How do I save money on lawn care?
If you asked me to name one household chore I absolutely hate, I’d probably go with lawn care. In fact, if I could, I’d rip my entire lawn out and replace it with some nice, well-behaved ground cover. I wouldn’t have a single blade of grass anywhere in my yard.
It’s just too much money and hassle. A beautiful lawn — the lush, green, weed-free expanse many homeowners see as a symbol of the American dream — doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of time and money to create, plus a lot of water, gasoline, and pesticides that take a toll on the environment.
Since ripping out my lawn isn’t practical, I’ve gone for the next best thing: a low-maintenance lawn. I stick to eco-friendly lawn care techniques that let me mow, water, and treat my grass as little as possible. And as a bonus, I save money.
Ways to Save Money on Lawn Care Costs and Expenses
As my experience shows, saving money on lawn care doesn’t have to mean doing more work. Often, the key is to do less.
Instead of spending time mowing, watering, and fertilizing your lawn every week, spend a few hours upfront putting down grass and other plants that can thrive without a lot of care. Then, put in a few more hours throughout the season on basic maintenance to keep those plants healthy.
To put these basic ideas into practice, implement one or more of these money-saving lawn care tips.
1. Choose the Right Grass for Your Climate
Grass isn’t just one plant. There are many different varieties of grass used for lawns, such as bluegrass, ryegrass, fescue, zoysia, and buffalo grass. And each type has its own preferences in terms of soil, temperature, and moisture level.
For instance, warm-season grasses thrive at temperatures of 75 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool-season grasses prefer temperatures of 65 to 80 degrees. Drought-tolerant grasses can handle a dry climate, while prairie grasses can handle lots of rain.
Choosing a type of grass that’s naturally suited to the conditions in your yard means you won’t need to spend as much time and money to keep it healthy. To figure out what works best in your area, contact your county’s Cooperative Extension Service.
2. Water Sparingly
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, most lawns and gardens need about an inch of water per week, including rainfall. Watering more than that jacks up your water bill without improving your lawn. In fact, it can be harmful, leading to heavier weed growth, fungus, and disease.
So how long should you run your sprinklers to give your lawn an inch of water? An easy way to figure it out is to set a few empty tuna cans around your yard. Time how long it takes them to fill half an inch deep, and run the lawn sprinklers for that amount of time twice per week.
To make it easier, put your sprinklers on a timer that will dispense the right amount of water automatically. Schedule watering for the cool morning hours so you lose less water to evaporation. Better still, install a WaterSense irrigation controller that can sense how much water your lawn needs.
Sprinkler type and placement are also important. You’ll waste less water with a sprinkler that dispenses larger drops closer to the ground rather than sending a fine mist high in the air. Try to get most of the spray on the sunniest parts of the yard since they require more water than places in the shade. And avoid spraying paved areas — that’s just a waste of water.
3. Don’t Cut Your Grass Too Short
Grass is strongest and healthiest when it’s on the long side — between 2 and 3.5 inches. A longer blade of grass captures more sunlight, so grass grows thicker and develops stronger roots. That makes it more resistant to drought, disease, and pest damage.
Keeping your lawn a bit taller can help you save water too. Longer grass shades the ground and keeps it cooler, helping it hold moisture. That means grass needs less water to stay healthy. And the shade cast by the longer grass also helps suppress weeds.
However, that doesn’t mean you should let your lawn grow knee-high between mowings. To keep grass healthy, you want to avoid removing more than one-third of its length at once. For instance, you can let the grass grow to 3 inches, then cut it back down to 2 inches.
Make sure the lawn mower blade is sharp too. A dull blade can tear and injure the grass. It also doesn’t cut as efficiently, so you may need to make multiple passes over the lawn. That wastes gasoline and your time too.
When you mow, leave grass clippings on the lawn instead of bagging them up. The cut grass serves as a natural mulch and fertilizer, providing as much as half the nitrogen your lawn needs. A quick slogan to remember is, “Cut it high and let it lie.”
4. Fertilize Less
When it comes to fertilizer, more isn’t always better. Too much nitrogen can damage your grass, giving it a burnt look. Excess fertilizer also encourages weeds and pollutes local waterways. In short, there’s no point in paying for more fertilizer than your lawn really needs.
Typically, applying a slow-release fertilizer once or twice per growing season is enough. However, that varies depending on your climate and grass type. A soil test can tell you what nutrients your yard requires. You can find DIY soil test kits at home-supply stores and online.
When you apply fertilizer, don’t waste it. If you fertilize the lawn on a windy day right before mowing or heavy rainfall, you’ll lose much of what you’ve used. If you use a granular fertilizer, water the lawn lightly right afterward to keep it from blowing away.
You can also reduce your need for fertilizer by adding clover to your lawn. Clover is a nitrogen-fixing plant, so it enriches the soil naturally. It also has deep roots that help break up dense soil.
5. Make Natural Fertilizer by Composting
You can make your own fertilizer for free by composting. Instead of dumping food and yard waste in the garbage, put it in a bin and let it break down into nutrient-rich compost for your lawn and garden. Suitable materials for home compost include leaves, grass clippings, and food scraps like fruit and vegetable peels, eggshells, and coffee grounds.
My husband and I maintain a small home compost bin, about 3 feet by 4 feet and 40 inches high. All our kitchen and yard waste, such as weeds and leaves, goes into that bin. It provides us with anywhere from 20 to 50 gallons of finished compost per year.
