New homeowner: lawn care advice

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slbnoob
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New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by slbnoob » Mon Apr 14, 2014 12:13 pm

I am going to be a new homeowner. With a house, come lots of responsibilities - lawn care being one. I seek some boglehead'ish advice on what equipment to buy. My suburban TX house will 2700 sq ft. on a 7000 sq ft lot. This would mean my lawn would be about 4000 sq ft or less.

I am interested in an energy efficient, quiet electric (cordless) lawn mower which would also reduce hassles with filling oil and gas in a conventional gas powered mower. Any recommendations?

Also, I think I would need at the very least an edge trimmer and a blower? Ideas?

I want to avoid spraying chemicals on the lawn. Any resource or practices to recommend?

Thanks for reading.

Jack FFR1846
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by Jack FFR1846 » Mon Apr 14, 2014 12:18 pm

Landscaping using fabric, some plantings and a covering of crushed stones has served me very well. While 4000 square feet is pretty close to nothing, adding some plantings and beds will reduce it even further. I have not had good luck with electric mowers but have not had one now for many years. I find mowing quite easy because I have a 17 year old. I bought a new Honda mower 4 years ago and have never actually used it myself (looks at the 17 year old). :)
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pennstater2005
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by pennstater2005 » Mon Apr 14, 2014 12:22 pm

Kobalt has a nice new line of 40V cordless outdoor tools including a lawn mower, blower, and string trimmer. I personally have no experience with them. Just walked by them at Lowes today and they look nice.

http://www.kobalttools.com/products/outdoor.html
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paulsiu
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by paulsiu » Mon Apr 14, 2014 12:25 pm

I have a black and decker cordless. One issue with cordless is that the battery increases the weight. My father-in-law doesn't like to use it because he said it's too heavy. In addition, there is a power reduction, so you have to make sure you cut more often. If you cut it regularly, it works fine, but if you let it grow too long, the battery will run out before you finish. Check the mower's website to see how many square feet you can go on a charge.

I don't use trimmers or blowers.

Where in Texas are you in? In dryer areas, grass may be difficult to maintain without a sprinkler.

Paul

slbnoob
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by slbnoob » Mon Apr 14, 2014 12:38 pm

Thanks for all your responses.

I live in the Houston area. I am planning on watering deeply and infrequently (twice a week in the summer).

To begin with, I am checking reviews on lowes. The Kobalt site directed me there.

What are some general good (and reasonably cheap) brands for electric blowers, trimmers and mowers?

sdrone
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by sdrone » Mon Apr 14, 2014 2:00 pm

Consumer Reports' favorite leaf blower is always the Toro Ultra . It has a metal impeller, and you can reverse it to use as a vacuum to shred leaves. Unfortunately, Home Depot just raised their price by $5.

I picked up one a few months ago and I like it. Instant on, no more fighting the thing trying to get it to start. I did buy a heavier extension cord for it since the motor is a 12 amp motor.

http://www.homedepot.com/p/Toro-Ultra-2 ... /203222688

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Kenkat
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by Kenkat » Mon Apr 14, 2014 2:01 pm

I think you will need some type of fertilization program. I live in Ohio and what is appropriate there may be totally different for Texas. I did find this from Texas A&M specific to Texas:

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/eart ... lizers.pdf

The County and/or State Agriculture Extension Service is usually a pretty good unbiased resource (as opposed to a lawn care company).

I always try to apply the minimum - i.e., spot treat weeds rather than a general weed and feed; don't use insect control products if you don't have insect prblems, etc.

pindevil
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by pindevil » Mon Apr 14, 2014 2:14 pm

I maintained my yard for 8yrs on my own. For the last 4 years I hired a landscaper. Best investment ever. Now I have more time for family :happy

Rattlesnake
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by Rattlesnake » Mon Apr 14, 2014 2:28 pm

+1.... I maintained a yard for 28 years.... For the last 11 years I've paid someone.... No lawn mower, weed wacker, or any of that other stuff....

