricks


Our family used to live in Arizona and our home in the desert made us very appreciative of something most folks take for granted - a lush, green lawn. Like many transplanted mid-westerners, we grew a small patch of grass in front of our desert home, but supplying the water to keep it alive became an expensive chore. We learned very quickly how to cut costs in lawn care.

Less is more. The smaller the lawn, the less it will cost to maintain. Trade a large carpet of green for a smaller lawn with larger flower beds. The beds will add color and dimension to your yard and make the lawn more impressive. And fill those beds with hardy, drought tolerant bushes, ground cover and flowers. Avoid thirsty plants that require high maintenance. You'll save on water, use less fertilizers and pest controls, and spend less time working on the yard.

Water efficiently. Water is a lawn's most expensive component. In most cities, yard maintenance accounts for 40-60% of the water used annually.

Early morning is the best time to water the lawn. After about 10 am, heat steals moisture from the yard through evaporation. Mid-day and evening watering can actually damage your lawn. Hot mid-day sunlight is magnified through droplets of water and scalds the grass. Moist grass at night, easily develops disease.

Water the lawn only when it needs moisture. To test whether your lawn needs watering, take a walk on the grass. If it springs back, you don't need to water. If it stays flat, it's time to water again.

When you do water the lawn, give it a good soak, not just a sprinkle. A soaking will encourage deep root growth. But how much water is enough? Experts say about one inch of water will do the trick. Set out an empty tuna can in the area you're watering. When the can is full, the watering is done. According to the American Water Works Association, 85% of all landscape problems are directly related to overwatering.

Mow better lawns. The least expensive way to mow your grass is with a goat. But I don't know if you really want a farm animal grazing through the neighborhood. Push mowers are also inexpensive, but most people use a gas or electric mower. Whatever equipment you choose, be sure to maintain it well. This will yield a longer life and fewer repairs. If your mower or string trimmer should need parts or die altogether, shop for a replacement at a garage sale.

Mow your lawn once a week. Try to cut off no more than 1/3 of the grass blade at a time or around 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch. Longer grass blades shield one another from the heat and hold moisture longer. If you mow shorter than this the grass will be "shocked" and turn yellow. Adjust your lawn mower blade to a higher setting to get the best results.

Growing green. Lawns will require fertilizer to stay green. Shop around for the best bargain on fertilizer and use it only according to directions. Too much fertilizer is wasteful and will give the grass a nasty chemical burn.

It is recommended that lawns have regular aeration for healthy growth. Aeration is simply forcing air into the soil and there are several methods to do this. However the most frugal is to wear golf shoes while mowing. The shoe spikes will make hundreds of holes across the lawn that allow the air to come in and break up clay soils.

Beautiful lawns don't have to be expensive. Using these tips, you can grow some green and save some too.


Angie Zalewski and Deana Ricks are co-founders of the Frugal Family Network, Inc. They publish a popular thrift newsletter to help people live contentedly within their means and present workshops on stretching the family dollar.

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