The Lawn

We have a corner lot and a big lawn.  We get nasty letters from the HOA from time to time.

In the past we’ve had a full-service lawn company (until we moved in ourselves– they were super expensive), mowers every 2 weeks, mowers every week, DH using the manual mower (big muscles!), DH using the gas mower…

We started out with one kind of grass, but now the Bermuda has moved in.  That means it has to be mowed once a week or the Bermuda heads start showing.  And the manual push mower doesn’t get the stupid Bermuda head seeds.

Drought has also done a number on our lawn, killing shade trees and trees that were meant to become shade trees.

DH now doesn’t have enough time to work as much as he wants, spend as much time with his family as he wants, and take care of the yard.  And taking care of the yard used to be a family affair, but as the years have gone by, my grass allergies have gotten so bad that I really just can’t.  I’ve tried, but even the smallest touch of grass (and many other green things) results in major hives.  I’m not much help.

We got a recommendation for a new lawn person.  He quoted $500 for a full yard cleanup (which it needs– bushes need trimming, flower beds need weeding and mulching) and $50/week for mowing and edging.  $50/week is a bit high, even for our massive lawn.  When he was talking to DH he said that would include weed maintenance in the flowerbeds, which might make it reasonable, but he didn’t write that on the estimate form.

We spent literally hundreds of dollars every month in the summer to keep the lawn watered and it still doesn’t do great.  DH spends hours every month fixing and replacing sprinkler heads.  We’ve called around and can’t find a sprinkler place that does drip irrigation.  They say the soil here makes it wrong, or something.  But that can’t be true because the city nearby has the same soil and there are people there who do drip irrigation.

It may be time to seriously consider xeriscaping.  We have a couple recommended xeriscapers in town (we called into the local gardening radio show to ask!).  It’s possible that xeriscaping the lawn would pay for itself pretty quickly given the costs of yard clean-up, mowing, and watering.  I don’t know.  Problems:  1. The HOA may not approve.  2.  We may still be stuck with a weeding nightmare because the weeds here are insane.  3.  We’re kind of on a hill (very small hill) which means the lawn isn’t conducive to just being paved over.  (DH has always wanted plaza.)  4.  If we ever move or go on sabbatical, the xeriscaped lawn might be a liability (and we’ll have a hard time pulling it out and replacing it with sod after all the expense of putting it in).  5.  $$$.  (I’m not sure how much, but it sounds like a lot!)  There are very few xeriscaped lots in our town and they’re mostly small (not corner) lots with lots of mature trees providing huge shade cover.

Anyway, I don’t know what to do.  The lawn is a huge hassle.  We hate it.  We hate taking care of it.  We hate paying people to accidentally mow down our bushes and trees and then over-charge us for the privilege of doing so.  We’re worried about the expense and outcome and time spent trying to re-design everything.  *Sigh*.

So, that’s my lawn rant.  Thoughts?


40 Responses to “The Lawn”

  1. plantingourpennies Says:

    As long as you can get the HOA approval, I definitely vote xeriscaping (though my real vote is no HOA, but that kid of coup might be even more expensive). That’s what I grew up with and love it. I don’t like pavers, though. Drainage gets all screwed up and I end up singing a constant refrain of Joni Mitchell singing Big Yellow Taxi every time I see a yard largely paved over.

    Quicker and possibly cheaper in the short term… can you get quotes from all the landscapers that do your immediate neighbors’ yards? They would likely give you a slightly cheaper rate since there will be no additional travel time and they can have the crew kill two birds with one stone.

  2. Mina Says:

    I hear your rant and add mine. I grew up in a communist city full of blocks of flats and two trees. My house now has a big back yard and I have no idea what the heck to do with it! My husband has been waging an endless war on sodding weeds – honestly, whoever says dandelions are NICE is welcome to eat them off both my front and back yard. Now we’ve got muscaris, ooo, nice little blue bells, until BAM, they’re all over the yard, in the flower beds, and killing my up-to-now-looking-alright-ish lawn. I hate deweeding with the fiery passion of a thousands suns. My black thumbs also do not help much in the process of making a decent garden out of the jungle we’ve got. And peppermint, I used to like you, until you popped up everysoddingwhere! And those bulbs and roots! Oh MY… Paying for someone to come do it for us involves loss of limbs or internal organs or choosing between college for children or lawn, and such, so we have to sort it out ourselves.