Just my $0.02....
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jeff1949
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by jeff1949 » Mon Apr 14, 2014 2:43 pm

The latest Consumer Reports lists these cordless mowers in this order:

1. EGO LM2000
2. Black & Decker CM1936
3. Black & Decker SPCM1936
4. Neuton CEM6X4X
5. Black & Decker CMM1200
6. Kobalt KM1940-06
7. Toro 20360

I had a Black & Decker years ago (corded) and found it to be okay except in heavy grass.

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mephistophles
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by mephistophles » Mon Apr 14, 2014 3:13 pm

slbnoob wrote:I am going to be a new homeowner. With a house, come lots of responsibilities - lawn care being one. I seek some boglehead'ish advice on what equipment to buy. My suburban TX house will 2700 sq ft. on a 7000 sq ft lot. This would mean my lawn would be about 4000 sq ft or less.

I am interested in an energy efficient, quiet electric (cordless) lawn mower which would also reduce hassles with filling oil and gas in a conventional gas powered mower. Any recommendations?

Also, I think I would need at the very least an edge trimmer and a blower? Ideas?

I want to avoid spraying chemicals on the lawn. Any resource or practices to recommend?

Thanks for reading.
Get a gas mower and string trimmer. Electric is not powerful enough to do the job in a timely or efficient fashion. An electric blower makes sense if you don't mind the cord. Usually, I use a broom for this.
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Captain_Video
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by Captain_Video » Mon Apr 14, 2014 3:47 pm

You didn't mention what type of grass you have. In Houston there's a good chance it will be St. Augustine, the same type we have here in Florida. The summer climate there is also similar to Florida; sunny, hot, humid with frequent thunderstorms. Under these conditions St. Augustine grass grows fast and thick. I don't think any cordless mower will work. You will need a powerful gas mower preferably self-propelled if you want to get the job done quickly. You will also need an edger, string trimmer and blower, all gas powered. I've seen several neighbors struggling with electric edgers; they just don't have enough power if you want to work fast. Just remember you will have to maintain all this equipment too; sharpen blades, change oil, clean filters, change spark plugs etc.

I'm with Rattlesnake and pindevil. For about 20 years I did my lawn myself, spending the better part of every Saturday in the summer working on it. Now I have a lawn service mow it and TruGreen fertilize it and do the insect control (fire ants, chinch bugs, grubs, etc.). Now the only lawn equipment I have is a Black & Decker cordless blower and a cordless hedge trimmer. The blower is good for light duty work like blowing out the garage and walkways; it runs about 15 min per charge. The trimmer works well for trimming new growth on shrubs.

scottyja
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by scottyja » Mon Apr 14, 2014 3:56 pm

+1 on a lawn service. I love coming home Thursday after work and seeing the lawn done. You can generally find people in the classifieds willing to do it much cheaper. I pay $20/week for ~ 10k square feet of lawn. In 20 min those guys knock out what was taking me 1.5-2 hours every Saturday. This allows me to focus on the shrubs, trees and garden. But if you really want to do it yourself and go the electric route, focus on one with good,strong batteries, and always have a spare. It's frustrating to have 10 ft of edging left to do and the battery just won't make it.

And looking up your local agriculture extension service is a great idea. You will get sound advise appropriate for your area. They had a recommended fertilizer program I've done the last couple of years and it's helped quite a bit.

Carlton
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by Carlton » Mon Apr 14, 2014 4:00 pm

Can't help with the lawn mower (I'm still using a 25 y/o Lawn Boy 2-cycle). For fertilizer I've switched from the chemical ones to Milorganite http://milorganite.com/en/Lawn-Care.aspx. It's organic and doesn't give the grass the crazy growth spurt in the spring where you have to mow 3x per week, plus it can be used all over the garden and for vegetables.

