Thomas Christopher is a lawn and garden expert calling for a radical revamp of how we approach yard care. "Lawns. I keep struggling with them," says Christopher, editor of the just-published "The New American Landscape: Leading Voices on the Future of Sustainable Gardening" (Timber Press, $34.95). "I try to persuade people to do it in an easier, more environmental way, but people are stuck back in the Eisenhower years.
"It's got to stop," he added. "People have to get a grip and break the habit."
Here are some ways to break turf's hold on your life, resulting in a greener and "greener" lawn that takes far less time to maintain.
Degree of difficulty: Executing these tips is easier than letting go of old habits.
Make sure the mower blade is very sharp. "A dull blade leaves grass looking ragged and encourages disease or lawn problems," Christopher says.
Set the mower level higher. "Most people set their lawn mowers way too short," he says, noting too close a cut damages the grass, encourages weed growth and calls for too-frequent mowing. It's never about how short the grass is but how neat and trim the lawn looks when finished. Grass varieties grown in cooler climes should be 3 inches long or longer; warm-climate grasses, such as Bermuda and centipede grasses, can be cut a bit shorter, to around 1 1/2 inches.
Let your mower "design" the yard. Once you start the mower rolling, do not back up or make, in Christopher's words, "turns so tight they require slowing down." When you finish, look around for any areas of uncut grass. "The trick is to eliminate the little corners, peninsulas and island of grass," says Christopher. "Those patches are time-waster areas." What to do then? Don't mow those patches; replace with ground covers or mulch.
Start mowing in the most visible area of the property, like the front lawn. Christopher says the most efficient way to mow is to choose a specific area and mow in a circular motion from the edges toward the center. Mowing back and forth in rows is also acceptable.
Let no single bush or tree be an island in your yard. If there's something planted in the middle of the lawn that makes mowing hard, like a large bush with overarching branches, Christopher recommends ripping out the grass under the bush. Create a garden bed or plant some more bushes. Use mulch to create a large, even shape that's easy to mow around. "Don't drop plants into your yard," he warns.
Be aware of your terrain, especially any steep slopes. Christopher had a friend who was mowing downhill, slipped, and his feet went under the mower. "He lost a couple of toes," Christopher recalls. Where the ground goes downhill, mow back and forth across the grade.
Don't be overeager about mowing. Christopher has encountered a number of guys who can't cut back on their grass-cutting routine even when their yards really don't need it. Be honest about whether or not you can give up the mower.