Go ahead, take a break. Lie in a hammock, have some iced tea, and watch your neighbor sweat over his lawn for a while. Your own lawn might thank you for it.
A beautiful lawn requires effort, but more effort doesn’t always equal better results. Sometimes the hard work that well-meaning homeowners put into their lawns accomplishes little—or even detracts from the health and beauty of the lawn. Here, seven lawn-care chores and choices that often are better skipped…
Don’t bother mowing low and close for beauty that rivals a putting green. Slightly taller grass is both easier and healthier. Mowing low might make your lawn look neat and trim when you first do it, but short grass collects less sunlight…has shallower roots…and casts less shade on surrounding soil, leading to more weed growth. Also, the shorter you cut your lawn, the easier it is to accidentally “scalp” it, cutting off more than one-third of its height during a mowing, which is extremely stressful and damaging to grass.
Lazy lawn-care solution: Most common, cool-season turf grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and tall fescue, are healthiest when allowed to grow to heights of two-and-a-half to three inches. That’s closer to the highest setting on most mowers than the lowest one. Warm-season turf grasses, such as Bermuda and zoysia, are healthiest at a shorter one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half inches—but still well above putting-green height.
Exceptions: Consider mowing your grass close to the low end of the height ranges described above during the very first and last mowings of the year. At the very start of the mowing season, this can help clear away plant debris that has accumulated on the lawn during the cold months. At the very end of the mowing season, this can reduce the odds that fungal diseases will develop in the lawn over the winter.
Don’t bother bagging grass clippings. Bagging deprives your lawn of the nutrients that the decaying clippings provide. And despite what some homeowners believe, leaving grass clippings on a lawn does not lead to problematic decaying plant matter, known as thatch. It’s true that thatch can inhibit necessary air circulation when it becomes thick, but grass clippings do not contribute significantly to thatch. It’s the roots, stems and lower shoots of grass that become thatch—grass clippings are the tops of the grass, which decompose quickly because they’re 80% to 85% water.
Lazy lawn-care solution: Mow with a mulching mower, which chops grass clippings into very small pieces designed to be left on lawns.
Don’t do your own mowing, and don’t hire a lawn guy—let a robot do it. Handing it off to a robot mower won’t just free up hours of your time, it likely will lead to a healthier, more beautiful lawn. Homeowners tend to mow only once a week, while the robots can be set to mow several times a week. Frequent mowings mean only a very small height of grass is removed on any mowing—among the most effective ways to have a lusher, healthier lawn.
Also, robot mowers travel a seemingly random path around the lawn, so unlike human-steered mowers, they don’t create lines or ruts along oft-traveled paths. And unlike human-steered mowers, they won’t miss a mowing if you’re busy one weekend…and they’re less likely to miss a mowing because of poor weather. Because they’re battery powered and quiet, they can beat the rain by mowing early in the day or even at night without disturbing neighbors.
Lazy lawn-care solution: Invest in a Cub Cadet XR3 Robotic Lawn Mower, the current state-of-the-art robot mulching mower. It’s durable, fast, effective and capable of trimming right up to the edges of lawns. As with a conventional mower, you might need to use an edge trimmer in tricky spots, such as where the lawn meets a fence. The mower is even equipped with built-in rain sensors and will self-dock when it needs to be recharged, which takes as little as 90 minutes. It costs $2,399 to $3,299 but will save you many hours of mowing every year…or save you big if you hire someone to mow. Note: Some set-up time is required, such as time to install a perimeter wire so that the mower knows where not to mow. And although it can handle grades of as much as 20 degrees, very steep slopes can be problematic…as can holes in the yard.
Don’t bother struggling to grow grass in shady spots. Those efforts likely are doomed unless you’re willing to invest significant time. You might be able to rescue the troubled section of grass beneath the dense canopy of a deciduous tree if you fertilize that area in the spring before the leaves return to the tree and in the fall after the leaves have fallen off. But even if you make this special effort every year, this section of lawn probably will never look as good as the rest.
Lazy lawn-care solution: Give up on this grass, and replace it with a mulch bed. Add perennial plants that thrive in low-sunlight conditions in your area—a local nursery can recommend these.
Don’t try to give your lawn a boost with an extra application of fertilizer.
Homeowners who believe that they can help their grass grow by adding an extra fertilization to those recommended on the fertilizer’s packaging are half right. The extra fertilizer will give the lawn a growth spurt—but that rapid growth usually causes homeowners to cut off more than one-third of its height during subsequent mowings. As noted above, that’s extremely stressful and damaging to grass, increasing the risk for weeds and disease. In the end, overfertilizing isn’t just worse than applying the right amount of fertilizer—it’s worse than not fertilizing at all. And if you greatly exceed the recommended amounts, you could “burn” the lawn, leaving it brown and dehydrated.
Lazy lawn-care solution: Choose a slow-release fertilizer designed to be applied only once or twice each year. Never exceed the schedule printed on the packaging. Example: A single feeding of Scotts Turf Builder UltraFeed lasts for a full six-month growing season ($29.99 for a 20-pound bag, which is sufficient to cover a 4,000-square-foot lawn).
Don’t bother watering every day. You’re more likely to damage your lawn by overwatering than underwatering. It can leach away previously applied fertilizer…encourage weed growth…lead to lawn diseases…and cause excessive lawn growth that increases the odds of scalping. Underwatering is less likely to do serious lasting damage to a mature lawn, except in extreme drought conditions.
Lazy lawn-care solution: Buy a soil moisture sensor for about $10 in a home-and-garden center. Don’t bother watering unless this sensor says that your lawn is truly dry and the forecast says that no rain is on the way.
Don’t bother applying insecticides (usually). The insects on your lawn probably aren’t hurting it. There are more than 100,000 insect species in the US, and only about 100 of them cause problems for lawns. In fact, many insects are beneficial to lawns, including ladybugs and certain beetles. And even insects that can cause damage, such as grubs and aphids, generally are a problem only in great numbers. Example: Unless you peel back a section of lawn and find more than six grubs or so per square foot, your lawn likely is just fine.
Pesticides that kill harmful insects are likely to kill helpful ones as well, and they could be unhealthy for pets and kids who spend time in the yard.
Lazy lawn-care solution: Ask neighbors who take good care of their lawns whether the lawns have had any insect issues lately. Insect problems tend to affect neighborhoods, not just individual properties, so if these lawn-conscious neighbors don’t report issues, you probably don’t have them either. If these neighbors say that they’ve had their lawns sprayed for a pest and you see signs of similar damage to your lawn, such as irregularly shaped sections of dying grass, it could be worth applying an appropriate pesticide or calling a lawn-care pro to do so.