Lawn Care: The Ultimate Guide

A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule.

Michael Pollan, NY Times Best-Selling Author

Unlike common home maintenance jobs, such as painting a wall or fixing a leak, proper lawn care requires constant attention and regular upkeep. A person’s yard is a living thing, much like a pet or child. If neglected, it can wither and die, but if treated with the proper care and affection, it can flourish.

Proper lawn care not only looks good for the homeowner, but studies have shown that it can have a positive effect on a home’s resale value. In fact, individuals can expect to see as much as a 19 percent rise in the value of their home by simply paying attention to the curb appeal. Maintaining a beautiful lawn has can even provide positive benefits for the environment.


The History of Lawn and Lawn Care


The History of Lawn Care

The term “lawn” as we know it today dates back to the 17th century in modern France, where aristocrats had large lawns mostly maintained by cattle. Modern day yard and lawn culture began in the mid-20th century following World War II, coinciding with the boom in subdivisions (defined neighborhoods and suburban living) in the 1940s and 50s.

In 1830, Edwin Budding invented the first lawn mower in Gloucestershire, England. The patented design proved to be a superior alternative to the scythe, especially for use on large sports fields and gardens. By 1902, the first gas-powered mower was invented, paving the way towards the creation the same rotary gas-powered mowers we use today.

Much of the rapid proliferation of lawns in America that we see these days can be attributed to the growth in the residential subdivisions, chiefly by Abraham Levitt. Levitt built more than 17,000 homes from 1947 to 1951, each with it’s own yard, in Levittown, NY. On adding the lawns to each homestead Levitt stated, “No single feature of a suburban residential community contributes as much to the charm and beauty of the individual home and the locality as well-kept lawns".

American homeowners without large properties and farms had paid attention to maintaining a front lawn in the early parts of the 20th century, but the effects of the Great Depression in the 1930s saw a decline in individuals’ abilities to care for their grass and gardens. During World War II, Americans were encouraged to maintain a presentable front yard as a sign of support and strength for the war effort. When former servicemen returned home and were able to buy affordable housing using the GI Bill, an attractive lawn and front yard became a symbol of stability and prosperity.

Lawn care today requires extensive money and resources. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that 1/3 of public water resources goes towards landscaping, and as much as 70% of public water in the western states.


The Backyard


Rising land value prices in the 20th century caused residential developers to move houses closer together, foregoing land around the house for a defined front and back yard to preserve some feeling of open space for the homeowner.

For many people the backyard has become an extension of their house. It is where they cook, eat, and entertain. It’s also where they are able to do work, like tending a garden or working in a garage or shed. With careful architecture and landscaping the backyard can be turned into an outdoor oasis in the middle of a common neighborhood, fit with a water feature, playground, and/or cooking appliance.

Because of those recreational and practical features in the backyard, it has become a popular communal meeting place for many Americans. The backyard is the perfect place to entertain guests on a holiday or invite friends over to share the swimming pool or trampoline.

There has also been a recent rise in urban farming and backyard agriculture. Many people have not just built vegetable gardens in their backyards, but have taken to adding small livestock. There has been a surge in popularity of homeowners raising chickens for eggs and meat or goats for milk.


Lawn Mowing—Things to Consider


A Lawn Mower

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all lawn mower for every homeowner. Many factors including lot size, topography, physical fitness, cost and personal preference are major factors that must be weighed before making a decision.

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Lot Size — A homeowner of a large property with multiple acres requires a different type of lawn mower than a person with a small yard. For this person, a riding lawn mower would be the weapon of choice. Riding lawn mowers range in price from $600 to $14,000, depending on the power, size, and quality of the machine that a person’s needs. A large property will also restrict homeowners from using electric lawn mowers that require the machine to remain plugged into an outlet.

The standard rule of thumb for choosing a lawn mower based on yard size is that for yards no larger than 1/2 an acre, it is recommended that the homeowner use a push mower. While using a riding lawn mower isn’t out of the question, it would be too cumbersome and much less effective on a yard that size. For lawns larger than 1/2 an acre, the homeowner should begin to consider a riding mower, which will save time and energy for the user. People with properties greater than three acres should then look at upgrading to a zero-turn or garden mower, which will provide better mobility and ease each time the grass needs mowing.

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Topography — You must determine if your yard is flat or if there are variations in elevation, including varying hills and valleys. A riding lawn mower, for example, wouldn’t be a great fit for a yard with steep hills and tight spaces due to the lack of mobility that they provide compared to push mowers.

