The Low Maintenance Lawn

With a little planning, you can have a great looking yard with minimal, easy lawn maintenance. Learn about diversifying your lawn, xeriscaping and natural lawn pest control.

| June/July 2001

  • Easy Lawn
    Replace resource-hungry alien grasses with low-maintenance varieties to reduce the the amount of work you do in your yard.
    Photo courtesy RICK WETHERBEE
  • Low Maintenance Lawn
    Diversifying the plants in your yard is one of the keys to having a low-maintenance lawn.
    Illustration courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

  • Easy Lawn
  • Low Maintenance Lawn

For many people, lawn maintenance is a laborious chore. Every weekend finds us trudging to the garage and fighting to start our reluctant, gas-powered rotary mower. Then we push the snarling little demon over wet, slippery grass, never minding the half-inch thick cutter blade whirling at 2500 rpm just inches from our tender toes.

Why do we do it? And how can we stop doing it? A low-maintenance lawn is easier to achieve than you think.

Principles of the Carefree Lawn

There are five guiding principles for lawnkeeping in contemporary landscaping that we should all strive to attain.

  1. Reduce the amount of land covered by sod grass to the minimum that you genuinely need or that is required by local norms, neighborhood expectations or ordinances.
  2. Supplant or replace resource-hungry alien grasses, other ornamental species and even food-garden cultivars with low-maintenance varieties. Choose those that are native or otherwise suited to your own land, water availability and climate.
  3. Restrict alien plants to independent plots that can be supplied selectively with soil, extra water or other special requirements as needed.
  4. Plan your landscape so that it is self-tending or can be managed with the smallest possible electric or hand-powered tools.
  5. Adopt resource-conserving land-management practices.

Minimizing turf area is not easy to do if your place is in a town or a suburban area of expansive lawns. Some municipalities have ordinances requiring lawns around homes, and status-conscious, lawn-valuing neighbors can exert pressure against nonconformists. Also, a strong, self-regenerating blanket of low-maintenance grass suitable to the climate is the best surface for children and pets to romp on.

The Lawn of Compromise

When we left our remote farm and moved to a small college town in central New England, the oil crisis of the 70's was well under way, promising to raise prices to $5 a gallon. This greatly reduced our forays into town, and certainly made me think twice before pouring precious fuel into the mower's gas tank.

We took our lawn-keeping cues from Mrs. White, a retired teacher who lived down the way in a small Colonial home with a large maple tree out front. Her side yards were thick with flowering hedges — natural fences — including self-tending lilacs, honeysuckle and spirea. These hedges were partitioned by narrow pathways of flat stone laid in deep sand. The strip of grass between street curb and sidewalk (known in some parts of the country as a "parkway" or "boulevard") plus her postage stamp-size front yard was all the sod Mrs. White had. She mowed it diligently every Sunday after church wearing a long house dress and sensible shoes.


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