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5 summer lawn care tips that save time and money

A smaller lawn can save you water and effort and still look good

Published: July 14, 2015 01:15 PM

The newest approach to lawn care is a little rough around the edges and much more relaxed. Eco-friendly lawn-care pros call it “the freedom lawn” because weeds are in and nasty chemicals and excessive watering are out. Follow Consumer Reports’ tips and you can save an estimated 35 hours of yard work this year, cut your water bill, and still enjoy a great-looking yard. You’ll still have to mow, just not as often.

How often do you mow? Tell us below.

Go for less grass and more garden

Ditch the idea that your lawn has to be a lush green carpet.Your lawn should take up only about 40 percent of the yard, with the rest going to trees, gardens, and hardscapes (paved areas and walkways, as well as features such as fire pits). In the front of the house, use flower beds to flank your home’s entry or edge a walkway. Even less work: Raised beds filled with compost-rich soil are a great alternative to in-ground gardens. And because they’re better at retaining moisture, they can be watered less frequently.

The cost: Figure on spending $50 to $150 for a 75-square-foot garden when using plants, or $10 if starting from seed. And don’t stop at flowers—for about $50 you can plant a 75-square-foot veggie garden. Just be sure to choose an area of the yard that gets full sun.

Feed your lawn

Mulch grass clippings instead of bagging and tossing them. You’ll not only deposit nutrients back into the soil but also skip the tedious task of bagging, which can save you up to 15 hours per year. Compost is another natural lawn food; apply a quarter-inch to your lawn once or twice each year.

Learn to accept weeds

Some are actually good for lawns, according to Diane Lewis, a physician and founder of the Great Healthy Yard Project, which teaches homeowners how to have beautiful chemical-free yards. Dandelions have deep taproots that help bring grass-nurturing calcium to the surface, and the bacteria and fungi that grow on the roots of clover take nitrogen from the air and feed it into the soil.

Chill out and enjoy a shaggier look

Don’t be tempted to cut the grass too short, thinking that you won’t have to mow as frequently. A scalped lawn results in weak, shallow roots, so let your grass grow to about 4½ inches before cutting it down to about 3 inches. That approach will help cut mowing frequency by about 25 percent—or about 10 hours in a year.

Be stingy with water

A healthy lawn needs only about an inch of water per week, including rainfall. So instead of dousing your grass with a daily watering, give it a thorough weekly soak. And during hot, dry spells, don’t be afraid to let the lawn turn brown. The color change simply indicates that it’s entering a dormant state to conserve nutrients; it will turn green again. But don’t wait until it starts to look like straw to give it some water. Get that sprinkler going— a hard, straw-like consistency means the grass is dying.

EGO LM2000

Walk-behind mowers for smaller lawns

Honda HRR2169VKA, $400
Why we like it. This model is great for feeding your lawn with clippings. The self-propelled, gas-powered mower was excellent at mulching and great at bagging. It’s easy to start and has multiple speeds and rear-wheel drive, making it easier to use on a hilly lawn.
Where to get it. Home Depot and Honda dealers.

Toro 20370, $280
Why we like it. It’s great at mulching and very good at side discharging, but paying less gets you a single-speed, front-wheel-drive mower, which takes longer to get the job done. And if you’re sucking up clippings, the front wheels will rise and lose traction as the bag fills.
Where to get it. Home Depot and Toro dealerships.

EGO LM2000
, $500

Why we like it. It’s definitely pricey, but this battery-powered model is worth it if you want a mower that’s light, easy to use, and good at mulching. The battery recharges in less than an hour; other electric mowers can take 20 hours.
Where to get it. Home Depot.

More mowers. For more great choices, including the results of our tests of walk-behind and riding mowers see our full mower Ratings and recommendations.

—Adapted from ShopSmart magazine




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