    So there. I can understand your plight, I can’t possible give you any decent advice, but truly hope you find the best solution you need. Xeriscaping sounds interesting. Best of luck to you! *mumble-mumble them weeds mumble*

    (another rant: I can’t even be the crazy lady yelling gerroffmelawn to kids, because there is no lawn to speak of, darn it! There is moss, dandelions, ferns, random weeds, but not much grass on my front lawn… GAH. And the front lawn is on the north side, and the oak tree does not nurture grass growing. End rant. Actually, the rant is not ended, I have just stopped writing. The rant goes on in my head. :-))

  3. Contingent Cassandra Says:

    Another vote for xeriscaping (or some variety of natural/habitat landscaping) but/and no (more) paving, especially since you live on a hill. Paving sends more water off the lot and into the local streams via the storm drains, which sounds like exactly what’s supposed to happen, and is from an engineering perspective, but is exactly the wrong thing from an ecological perspective: streams are really meant to be fed mostly by gradual seepage from water infiltrated into the ground more or less where it falls, and piping a lot of water in results in erosion, sedimentation problems downstream, etc., etc. Ecologically responsible water handling involves each homeowner trying to get as close as possible to the natural situation: rain drops that fall on your land infiltrate into the soil on your land. I know this may sound like a strange thing to worry about in the middle of a drought, but the basic principle holds however little or much rain you get. To learn a bit more about one approach that works in most areas (though with varying degrees of difficulty/engineering), and that represents a non-lawn alternative, google “rain gardens.”

    As far as lawn replacement options go, I recommend reading Sara Stein’s book _Noah’s Garden_, first, to give you some background information and vocabulary, then contacting the National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Habitat program and/or your local native plant society for advice and possible contractor recommendations. “Xeriscaping” can mean a lot of things, from landscaping with locally-adapted native plants that have the best chance of thriving in your local conditions, periodic droughts and all, and will also provide habitat for local species, to a much more generic, one-size-fits-all approach, often using non-native plants, that not only won’t provide the same ecological benefits, but also won’t work as well (there really is a lot to be said for growing plants that belong in your physiographic region, arranged ways that say “garden” rather than “mess” to a HOA; neatly-defined edges are also a major help, so invest in some sort of edging/transition. Also, if you use native plants, you will have the native plant society, and possibly even laws they’ve lobbied to pass, on your side).

    As far as appealing to renters or potential buyers goes: most people will be satisfied with a relatively small lawn area, usually situated close to the house, with tree/shrub/perennial beds toward the perimeter. You might well be able to get the size down to something manageable with the push mower (or even go to permeable paving of some sort instead of lawn). You may also want to start experimenting with more natural landscaping toward the back and side at first, leaving the front with a more traditional look. Doing it in stages would also be easier on the budget, and would allow you to determine whether you’re happy with the results of a contractor’s work before paying him/her too much. Any responsible landscape designer/contractor should be happy to help you design a phased plan. Of course, you’ll still have the lawn issue in the interim.

    • Contingent Cassandra Says:

      Oh, and one more thought: any chance your university has a major — landscape design, environmental studies, or something allied — that might have students who would like to take on the design and planting phases as a project, and/or a summer job? Sustainability is big on many campuses these days. You do want people with some practical experience, but that might be a cheaper (and easier to defend to HOA) way to go. And if they really mess up, you do always have the sod-it-over option (less painful if you didn’t spend so much in the first place).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ah, but there’s already a lot of run-off from sprinklers. Our local stream is clogged with algae because everyone (but us) fertilizes their lawn.

      • Contingent Cassandra Says:

        Not surprising. Lawn is not very effective at infiltrating water (one step better than pavement, but just, especially if you’re in a relatively new development where the builders scraped off the topsoil before building, then just laid down sod. I was shocked at how poor the soil in the yard of a friend’s newly-bought 20+-year-old development house was when I helped her start establishing gardens where there had been lawn. Nothing at all like the soil in the yard of the nearby 100-year-old farmhouse where I grew up (and we’re not known for good soil ’round here — mostly, it’s clay). But clay soil and clay subsoil are two very different things).

        One more thought: maybe your serious allergies to the lawn could be one more argument in support of change (to the HOA and anyone else who needs to be convinced)?

  4. OMDG Says:

    Do you use your lawn for play/other activities? If so, xeriscaping sounds less appealing (also wikipedia said it might attract rattlesnakes, black widows and coyotes — yikes!). If not, it seems more ecologically friendly and possibly quite aesthetically pleasing as well. I am so glad we don’t have a lawn to mow. I can barely handle the minimal amount of time my garden requires.

    Oh! One other thought: Perhaps you can put a large garden in one area planted with low maintenance plants, reducing the size of the lawn to be mowed? We have daylilies which fight weeds, are pretty, and are basically impossible to kill. Not sure they’d do well where you live though.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Our large backyard is: 1. fenced in, and 2. has plenty of shade trees. So we’re not particularly concerned with the back yard because the HOA can’t see it. No xeriscaping needed there.