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Physical Fitness — Lawn care is a physical activity that requires a certain level of strength and stamina. This can be offset to an extent with a riding lawn mower, but the individual would then incur a greater cost. Motorized lawn mowers are generally a perfect balance between the price (compared to that of riding lawn mowers) and the physical effort needed to propel a non-electric reel lawn mower that uses only the physical exertion of its user to cut the grass.

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Cost — Lawn mowers can be a very expensive purchase for an individual, so cost is a very important factor to be weighed before purchasing a tool. Standard reel, or cylinder mowers, are generally the cheapest and can be found for roughly $70 to $90. Electric and gas push mowers can range from $100 to $400 and riding mowers can be as much as $14,000.

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Personal Preference — Personal preferences depending on the individual can consist of choosing an electric vs a gas push mower or choosing to go completely low-tech with a standard reel mower. Mowers can also be personalized with features that include a mulching blade that chops up the grass into tiny bits and distributes it across the yard, or a grass bag that collects the clippings as you go to make for an easier disposal.


How Often Do I Mow?


Many people’s strategy towards lawn care consists of dragging the lawn mower out or calling a lawn care service whenever their grass begins to look bad, but there is more to the process. How and when you mow your grass plays a big part in the overall quality and presentation of your lawn.

Regularly watering, fertilizing, and cutting of a lawn is essential to a healthy life cycle for your grass and vegetation. The more diligent a person is about mowing their yard, the healthier and greener it will become. Many people who can't spend very much time tending to their yard elect to hire a lawn service so that their lawn gets the proper maintenance it requires.

It’s important to remember the 1/3 principle when it comes to lawn care. You should never cut your grass more than 1/3 of its original height at any time. This could cause trauma to the grass and result in discoloration. The perfect height for the grass in your yard depends on the type of grass and the season. Different types of grass thrive at different heights, and all grass should be kept longer in the summer to help cut down on water usage. Higher blades of grass helps prevent water from evaporating as quickly, allowing you to save some money and still have a gorgeous yard.

The standard rate at which you should mow your lawn is generally once per week, or possibly once every two weeks depending on the season and water restrictions in your area. If you are unable to mow your grass one week or forget for some reason, then it’s important to still adhere to the 1/3 principle when mowing your grass. Even if you have to gradually cut the grass 1/3 at a time until it reaches the right height, it’s still recommended to maintain that standard. Most lawn mowers have an adjustment to ensure that the mower blades are at the correct height to achieve this objective.


Other Necessary Lawn Services


Lawn Aeration


When soil becomes too compact it creates a surface barrier that prevents water, vital nutrients, such as nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, and oxygen from getting to the plants’ roots. This compaction hampers the grass’ ability to create a healthy root system. The process of core aerating consists of using a machine appropriately titled an “aerator” to extract small plugs of dirt from the lawn and exposing the plants’ roots to air, water and nutrients.

Soil becomes compacted due to heavy foot traffic from humans and animals. No one step is going to do great damage to your lawn, but the sum total of activity creates pressure on the ground. A common misconception is that homeowners can use footwear with spikes to do the job, but this act just creates holes in the lawn while possibly compacting it further.

The common rule of thumb is to aerate your lawn at least once per year. If you have a newly constructed home, it is recommended to go ahead and aerate your lawn right away. The building crews during the construction of the home have been trampling and driving heavy machinery over the dirt, all while unwittingly compacting the soil.

When you decide to aerate your lawn it is best to do it with wet soil. The day after a heavy rain is ideal, but the day after you water the grass will work as well. You’ll want to make multiple passes with the aeration machine to ensure that the soil is properly loosened. You can also ignore the areas of your lawn where the soil isn’t compacted.

The soil plugs that you just removed from the turf should be allowed to sit out and dry up in the sun. Once the plugs are dry you should either use the back of a rake to break them up or pass over them with a lawn mower so that your lawn is uniform once again. Following the aeration process, continue to water, mow and fertilize your yard as part of a regular lawn maintenance program.

Check out our 'Quick Guide to Core Aeration' for more details.


Overseeding


There are many little steps that homeowners can take as part of their regular lawn maintenance to ensure a vibrant and full lawn year-round, and one of the most important is overseeding. This is defined as the act of sowing seed throughout your existing lawn. Over the years grass takes longer and longer to grow, making it difficult to maintain a full lawn cover and allowing unwanted weeds to pop up. Overseeding can improve patchy dead spots in lawns and ensure a lush appearance.

Overseeding can also be used to supplement your existing lawn during harsh months of the year. If you live in the southern part of the United States and have warm-season grass, then adding cold season grass during the cooler months on the calendar can lead to an extended growing season for your yard.