If you really want grass, invest in a automatic irrigation system. It's a real pain dragging out the hose and sprinklers a few times a week. It's been pretty droughty in the Northeast the past year or so, I can imagine Texas is much drier. Maybe forget the grass and consider a drought-tolerant landscape using native perinnials. Much less work and can be very attractive.

killjoy2012
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by killjoy2012 » Mon Apr 14, 2014 4:17 pm

I have a 36v Li-ion cordless Black & Decker line trimmer & blower and they work very well - I would recommend them and deals can be found (Amazon, etc.). I'm much happier with them given my needs (a small 5k sq ft lawn) vs. having to deal with a gas blower (pain to start) or corded line trimmer (dealing with the cord takes more time than the trimming itself). They aren't as powerful as the former, but strong enough for my needs and saves a ton of time/headaches. Many people online will complain about short battery life in reviews, but they must have very large yards as I have not had any such issues.

This may be a regional thing, but I would caution you against a battery powered or corded mower. While I do like my 36v cordless B&D trimmer and blower, there's simply no way that a mower could be powerful enough to get the job done adequately... especially on a healthy, growing, green lawn. My 15 year old Craftsman mower still starts on the first pull and I mow my lawn all year on < 1 gallon of gas. And I've changed the oil in it like once in that 14 year time frame. I find it very hard to believe you could make a financial or convenience argument against a traditional gas powered mower.

DireWolf
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by DireWolf » Mon Apr 14, 2014 4:24 pm

You can make lawn care as simple or complicated as you want. I know some people who totally neglect their lawns and it shows. Others treat it almost like a full-time job and obsess over every little detail. If you're like me, you just want a nice lawn with minimal effort. If you want to keep your lawn nicer than 95% of others, follow these simple steps:

1. Irrigation system. This is key unless you live in a rainy climate. But just because you have one doesn't mean you will get good results... you have to know how to irrigate your lawn. 2-3 days per week in the early morning is ideal. Also, you want to water about 1 inch per week total. The most common mistake is to overwater.

2. Fertilizer/Herbicide. There are some excellent all-in-one fertilizers that provide nutrients and protect against weeds. Buy one of these and do 2 treatments per year... one in the spring and one in the fall. That's it. Cheap and it takes about 2 hours/year.

3. Mowing. Depending on your lawn it might be better to use a riding lawn mower or a self-propelled push mower. You could also hire a local service to do it for cheap.

sls239
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by sls239 » Mon Apr 14, 2014 5:11 pm

I have and use an electric mower. But for Houston, with any decent sized yard, I'd think you'd want a gas mower. I bought the electric one when we lived in Austin, where you really only have to mow every week and a half or so.

slbnoob
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by slbnoob » Mon Apr 14, 2014 7:11 pm

Wonderful responses. Now I have starting points to do my research and figure out what suits me. Thanks again everyone !

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Raymond
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by Raymond » Mon Apr 14, 2014 7:21 pm

I don't know what the watering restrictions are like in Houston, but in the DFW area, we can only water with sprinklers once every other week (low reservoirs).

We can stand outside and spray the lawn with a handheld hose pretty much all we like, but that gets pretty old, especially when it's really hot.

No, I am not going to stand outside at oh-dark-hundred in my Power Rangers jammies hosing down the lawn :P
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livesoft
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by livesoft » Mon Apr 14, 2014 7:29 pm

The OP's St Augustine grass will simply laugh at an electric mower, so getting one will be a waste of money.

A string trimmer is fine, but a blower? That's ridiculous. Get a broom. Even I use a broom. It's energy efficient.

Infrequent watering is once a week. Twice a week is illegal in some water-restricted places in/near Houston.

A herbicide will kill your grass. Just pick the weeds by hand. You can set a goal of picking 10 weeds a day: When you get out of your car and before going in the house, pick 10 weeds. After a while, you will have no weeds.

Fertiilzer: In Houston, the grass won't grow unless it gets up to 85 deg F during the day. So fertilize on April 1st, July 4th, and Labor Day. Use something like a 15-10-10 fertilizer with at least 5% slow-release nitrogen. If you use higher nitrogen such as Scotts 32-x-x, then you will get brown patch which is a fungus and your grass leaves will turn brown.