      We asked them about fencing in the front yard but got a resounding NO (it’s also written in the HOA booklet that we can’t).

      We used to have larger flower-beds in front, but we made them smaller (by moving the stones) because they got infested with bermuda grass so quickly. Even with cloth barriers and plenty of mulch.

  5. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    I don’t have any advice since we’re somewhat in the same boat. I do want my lawn to look decent but the amount of money people want for treatments/mowing/landscaping is insane. Our goal at the moment is just to get the grass looking better and maintain the landscaping that the prior owner’s put in.

  6. Liz Says:

    I have a SMALL corner lot, which takes me less than 15 minutes to mow and edge using analog tools: a reel mower, and hand-operated grass shears (i.e. scissors). Consistently I was quoted $50 (plus a tip, please!) for someone to mow it with a gas-powered thing. Crazy!!!!

    Definitely have my vote for xeriscaping. Maybe you can convince them with pictures from upscale home magazines? I know it was a Thing a few years ago in places like Home & Garden and Martha Stewart. Good luck!

  7. cfroning Says:

    Xeriscaping is great but it will require $$ outlay up front if you pay someone to do it. You would definitely need to get approval for the design from the HOA first to avoid problems down the road. Pam Penick has written a book called “Lawn Gone!” that could give you some ideas. If you have a slope, I would suggest (again $$) that you get it tiered. Create a flat space near the house and put a nice deck there and then put low-water plants below in a raised bed. A gravel or bark mulch will cut down on, if not completely eliminate, the need to weed.

    I am an avid gardener so just about my #1 requirement when I moved last year was “no HOA.” HOAs are generally in favor of tidy lawns or landscapes but “messy” gardens are no-go.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That looks like a great website and book!

      We do have mulched “flowerbeds” surrounding the house, but it still needs heavy weeding even with the mulch. The plants around here are crazy.

      • cfroning Says:

        Yeah, I probably have a different definition of what constitutes “heavy” weeding, since I actually like doing it! You can also lay down landscape cloth beneath the mulch. That will cut down on weeding for several years, until the cloth starts to break down.

  8. Ana Says:

    Ugh, you’ve renewed my (already pretty high) interest in staying in the city (or at least sticking with small house/no yard). I honestly don’t want to spend the time/$ to worry about lawn care. Its hard enough for me to keep up with windowbox flowers and container herbs (weeds! watering!)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We had NO IDEA.

      In the midwest all the bad stuff dies in the winter and the grass is easy to deal with. In the city, we just had a container herb garden, which was not a big deal.

  9. Chris Says:

    Lurker here. But a vote for xeriscaping, with locally native plants if you can manage it:

    It does sound like a big job: smaller stages will likely help your time and dollar budgets, and will likely also help the HOA come to grips with the idea. Going slow also lets you divide your own plants and keeps total costs down. Some are incredibly prolific (where I am, black-eyed susans go crazy, and pretty much crowd out everything if you let them, but a once a year removal mission works pretty well to keep them controlled – though I do have winter so don’t have plants for about 6 or 7 months a year).

    It’s also worth investigating local native plant societies: they are a bit obsessive, and tend to have plant sales and swaps.

  10. chacha1 Says:

    Another vote for xeriscaping. Your state may not have water restrictions YET but they are coming, down the road, for just about everywhere. Someday when you want to leave that house, a new buyer may find the xeriscaping a positive attraction rather than “oh well, at least there’s a lawn in back.”

    Natives, wherever possible. If your state doesn’t have a Native Plants Society or something of that nature, a little online research should turn up an agricultural extension that is working on it. Shrubs will hold the slope, and process rain, better than creeping ground covers. Mulch will help with weeds.

    Xeriscaping doesn’t necessarily mean cactus. Out here in California, drought-friendly yards often include blue fescue, red feather grass, New Zealand flax, and lavender.

    Most HOAs are run by homeowners who mean well. Prepare an information packet for them and show them, rather than just tell them, what you propose to do. If your plan can be shown to significantly reduce water and pesticide and fertilizer use, other homeowners may be interested in doing the same, because all that stuff costs money. And there is an ever-growing body of evidence that using herbicides and pesticides near play areas is actively bad for kids, never mind watersheds.

  11. gwinne Says:

    The absolute worst part of homeownership…and I live on a postage-stamp sized lot. I think this year I’m going to suck it up and pay for regular maintenance (have not priced this). Like you, I just can’t handle the allergies (grass, mold, SUN, etc) on top of the rest.