The best times for overseeding are right after the summer from mid-late September into early October. If you miss that window, then the next best time is around the first signs of spring weather in your area.

Replacing your whole lawn can be a tedious and costly endeavor. So adhering to the following overseeding process can save you time and money in the long run.


The Overseeding Process


  1. You must first prime the area for the new seeds. This can be done by mowing the grass to an even height of one to two inches, which provides the best setup for proper absorption. You should also aerate the tough patches of soil to allow for proper seed entry into the turf. Next, it’s best to lay a light layer of compost over the desired area to provide nutrients to the newly added grass seeds. It’s better to lay too little compost, rather than too much, so be conscious of how much you spread across the yard.

  2. Before you proceed, be sure to do your research on the type of grass in your yard and the type that you will be adding. The only thing worse than patches of dead grass in your yard is two grass species with different colors and appearances clashing in your lawn.

    Once you pick the grass seeds you want to add to your lawn, spread the seeds evenly across the yard. You can use tools like a rotary spreader or a drop spreader, or just use your hands as long as it’s an even layer. After you complete that, gently rake the grass to make sure the seeds are properly incorporated with the dirt.

  3. To complete the process, apply an extended time-release nitrogen fertilizer and water the area. Keep the new sod moist over few weeks until you begin to see sprouts. For the first couple of months it’s best to keep the grass at a height of 1 3/4 to 2 1/4 inches.


Types of Grass


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Types of grass used for American lawns depends on the region in which you live, and can even be unique based upon the part of the state and climate in that area. In the interest of brevity and not bogging you down with the many varieties of grass species, we’ve used the simplified categories of warm season, cool season and the transition area. Discover which type of grass is native to your state and area here.

This classification splits the country into a northern region, known as the cool season, a band of area across the middle of the country, known as the transition zone, and the southern region, known as the warm season. The distinction between each type of grass has little to do with the season in which they grow and thrive, since the primary growing season for each type of grass is from late spring to early fall. Rather, it refers more to the ideal temperature range at which the grass thrives.

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Warm Season — Warm season grass grows best when the temperatures range from 80 to 95 degrees. This grass is typically found in the humid zones of the gulf coast and the arid desert of the southwest. Grass species that thrive in the humid weather include Bahiagrass, St. Augustine and Zoysia. Bermudagrass is typically found in the arid regions of Texas and the southwest because of its resiliency in tough drought conditions.

Warm season grass in most cases becomes dormant and loses its lush appearance when soil temperatures drop below 65 degrees. Because of this, it is recommended that homeowners use cool season grass for overseeding during the winter months to protect the vibrant green color in their yard all year long.

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Cool Season — These grass types typically do well in the humid and cooler parts of the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest. These grass species include Rye, Bluegrass, Fescue and Wheatgrass, which grow best in temperatures sitting between 65 to 75 degrees. Most cool season grass types don’t go dormant, but can be affected by “rust” which is a result of excessive snow cover. Cool season grasses are generally planted in mixtures of species in order to withstand heavy foot traffic, shade and extreme weather conditions.

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Transition Zone — There is a band of states ranging from Virginia across to parts of southern California known as the transition zone where the optimal weather conditions for either type of grass aren’t prevalent. Typically outdoor experts tend to use cool season grass in this area of the country or a mixture of the two, but recent biological advancements have seen new types of warm season grass like Geo Zoysia and Latitude 36 Bermuda which have become more cold tolerant.


A Few More Things to Consider


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Seasonality — The time of the year plays a big role in what your grass and yard need to grow. The grass should be kept longer in the summer and you need to add the right fertilizer and nutrients to your grass in the fall to ensure that it’s able to survive the harsh winter. There’s a 12-month calendar for your lawn that should be carefully considered if you want the best looking yard in the neighborhood all year long.

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Water Regulations — Keep yourself up to date on the water regulations in your region. In the south and in California where it is common to have water restrictions during the summer drought, that will affect when and how you’re able to water your grass. Educate yourself on this schedule, not only to be in compliance with local regulations, but also because you don’t want to miss your window and risk your grass dying before you get another chance to pull out the sprinkler.

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Pests — The types of pests, ranging from little bugs to local wildlife, will vary from region-to-region. Do your homework on the living things crawling through your grass and decide whether they can potentially harm your lawn, and what it takes to prevent the damage. These creatures and animals can be destructive to your yard if not dealt with properly.

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Test Your Soil — For the really advanced lawn care aficionados, it is helpful to test your soil to make sure it’s getting the proper nutrients. This can be achieved by using a commercial test probe, the red cabbage method, vinegar and baking soda or by altering the pH level and tracking the changes. These methods can all be found online.