Buying the same amount of bagged compost in a store could cost us more than $100. Plus, putting waste in the bin lets us take out the garbage much less often. If you pay for trash pickup by the barrel, that’s another savings.
6. Designate a Dog Potty Spot
Like chemical fertilizers, dog urine is rich in nitrogen. Too much of it can damage your grass, leaving burnt patches that require reseeding.
To avoid this extra work and expense, train your dog to go in the same place every time — ideally, a spot where there’s no grass. A sandpit or a mulched area under a tree makes a good dog potty spot.
7. Aerate Your Lawn
The soil in your yard gets compacted over time. That means air can’t get to the roots of grass and other plants. That impedes root growth, so plants can’t absorb water and nutrients as well. That can lead to bare patches that require reseeding or replacement.
You can avoid this expense by aerating the lawn: punching deep holes in the soil to let the air in. You can rent an aerating machine for around $70 from a home center that offers tool rentals. Alternatively, you can buy a spike aerator for about $25 and do the job by hand.
In most areas, you only need to aerate every couple of years, ideally in late summer or early fall. However, heavy clay soil or heavily trodden grass may need it yearly.
8. Consider Alternative Landscaping Options
One of the best ways to save on lawn care is to reduce the size of your lawn. A turf lawn is a maintenance-heavy landscaping option. It needs a lot of water and chemicals — and a lot of work — to keep it looking lush and healthy.
To save both time and money, replace part of your lawn with low-maintenance plantings that need less care. Some options to consider:
- Ground Covers. Replace grass with other low-growing plants that require less maintenance. Popular choices include pachysandra, vinca, creeping phlox, creeping thyme, and sedum.
- Meadow Gardens. A mix of perennial flowers and taller grasses attracts pollinators and requires little maintenance. Native plants are ideal choices for a meadow garden. Since they’re adapted to your area, they need less water and attention to thrive.
- Xeriscaping. In drought-prone regions, consider xeriscaping: creating a landscape that requires little to no water. Replace your grass lawn with rocks, soil, mulch, and native plants that use less water.
- Edible Landscaping. Instead of a lawn that requires lots of care and gives you nothing in return, plant a vegetable garden that helps you save money on food. An edible landscape can also include herbs, edible flowers, berries, and fruit or nut trees.
- Shade Trees. Leafy trees shade your house from the summer sun, helping you save on summer cooling costs. And because deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter, they won’t block out the sun’s heat when you need it.
9. Plant Perennials
If you choose to replace part of your lawn with flowers, avoid annuals you must replace each year. Save money by selecting perennial flowers that will bloom year after year. Examples include daylilies, foxgloves, peonies, lavender, chrysanthemums, and black-eyed Susans.
Perennials generally don’t bloom for a whole season like annuals do. Most are only in bloom for a few weeks to a few months. However, by planting a mix of perennials, you can get an ever-changing array of blooms throughout the growing season.
As a bonus, you can divide many perennials. You can dig up the plant, break it up into clumps, and replant the clumps to get multiple plants for the price of one. Or swap your divided plants with friends and neighbors to add more variety to your flower garden.
10. Shop Fall Plant Sales
To save money on landscape plants, shop in the fall. In most parts of the country, nurseries have sales in September and October to clear out their inventory for winter. You can find discounts of 30% to 50% on plants like trees and shrubs.
Fall is also the right time to put in many new plants, especially deciduous trees. It’s easier for them to establish their roots in cool weather than in the hot days of summer. And the winter won’t harm them, as they’ll simply go dormant. You can safely plant trees any time up until the ground freezes.
11. DIY Instead of Hiring a Pro
Hiring a lawn care service to mow your grass costs around $50 per visit. Full-service lawn maintenance, including seeding, watering, weeding, and fertilizing, costs closer to $125 per visit. Over a nine-month season, that adds up to $4,875 you could save by doing it yourself.
Of course, doing your own lawn care has some costs too. Necessary equipment and supplies include:
- Lawn Mower. You can pay anywhere from $100 for a simple reel mower to $2,000 for a robot lawn mower that cuts the grass for you.
- Fuel. If your lawn mower runs on gasoline, you can expect to use about 7.5 gallons of it per year, according to Consumer Reports. Depending on gas prices, that could cost you anywhere from $14 to $38 per year. Battery-powered mowers use around $5 worth of electricity per year.
- String Trimmer. String trimmers, also known as weed whackers or weed eaters, cut down tall weeds between mowings. You can get a good one for around $100.
- Fertilizer. A DIY application of fertilizer costs between $3 and $8 per 1,000 square feet of lawn. For a quarter-acre lawn, that’s $33 to $82. Add a one-time cost of $50 or so for a fertilizer spreader to distribute it.
Still, all these costs add up to less than half the yearly cost of professional lawn care. Moreover, most of them are only one-time expenses. If you look only at the ongoing expenses, DIY lawn maintenance can save you thousands each year.
A well-maintained lawn has lots of benefits. It looks good and feels good underfoot. It provides a safe place for children to play and adults to entertain guests outdoors. And it can have a significant impact on your home’s curb appeal.
To achieve these benefits, many Americans invest hundreds or thousands of dollars — not to mention hours of work — in their lawns each year. Others decide it’s not worth the cost and resign themselves to living with a patchy lawn riddled with weeds and bare spots.
But those aren’t the only options. By making smart choices about how to mow, water, and fertilize your lawn — and what other kinds of landscaping to include in your yard — you can have a beautiful lawn that doesn’t dent your bank account or cost the Earth.