And finally, it is actually cheaper to buy sod each year and put it down yourself, than it is to water your grass.
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papito23
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by papito23 » Mon Apr 14, 2014 8:22 pm

You asked for advice, so here you go: I highly recommend finding alternatives to maintaining artificial (non-native) cool season grasses in an arid, drought-prone, and overpopulated area like Texas. I am a big proponent of using water to grow edible plants vs. maintaining cultural oddities (esp. in a dry-prairie/desert-y land like much of Texas). I will admit, I too am culturally-trained to want green.

A plan for a reservoir is being floated :oops: in Anderson, IN, partially in the name of water availability for metropolitan Indianapolis. Yes, even in one-meter-stick-of-rain-per-year Indiana. If it goes through, we will lose a nice portion of Indiana's few free-flowing stretches of river, not to mention the destruction of a state nature preserve and 1/3 of a state park. I know from talking directly with a water manager in Indy that when lawn watering was banned during the depth of the 2012 drought, demand dropped by nearly 2/3. To wit, we would be permanently impoverishing our life-support system to change the color of our yards. I realize this is a systems-level issue and would not be caused by one person's decision.

In 2012, I was in SW Michigan, watering (in vain) my relative's yard. I couldn't get the sprinkler to some parts of the lawn. When the rains arrived in the fall, the entire lawn greened up and looked the same. The cool-season grassesgo dormant and didn't dry even in a once-in-a-generation drought. It was clearly a waste of resources (money). I suppose if I really wanted to lay on a patch of grass, I could have watered a 10 x 10 ft space for a real opulent experience.

The alternative, if you are still wondering, is called xeriscaping. YMMV. I would love to have land, but I don't look forward to maintaining a lawn or the town's local cultural expectations (ordinances).
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. -Aldo Leopold's Golden Rule of Ecology

derosa
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by derosa » Mon Apr 14, 2014 8:34 pm

He is a new homeowner - wait he isn't even an owner yet.

Give him a break. Let him buy the stuff and take care of his yard.

In Charlotte virtually everyone grows cool weather bunch turf grass. So it looks great in fall and spring and ok over the winter. No matter what you do every fall you have to start all over with aerate, seed, feed, etc. Lawn companies, grass companies, fertilizer companies love it. Every year you have to start all over again.

Don't water with the exception of just after you plant seed every year. Then you only do it for a few weeks at most. Then it is on its own.

davebarnes
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Service

Post by davebarnes » Mon Apr 14, 2014 8:45 pm

We have had a service for over 20 years.
$10/week.
Bargain.
A nerd living in Denver

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papito23
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by papito23 » Mon Apr 14, 2014 8:46 pm

derosa wrote:He is a new homeowner - wait he isn't even an owner yet.

Give him a break. Let him buy the stuff and take care of his yard.

In Charlotte virtually everyone grows cool weather bunch turf grass. So it looks great in fall and spring and ok over the winter. No matter what you do every fall you have to start all over with aerate, seed, feed, etc. Lawn companies, grass companies, fertilizer companies love it. Every year you have to start all over again.

Don't water with the exception of just after you plant seed every year. Then you only do it for a few weeks at most. Then it is on its own.
Derosa, I was not preventing him from doing whatever he wishes, so I don't need to "let him." I filled my statements with caveats and "meh, it's a PITA" type asides. However, I think it is worth pointing out verifiable realities of water-provisioning. If you have not looked at the data/demographics for many arid regions of the U.S., I highly encourage you to do so (ex. an article in last month's Harper's Magazine; I have a subscription, so PM me if you want the full article).

As you note, watering infrequently and deeply for a few weeks a year is entirely within the realm of reason for much of the country and, perhaps, some regions in Texas. Lots of municipalities like Orlandoare now using partially-treated (reclaimed) water to do so.

