The time that you spend in your yard depends on whether you consider it work or play, a responsibility or a joy. Almost all homeowners deal with lawns. Here’s how to reduce the maintenance required:
Designed for easy maintenance, a lawn can be a breeze to mow. It should have an even shape, mostly level, and free of trees and other obstacles.
Choose the right grass for your situation. If you live in USDA Climate Zone 5, 6, or 7, you will grow a cool season grass such as tall fescue, bluegrass, or a cool season blend. In USDA Climate Zones 7, 8, and 9, you can grow warm season grasses such as improved Bermuda, zoysia, centipede, or St. Augustine. Other factors influencing your decision may be how much sun your lawn receives, as well as the amount of wear the lawn will get from children and pets.
Balance your maintenance with your lifestyle. If you want a healthy lawn but don’t want to mow every few days, reduce your fertilizer applications to a minimal level to keep it green and growing. If your lawn has a daily ball game, you will need it to grow more vigorously, requiring increased fertility, mowing, and even aeration.
If you want to maximize the impact you get from a little color, place it in highly visible areas such as by your door, at the entrance to your drive, or in sight of your outdoor living area. If your have good soil and a place for a small bed, that is ideal. However, if your surfaces are paved, put your color in a pot(s). Select as big a pot as the area can hold and then fill it with annuals and perennials that are suited to the sun exposure it will receive.
If your home has an established landscape, the best thing you can do is to focus on the inevitable tasks indoors while mowing and maintaining outdoors the first season. This way you take full advantage of the assets you have inherited. Watch the pattern of the sun as the seasons change and the areas that are shaded. Watch the drainage and any problems that occur during heavy rains. Observe seasonal plantings such as bulbs and perennials, flowering trees and shrubs that will reveal themselves. Take snapshots that will help you remember when you plan changes. After the first year, you will have a better idea of what you have, as well as what you want in your new yard. If you want to make big changes or encounter problems such as drainage, ask a professional for advice.
Choosing the right plants is the key to reducing maintenance. If you have shrubs in constant need of pruning to prevent them from covering your windows, the best idea is to remove them. If possible, move them to an area where their mature size is an asset, such as an area where you would like to screen an undesirable view or add privacy. If insects, diseases, or winterkill are problems, remove those shrubs in favor of more hardy choices.
Always keep the mature size and seasonal features (flowers, fall color, berries, etc.) in mind when you plant. Space new plantings so that adjacent shrubs will touch, but not crowd each other as they mature. Also be sure to place new plants far enough from the foundation of your home that they have room to grow and sufficient water and sunlight.
A slope is not only difficult, but also dangerous to mow. It is all too easy to slip and seriously injure yourself. The best idea is to plant something besides turf on a slope.
Ground covers and low-growing shrubs planted like a ground cover require some investment of money, time, and patience, but the reward of mowing only the level ground will be worth the initial sacrifice. Space plants so they will touch in 2 to 3 years, and use a pre-emergence weed control and mulch to minimize any weed problems.
In some cases you can build a retaining wall to create level space where none existed before. This will have the added advantage of making your lot more usable for other purposes, in addition to making the mowing easier and safer.
In the south, warm season lawns may also experience freezing temperatures in the winter. Winter lawns can go dormant for 3 to 4 months, turning the color of parchment. Therefore, the best choices are improved Bermuda, centipede, zoysia, and St. Augustine. For lifelong residents, the sight of an even zoysia lawn in winter punctuated by evergreens such as boxwoods and camellias in bloom is pleasing to the eye, yet another change in the cycle of seasons. However, for newcomers expecting to be green year-round in the mild climate of the south, it can be a shock. If you live in the transition zone, basically USDA Climate Zone 7, you can grow either warm or cool season grasses. If the “brown” lawn bothers you, convert yours to a lawn of turf-type tall fescue, your best bet in this region. However, the problem may be the annual bluegrass, wild onions, dandelions, or other cool season weeds that can mar the even color of the dormant lawn. It may be easier and more affordable to simply control the weeds and readjust your aesthetic expectations.
When the third and fourth family vehicles arrive in the driveway, it is time to look at the overall design of vehicular circulation around your home. Adding a parking bay in the front doubles as guest parking while making it possible for all the members of the family to go and come independently. Consider adding this extra bay adjacent to the front walk, whether it leads to the street or to the driveway. While most guest parking bays are of the driveway on the side closest to the door, placing it on the opposite side of the driveway is an option if slope, trees, or other factors complicate your situation. If your street is busy enough to making backing onto the street a challenge, the extra bay also serves as a way to turn your car around and exit your home driving forward.
Patterns of light and dark green in the lawn are the fault of uneven fertilizer application. The best way to avoid the splotches of hand application or the stripes of a drop spreader is to use either a drop or rotary spreader. Apply half the fertilizer going back and forth across the lawn. Then apply the remaining half going up and down at right angles to the first application. A rotary spreader has an advantage because you can overlap the edge of one trip across the lawn with the previous one, further blurring the possibility of striping your lawn.
The reason crape myrtles fail to flower is too little direct sunlight. Contrary to popular belief, these trees do not need to be pruned to enhance flowering. If your tree is in a situation that receives filtered sunlight or no direct afternoon sun, consider moving it to a position better suited for flowering. They are tough trees and usually survive transplanting. The only pruning needed is to train them into statuesque trees by removing lower limbs, dead limbs, and any that grow inward or cross other branches.
Timing is critical for weed control. Pre-emergence weed control kills the germinating seeds that are plentiful in areas where weeds have prospered in the past. This is ideal for lawns and should be applied in late summer and again in late winter where weeds are persistent. Broadleaf weed control is effective in removing ground ivy, dandelions, and their ilk that are already growing in lawns. Products such as glyphosate will kill anything that is green, so be very careful of applying sprays on windy days. If you are pulling your weeds by hand, be sure to get them before they set more seeds and repopulate the garden for next year. After a season of conscientious weed control, your problem will be reduced to a more manageable level. Remember, always read labels carefully to be sure you have the right product to kill the weed and not your desirable plants. Also, wear all protective equipment recommended, and mix and apply the product only as directed.
It seems that we pay for the cool canopy of summer shade with hours spent raking in fall. The only way to make it easier is with machines and good timing. Always try to corral fallen leaves before rain turns them into a heavy mat. A bagging lawn mower is ideal for the lawn and even the driveway, grinding leaves into fine organic material that will quickly compost. A rake can break fragile plants in beds of ground covers and annual and perennial flowers. A leaf blower is the ideal way to get leaves from these hard-to-reach areas, as well as out of gutters and off the roof. If airborne mold spores aggravate your allergies, buy a respirator with replaceable filters. Wear this respirator anytime you apply pesticides, whether you have an allergy or not.