Inexpensive Spring Lawn Care

It’s official: spring is here! And spring brings the possibility of all kinds of outdoorsy house things, like planting flowers, gardening, and lawn care. Good old lawn care.

I’ll admit to being a complete newbie when it comes to proper lawn care. Growing up, it was just “cut the grass whenever it gets too long,” and who cares about the details? As long as the weeds are mowed nice and short, we’re good. That was our attitude last summer, too — with all the baby preparations and everything going on, it was all we could do just to keep the lawn mowed and sometimes watered.

But this year, energized by the possibility that things could be different, I started reading about what to do in spring to optimize your lawn for the summer season. I found some detailed articles here and here which give a lot of tips and suggestions, but the main things seem to be as follows:

  • Fertilizing – Only lightly in the spring, though; apparently fertilizing too much early on makes it harder for the grass to stay healthy through the hotter summer months.
  • Seeding – To fill in bare spots and build up a thicker lawn. Some sources seem to say this is better done in fall, and recommend frequent watering to help any new grasslings survive the summer.
  • Weed control – Using herbicides (or the organic equivalent) to stop the weeds and dandelions early on, although this seems to be a bad idea if you’re planning on also seeding.
  • Raking – To control the “thatch,” the layer of dead grass and other organic matter that can build up; while some seems to be okay, too much can lead to problems. More info on that can be found here.

I gravitated toward that last one. Since we’ll need to watch the budget for a while due to the major and expensive electrical work we need to have done on the house — that’ll actually be starting next week if all goes well — it seems outright wasteful to go around spending money on things like fertilizer. But raking is practically free! So so far, our entire spring lawn care expenditures have looked something like this:

  • Big paper yard waste bags to collect leaves and grass: $2.54 for a 5-pack
  • Rake: free (ours came with the house)

So I set to work on the raking on Sunday afternoon while Joe tended to Lily. Just looking at it, it didn’t seem like there was that much “stuff” to rake up, but once I actually started all these big piles of leaves and grass just started coming out of nowhere:

The partially-raked front lawn with leaves and grass in the sidewalk.

And over by the bushes… well, lots of leaves had built up. We admittedly didn’t do any raking at all last fall (we were kind of busy at the time) so all these dead brown leaves had been sitting there all winter.

Piles of dead leaves in the front yard.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but raking just the front yard filled up two entire bags, and left my muscles aching for days. And the front yard of our narrow city lot is small — I don’t know how people manage with larger suburban lawns.

Two large paper bags filled with dead leaves and grass clippings.

Two paper bags, partially filled. (More got crammed in after taking this picture.)

One nice thing was that after removing all those leaves from around the bushes, you could see those tulip bulbs we planted last year starting to come up. I think they look a little bedraggled, probably from being buried in dead leaves for so long, but they’re definitely growing:

Tulip plants starting to grow, surrounded by grass and leaves.

The tulips starting to grow in the front yard.

But that wasn’t all that was revealed. When the raking was finished, it became obvious that there were some pretty large bare spots on the lawn:

Overview of the lawn, with bare patches visible.

I’m not sure if these were hard to notice before, back when two giant bags of leaves and debris were scattered over the lawn, or if the raking made them bigger, or if I just wasn’t paying enough attention. (Looking at the sort-of-before photo at the top of this post, it seems like you can see at least one of the bigger patches toward the bottom left.) Here’s a closer view of these bare dirt patches:

A lawn with bare patches of dirt in the grass.

A closer view of the bare patches in the lawn.

So I guess that may require some seeding, unless the rest of the grass magically grows in to fill up those bare spots or something.

Anyway, that’s the state of the lawn this spring — stay tuned for more hapless attempts at lawn care as the season continues! And in the meantime, have you guys been outside doing any lawn care, gardening, or landscaping this spring? Any tips that you’ve found really helpful for keeping a lawn from turning into a dead and/or weed-filled wasteland? Feel free to share in the comments!

6 Comments

  1. First, determine what type of grass you have. Some DO spread by sending out “runners”, centipede being the variety I spent many hours “sprigging” (my dad’s term). What that entails is finding a clump of grass growing somewhere it won’t be missed, like inside the borders of a hedge, carefully shovelling under it to avoid cutting roots, separating the smaller plants by hand, then planting them about 2 inches apart in each bare spot. Oh and turn the soil with a trowel in the bare spots before planting. A lot of work, but absolutely free (or the cost of a trowel or handspade if you haven’t got one already). We rarely (or maybe never) used fertilizer or weed control, as a lot seemed bad for the environment and pricey back when I was a kid. Joe’s dad worked pest control for a year or 2, so he can probably advise you on that stuff.

  2. Hi, Sarah. I’m like you. The most I know about lawn care is cutting the weeds once a week. However, this year, since we got the back yard cleaned up, I want to try my hand at some gardening and such, too. One thing we’ve been trying in the part of our front yard that is mostly dirt is raking up the grass clippings and spreading them over the bare parts. We have noticed that some grass has been coming in. You may want to give it a shot. Love you all!

  3. Wow! You have so much to be busy with in spring. I could see you are very determined to do this. Looking forward to your updates. Enjoy. :)

    ~Lisha

  4. I hire a person to come mow my lawn twice monthly for 20$ a month…yeah I fully recognize I am lazy…Max and I both grew up in cities…and really hate lawn work. Kevin likes it though. He has already begun planting a bunch of flowers and I believe in the next week or two hes planning on making a vegetable garden in the back yard. I am more than happy to eat the fruits of his labor.

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