As for me and my house, I plan on sticking near the Great Lakes and fending off any Texans with experience in pipeline infrastructure :twisted: :wink: .
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. -Aldo Leopold's Golden Rule of Ecology

slbnoob
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by slbnoob » Mon Apr 14, 2014 8:59 pm

papito23 wrote:You asked for advice, so here you go: I highly recommend finding alternatives to maintaining artificial (non-native) cool season grasses in an arid, drought-prone, and overpopulated area like Texas. I am a big proponent of using water to grow edible plants vs. maintaining cultural oddities (esp. in a dry-prairie/desert-y land like much of Texas). I will admit, I too am culturally-trained to want green.

To wit, we would be permanently impoverishing our life-support system to change the color of our yards. I realize this is a systems-level issue and would not be caused by one person's decision.
In principle, I actually align with your leanings. Grass is actually the biggest agricultural product in the US. What a waste of water which would be better used elsewhere. It is not me who wants to water the lawn but rather the HOA which will make me do it. So I have to do what the HOA bids me to since I chose to buy in where they rule.

Those who recommend landscaping companies have done lawn work for a long time themselves. I guess I also need to do the hard yards myself for a few years before I am ready to shell out my money weekly to those who actually need it and will work hard for it.

I'm willing to consider a broom (instead of a blower) now that it has gotten so much traction. Definitely eco friendly!

It seems that a <4000 sq ft. lawn may be amenable to be serviced by a corded electric mower. The pertinent question is what is the kind of grass (St. Augustine's or something else).

livesoft
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by livesoft » Mon Apr 14, 2014 9:14 pm

Wait a minute! You don't know what kind of grass you have? Send me a pm of the address and I will look with google maps and tell you. If you have no grass, then you will end up with St Augustine because all your neighbors will have it. And St Augustine will not really be cut by an electric mower.

Also you will learn that the mowing height will be short at this time of year, but each week you can raise the blades one notch on your mower until it reaches maximum height. Then in September, reverse the process and lower the blades by one notch each week until you stop mowing in November.
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Mister Whale
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by Mister Whale » Mon Apr 14, 2014 9:28 pm

At my last house I had a large section of yard that I had to dig up for a retaining wall installation. Because it needed to be reseeded anyway, I got about ten cubic yards of organic compost and tilled it into the soil as deep as it would go (about 7-8"). Raked it flat, put grass seed on top, covered with straw and watered briefly every other day. As the grass grew the roots easily went down deep into the loose, nutrient-rich soil. Once it was established I basically never had to water again (stayed green during Virginia summers), and it looked PERFECT -- like carpet. The 50-year-old ash tree in that vicinity really perked up, too.

I am decidedly NOT a fan of weed killer products for lawns; that stuff is really nasty/toxic to people, it's bad for any trees in the area, and it washes into the local waterways.
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killjoy2012
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by killjoy2012 » Mon Apr 14, 2014 11:15 pm

slbnoob wrote: I'm willing to consider a broom (instead of a blower) now that it has gotten so much traction. Definitely eco friendly!

It seems that a <4000 sq ft. lawn may be amenable to be serviced by a corded electric mower. The pertinent question is what is the kind of grass (St. Augustine's or something else).
1a) If you decide to go with battery powered accessory devices (e.g. trimmer), you may decide you want a 2nd battery. A lot of people will put the 2nd battery on the charger after popping the first battery into the trimmer and heading out to work. In my case, the price for 2nd Li-ion battery wasn't that much cheaper than buying the blower that also came with a battery. YMMV.

1b) Again, I think this may be regional thing, and I use a broom as well, but how are you going to do leaves and such in the Fall? I couldn't imagine surviving a Fall in the Midwest w/ just a broom and a rake.... I'd be outside raking for an eon. In fact, as much as I hate to admit it, I actually broke out the old gas powered blower last Fall. Maybe leaves aren't as much an issue in Houston?