How to Book a Professional Lawn Care Service


In days past, the best way to find a professional to service your lawn was to pull out the yellow pages and look up someone in your area or simply just choose a lawn service company that sounded good. LawnStarter has simplified the process and made it better. The process is now completely automated through our website from arranging for someone to come out and mow your yard to paying for the service. We also have friendly customer service experts on-hand to help you with every step of the process.

LawnStarter Survey: 8 in 10 Lawn Care Providers Oppose $15-an-Hour Minimum Wage




Created on: May 24, 2016

John Egan


The notion of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour has sparked vigorous debate in the 2016 presidential race. In general, Democrats believe that a $15 minimum wage would help lift millions of Americans out of poverty, while Republicans maintain that it would kill millions of American jobs.

There’s little debate on the subject among the vast majority of lawn care providers, however. Eight of every 10 lawn care providers in the U.S. are dead-set against hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour, a new survey by LawnStarter shows. The federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 an hour.

LawnStarter’s online SurveyMonkey survey of nearly 320 lawn care providers found that 79 percent oppose a $15-an-hour minimum wage, with only 21 percent backing it. The National Association of Lawn Care Professionals, an industry group, says it has no official stance on the minimum wage.

Lawmakers in California and New York recently approved phasing in a statewide minimum wage of $15 an hour. At the federal level, legislation is pending that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Three-fourths (76 percent) of the lawn care providers who responded to the LawnStarter survey said they would not support a presidential candidate who backed a $15-an-hour minimum wage, with nearly one-fourth (24 percent) saying they would.


Most lawn care providers oppose a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Effects of the Wage Hike

Fifty-eight percent of the lawn care providers surveyed said a $15-an-hour minimum wage would have a “big” effect on their businesses, compared with:

  • 24% who said it would have a “medium” effect.
  • 10% who said it would have a “minimal” effect.
  • 8% who said it would no effect.

When asked to specify what the most significant effect of a $15-an-hour minimum wage would be on their livelihoods:

  • 79% said they would need to raise their prices.
  • 36% said they would have to cut back on staffing.
  • 21% said they would need to reduce expenses unrelated to staffing.
  • 12% said they would be forced to close their business.

Nine percent of the respondents cited other effects, while 6 percent mentioned no effects at all. In this category of the survey, a lawn care provider could select more than one answer.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for front-line landscapers and groundskeepers is $13.20.

LawnStarter conducted the online survey April 8-17, 2016. More than 2,000 lawn care providers from LawnStarter’s proprietary database were invited to participate.


Supporters rally for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Photo:Flickr/The All-Nite Images

More Money for Workers

Outside the lawn care industry, opinion is sharply divided over increasing the minimum wage.

A July 2015 poll conducted for Small Business Majority, a lobbying group, found 60 percent of small businesses support gradually raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. The poll did not ask about a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

“Small businesses know raising the minimum wage would immediately put more money in the pocket of low-wage workers who will then spend the money on things like housing, food and gas,” says John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of Small Business Majority. “This boost in demand for goods and services will help stimulate the economy and help create opportunities for growth and expansion.”

One of the most vocal proponents of a $15-an-hour minimum wage is U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a Democratic candidate for president. In July 2015, Sanders introduced a bill that would bump up the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. He was joined by several other members of Congress in filing the legislation.

“It is a national disgrace that millions of full-time workers are living in poverty and millions more are forced to work two or three jobs just to pay their bills,” Sanders says. “The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage and must be raised to a living wage.”


Juanita Duggan is president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Less Money for Businesses

One of the fiercest opponents of a $15-an-hour minimum wage is the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), a lobbying group for small businesses. NFIB fought passage of the wage laws in California and New York, and is battling proposals for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in other places.

Jack Mozloom, a spokesman for NFIB, says labor unions have been “very aggressively” pushing minimum wage increases in several states. By doing so, unions are “hurting the people they claim to be helping,” he says.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would jack up labor costs for many small businesses, he says. NFIB research shows that 50 percent of the time, small business owners would lay off employees, cut hours or leave jobs vacant if they had to carry out wage increases that they couldn’t afford.

A $15-an-hour minimum wage is “a big threat to small business, Mozloom says, “and we think it’s an especially big threat to their employees.”

Mozloom says nearly 98 percent of hourly workers in the U.S. already earn more than $7.25 an hour, the current federal minimum wage. As a result, raising the minimum wage “is a solution in search of a problem,” he says. “The free market has already solved the problem.”


Other Lawn Care Resources


U.S. Lawn Care Industry Statistics

Lawn Mowing Guide & Tips




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