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The recent lawnmower posts got me thinking about the hassle of lawn maintenance, which gets exacerbated by:

A) Ignorance about how grass grows
B) The marketing of lawn-care products

The low-maintenance lawn theory

The green grass of your lawn is the leafy part of a plant, most of which is below ground. The leaf (blade) is how the plant gets its food, by capturing the sunlight and using photosynthesis to feed itself.

A healthy, long blade of grass produces enough food to grow nice deep roots, and help the plant sprout more blades in between the ones that are already there -- hence, a thicker lawn.

The deeper the grass roots go, the longer the plant can survive without being watered. Weeks can go by between rains, and the grass will be just fine.

Also, tall, thick grass blades leave no room for weeds to grow. They block the sun at the soil level, so that newly-sprouting weeds can't survive.

Taller blades (3 inches or taller) grow more slowly than short blades. Why? Because the plant must use all its energy to produce leaves so it won't starve to death. With long blades, the grass plant is free to use it's energy to grow deep roots and search of water.


1) Mowing is infrequent. Monthly passes with a lawnmower blade set at 3" high (or higher), will be enough to maintain a lawn. Further, bagging and raking is unnecessary, since the clippings fall to the ground, mix with the grass, block weeds, and add more organic material to the soil.

2) Watering is infrequent. In between rains, your lawn will not die, or turn brown. If it gets dry, the blades will start to curl, signaling a need for water. A sprinkler device that can give your lawn a soak (about an inch of water) should be enough to last until the next rain comes.

3) Weeding is infrequent. Your lawn is so thick and tall, that nothing else can grow there. The thickness of your lawn also means no nitrogen burns from pets. Let fido go where he wishes, the lawn won't die, it will just get greener...

The high-maintenance lawn theory

When you don't understand your lawn, this is the method you end up following.

You think your grass should "look neat," so you cut it TOO SHORT. Also, you hope to make it easier on yourself, and buy yourself more time until the next mowing. WRONG IDEA! As a result:

1) The grass plant goes into overdrive, growing blades as fast as it can so it doesn't starve. One week later, it's time to cut the grass again!

2) Your short blades get swamped in clippings, blocking the sunlight. Time to get out the rake!

3) The root system never develops. With shallow, weak roots, your lawn starts to shrivel and turn brown after a couple of hot days. "Hmm, I need to go put in an irrigation system!" you say.

4) Weed pollen lands in your lawn, and starts growing right away. The grass is so short, the weeds get all the sun they want. Weeds also THRIVE on constant water, which your irrigation system is providing like clockwork. Good thing you bought that automatic timer!

5) Your lawn looks so sorry, now that it is dried up, brown, thin, and full of weeds, that you start BUYING CHEMICALS TO DUMP ON IT. Pesticides, dyes, fertilizer, "turf builder" and on and on.

The solution?

Understand your lawn. Let it grow 3 or 4 inches high. Resist watering, and never water on a regular basis. Slowly wean your lawn (this could take a year or two!) from your regular watering routine. Cut infrequently, rarely rake, and let the soil build. Eventually you'll water your lawn ONCE A YEAR, only in the hottest heatwave of summer, it will be that hardy. If you have weeds, pull them out by hand for the moment. Eventually, when your grass grows higher, they will get choked out.

And a push mower wouldn't hurt, or at least an electric. When your lawn is tall and healthy, it won't need frequent mowing at all.

If you made it this far, congratulations! You have survived my lawn care rant!


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