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Cost of a Green Lawn

Jul 07, 2018 12:15PM ● By Jared Lawrence

Well it seems we skipped spring and headed straight into summer. So now is a great time to answer a question I was asked last fall: “What do I do when my neighbor doesn’t properly maintain their yard? E.g. not mowing frequently, not knowing different between grass, weeds, and shrubs, etc.”

Instead of answering the question, I would like to use this month’s column as an education piece on the “perfect lawn” that so many desire. As an Association Manager, I oversee thousands of homes and manage giant irrigation systems and lawn contracts. In addition, I handle the calls and emails when a blade of grass is out of place, or something isn’t just right. I am focused on educating my homeowners to be realistic when it comes to the perfect lawn.

I’ll admit, in our previous home, we had one of the greenest lawns, and were proud of it! But, it came at a cost. We used chemical fertilizers and weed preventers, we watered every other day - that beautiful green grass cost us upwards of $1,000 a year to maintain. While we were OK with that expense, not everyone sees it as a good use of money.

In addition to cost of the water, fertilizers, etc. this green lawn comes at a cost to the environment, too. Let’s be honest - using clean, filtered water to keep grass green, well that is a first world amenity. Using chemicals on the lawns that naturally run off into storm water ponds, lakes, and streams, choking out aquatic life and decreasing water quality. We only get one planet, and there is only so much water - and as a result more and more states and cities are restricting lawn watering. The trend is for organic food, so why not take the same approach for lawns, too?

There is a balance. I’m not advising that we all be OK with dead brown lawns, that certainly isn’t good for curb appeal or home values, and certainly doesn’t feel good under the feet. One option, and I hate to even mention it, is “astroturf” - which has come a long way, it’s not the same as what existed at the Brady Bunch house. At a recent visit to Lowe’s I saw an entire display of different varieties, various shades of green, and different lengths. But if a plastic lawn isn’t your thing, you can still keep green grass without the need for daily watering and numerous fertilizer treatments.

Grass is tough - it takes a beating, but more often than not, it comes back each year, even after our long, bitter winters. But by applying multiple fertilizers and watering as often as possible, we are spoon feeding our lawns, making them virtually incapable of surviving on their own. Most new homes have irrigation systems, which are a great tool, no more dragging hoses and sprinklers around. But, they also make it easy to over water. In reality, irrigation systems are designed to supplement rain water, not replace it. The more often you water your lawn, the less likely the grass roots are going to dig deeper to find moisture. Instead, the roots will remain short, staying close to the surface, because that is where the water and fertilizer end up.

Instead, focus on intentional watering, primarily during during the evening hours. Watering during the day is a waste of time, money and precious resources, as most of it is just evaporating in the hot summer sun. Our Association just implemented a watering restriction, no more than 2 days a week, and I for one am in favor of it. It is unnatural to have a perfectly plush green lawn during a dry spell in July or August. Instead, our irrigation systems will supplement, providing some water and nutrition to the lawns, but nothing like they are used to. This is OK, and the grass will adapt to the new norm, though it will take some time.

Now, as for the fertilizers, just as many want more organic options for their food, there are the same safe and organic options for your lawns, too. At home, we no longer use the likes of Trugreen, rather we opted for an organic approach. Research shows that synthetic fertilizers are like a drug for your lawn, and eventually you need more and more to get the same effects. The reality is, most of it is washing away rather than being absorbed by the lawn. The organic program we use has a variety of components, such as corn gluten meal as a pre-emergent for weeds and compost tea as a fertilizer. I’ll be honest, it’s more expensive, just like organic produce is more expensive, but, I feel better about putting it on my lawn, as it has no harmful effects to the environment, my pets, water runoff, etc.

I could truly talk all day about this, I am quite passionate about maintaining a healthy and attractive lawn, all while protecting our natural resources and environment as a whole. If you have tips or tricks, or feedback on what I discussed in this article, I welcome it.

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