  12. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    Bite the bullet and just pay to outsource care/upkeep of lawn. Yes it isn’t perfect, but nothing is. Negotiate down if you can, but this is one of the upsides of having two good incomes now, right? You can pay to make problems go (mostly) away.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      But, as we’ve noted before, we pay them lots of money and then they do bad things to our lawn. (And then sometimes charge more than the agreed upon price on top of that. Though we always say NO.) It’s very sad. And paying for the bad things makes it even more irritating.

  13. Rosa Says:

    When you talk to xeriscapers, ask if they do or recommend an upkeep service, and consider that ongoing cost vs. water and whatnot. It should still come out ahead and you won’t have to worry about weeds – I have a giant native perennial bed and it’s a constant problem because I don’t know what all the plants look like as tiny baby plants so I don’t notice weeds until they are huge and entrenched. But, we don’t have water problems. We have excess-tree-growth problems instead, to go with the nice fertile soil & lots of rain.

    My folks bought a house in Arizona with a xeriscaped lawn and they LOVE it. I think if you sublet or trade houses for a year to take sabbatical, the other people won’t care too much as long as they’re not responsible for the lawn. Especially if you have a back yard that’s more traditionally grassy.

  14. Cloud Says:

    You could go partial xeriscaping- that is pretty common in our neighborhood. People have a patch of grass and then some other interesting plants around it. You could even have a section that is rocks- the rock “streams” are popular here and can look really nice if done well.

    We went to a full native front yard. We do not water it at all now. There is still upkeep- weeding and trimming, mainly. But we get so many hummingbirds! I want to add a couple of boulders for interest, but haven’t had time to go buy them.

  15. First Gen American Says:

    Drive around different HOA neighborhoods and look for ideas that may be easy to implement.

    I am in the partial xeriscaping boat. Grass is still easier to upkeep than beds which will require weeding but beds require less watering.

    Dumb question but do you have the right kind of grass planted? I had shade loving grass in my yard and it became a bear to maintain once my neighbor took down 25 trees and suddenly my lawn went from full shade to full sun. Maybe the solution is to reseed the lawn with something more drought tolerant.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We don’t have many grass choices here. I can’t go too much into detail without giving away our exact geographic location. In any case, our lawn is half Bermuda now.

      • cfroning Says:

        If you have Bermuda, make sure it is very, very dead before you put in a new xeriscape. Otherwise, it will be the worst weed you have. This is a time when Roundup is your friend, IMO.

  16. Debbie M Says:

    I have similar problems. To the extent that I don’t understand why people like gardening. Or why they think it’s calming (I could see liking it as a way to get out your aggressions).

    The ONLY hint I have for you is that I’ve HEARD that if you mulch with crushed granite, and then walk on that granite, that the sharp edges of the granite will cut the weeds off and keep them from growing. It sounds like this would work better on pathways than on, say, foundation planting. I have not yet tried this, though.

    • Debbie M Says:

      Oh, PS, and I’ve also heard that if weeds are coming up through your mulch, it means you don’t have enough mulch. I wonder if a layer of mulch 47 feet high would be enough.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Probably not. :(

      • Debbie M Says:

        That’s what I figured.

      • Debbie M Says:

        PPS: Supposedly black walnuts are the evil because they kill all plants under their canopy. In which case I am the evil, too, because I planted one. Maybe it’s only true for old-timer trees. My tree is on its third year now and there is plenty of undergrowth.

  17. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    DH called one of the xeriscapers today and left a message. No word back though.

  18. Gmbh Says:

    Look into native grasses. There are some fescues and buffaloe grass types that are extremely drought resistant and don’t want (need) to be mowed.

    I second the “make sure the Bermuda grass is really dead” before you put anything else in. However, roundup is not always needed. Sounds like you are in hot and sunny location. Mechanically remove most of the grass, then put down a black plastic tarp and let the sun cook and burn the remaining Bermuda grass for a while.

    Good luck.

  19. Ree Says:

    Xeriscaping + weed control fabric for the win. 5 years ago we covered our front lawn in weed control fabric from costco, covered it with wood chips, planted 3 colors of sage, a lavender and a couple other bushy plants that sip water in small holes punched in the fabric. Five years later the lawn is nearly all grown in, smells great, gets tons of bees & birds and only needs weeding on the edges.

  20. oil_garlic Says:

    I also vote for hiring gardeners. We rent but gardeners are ‘included’. They mow the lawn, trim plants and rake up leaves etc.. However they do minimal weeding and we still have to fertilize the lawn and water it all the time. We had NO idea how much care a lawn requires either!

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