2) Your original post mentioned avoiding "hassles". I'm sorry, it may just be me, but a corded mower sounds like a big hassle to me! Much more so than a gas powered mower. In the time it'll take you to unwind, untangle, plug in and get ready to mow, I'd already have my front yard done.

lululu
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by lululu » Tue Apr 15, 2014 4:14 am

Hire it out.

Tell them to cut the grass high; it is healthier for the lawn and helps shade out weeds.

I hate noisy blowers, so I have them not use one. If you have a lot of leaves, mine are just minor, ymmd. However, a broom is not the tool, that's why there are leaf rakes.

I have a different company do organic fertilizing a few times a year. Never any herbicides or pesticides, since I am near a waterway.

The lawn is established, so I never water. It occasionally browns up in the summer, but it always comes back. My neighbor waters and convention fertilizer/herbicides the heck out of his lawn, and mine looks better than his.

mw1739
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by mw1739 » Tue Apr 15, 2014 6:37 am

We moved last year and after many years of having a lawn service I thought I would give it a try. Used a gas mower and electric blower and trimmer. I will never use electric lawn equipment again. In fact I plan on selling mine and picking up new gas powered equipment this week.

My wife wasn't happy with my attempt to fertilize and weed the lawn last year, so that task has been outsourced again this year. Giving her someone else to complain about the weeds to is worth every penny.

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HardKnocker
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by HardKnocker » Tue Apr 15, 2014 7:18 am

4000 sq ft lawn is 40 x 100 approx.

Small yard.

Buy a cheap gas push mower at Walmart for $100. It'll last you 5-10 years and then buy a new one. Good exercise too.

A leaf blower is a good idea. Extension cord if not rechargeable or gas.

A gas weed whacker.

A lawn rake.

Fertilizer and weed killer if you are so inclined.
Last edited by HardKnocker on Mon Apr 28, 2014 7:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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dickenjb
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by dickenjb » Tue Apr 15, 2014 7:21 am

I have never owned a lawnmower. Lawn service is easily outsourced for cheap. I estimate it would take me at least 2 hours to cut and trim my 30,000 ft2 lawn. I earn $400 if I consult for 2 hours. I pay $49 to have the lawn done.

Note that I mowed lawns as a summer job in high school. Like Scarlett O'Hara vowed "never to be hungry again", I vowed never to do lawn maintenance again once I had a real job.

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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by Call_Me_Op » Tue Apr 15, 2014 8:57 am

Given the dirt, sweat, and ticks involved - I have opted to pay for landscaping services.
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pennstater2005
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by pennstater2005 » Tue Apr 15, 2014 9:24 am

I've used an electric string trimmer and sold it on eBay after the first use. Not nearly enough power for me. It wasn't 40v like some of these newer electric lawn tools though. I also push mowed about 1/2 an acre for the first year we lived in the house. Bought a rider the next year :D I say try the all electric route if you would like and worst case (or best case :D) scenario you end up with gas powered stuff the next year.
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by abuss368 » Tue Apr 15, 2014 10:02 am

We have a gas powered lawn mower so I can't help you there.

Many years ago we purchased a cordless battery trimmer from Black & Decker at The Home Depot. This trimmer has worked very well and I would definitely buy another one. The charge lasts a long time.

We have used the Scott's Lawn Care 4 or 5 step program and this has worked well at a reasonable cost.
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by ThatGuy » Tue Apr 15, 2014 11:03 am

papito23 wrote:You asked for advice, so here you go: I highly recommend finding alternatives to maintaining artificial (non-native) cool season grasses in an arid, drought-prone, and overpopulated area like Texas. I am a big proponent of using water to grow edible plants vs. maintaining cultural oddities (esp. in a dry-prairie/desert-y land like much of Texas). I will admit, I too am culturally-trained to want green.

A plan for a reservoir is being floated :oops: in Anderson, IN, partially in the name of water availability for metropolitan Indianapolis. Yes, even in one-meter-stick-of-rain-per-year Indiana. If it goes through, we will lose a nice portion of Indiana's few free-flowing stretches of river, not to mention the destruction of a state nature preserve and 1/3 of a state park. I know from talking directly with a water manager in Indy that when lawn watering was banned during the depth of the 2012 drought, demand dropped by nearly 2/3. To wit, we would be permanently impoverishing our life-support system to change the color of our yards. I realize this is a systems-level issue and would not be caused by one person's decision.

In 2012, I was in SW Michigan, watering (in vain) my relative's yard. I couldn't get the sprinkler to some parts of the lawn. When the rains arrived in the fall, the entire lawn greened up and looked the same. The cool-season grassesgo dormant and didn't dry even in a once-in-a-generation drought. It was clearly a waste of resources (money). I suppose if I really wanted to lay on a patch of grass, I could have watered a 10 x 10 ft space for a real opulent experience.

The alternative, if you are still wondering, is called xeriscaping. YMMV. I would love to have land, but I don't look forward to maintaining a lawn or the town's local cultural expectations (ordinances).
In California, a popular alternative is a low growing manzanita, but I do not know if this will work in Texas. Another popular xeriscaping ground cover is rosemary.

But I've yet to come across anything that can stand up to children and dogs playing in a backyard besides grass. I wish there was a low water alternative. In the mean time you can consider blends such as Eco-Lawn. There are photos, a water saving calculator, and more information accessible by a drop down menu underneath the dark green banner.

As far as mowing, you have a small lawn, why not use a manual mower?
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Luke Duke
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by Luke Duke » Tue Apr 15, 2014 12:18 pm

Never get an electric edger or weedeater if you have any trees.

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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by placeholder » Tue Apr 15, 2014 12:23 pm

slbnoob wrote:Grass is actually the biggest agricultural product in the US. What a waste of water which would be better used elsewhere.
My lawn is zoysia and I never water it. When we hit a dry patch it just hunkers down and stops growing maybe a bit brown but it doesn't do it any lasting damage.

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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by protagonist » Tue Apr 15, 2014 12:38 pm

slbnoob wrote:I am going to be a new homeowner. With a house, come lots of responsibilities - lawn care being one. I seek some boglehead'ish advice on what equipment to buy. My suburban TX house will 2700 sq ft. on a 7000 sq ft lot. This would mean my lawn would be about 4000 sq ft or less.

I am interested in an energy efficient, quiet electric (cordless) lawn mower which would also reduce hassles with filling oil and gas in a conventional gas powered mower. Any recommendations?

Also, I think I would need at the very least an edge trimmer and a blower? Ideas?

I want to avoid spraying chemicals on the lawn. Any resource or practices to recommend?

Thanks for reading.
This is a bit of a radical solution, and it may not appeal to you, but if you don't have young kids who demand a lawn that tolerates extensive foot traffic, you might consider replacing your lawn with a self-sufficient ground cover that does not require mowing. It will save you a lot of work and money over the long run, as well as (at least in my opinion) look way more beautiful and it is an outlet for your creativity. It's also good for the environment, esp. in water-hungry Texas. 4000 sq ft should be easily do-able. You mentioned the HOA...that could be a stumbling block, but maybe not.
Last edited by protagonist on Tue Apr 15, 2014 12:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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HardKnocker
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by HardKnocker » Tue Apr 15, 2014 12:40 pm

placeholder wrote:
slbnoob wrote:Grass is actually the biggest agricultural product in the US. What a waste of water which would be better used elsewhere.
My lawn is zoysia and I never water it. When we hit a dry patch it just hunkers down and stops growing maybe a bit brown but it doesn't do it any lasting damage.
I never water either. It's like pouring money down the drain.
“Gold gets dug out of the ground, then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility.”--Warren Buffett

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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by sapocanhoto » Tue Apr 15, 2014 3:23 pm

I have a similar sized yard so we all have fences dividing the yards. I bought a trimmer to edge the yard and I found that it damages the wood fences and my deck so I haven't used it since. The yard is small so I just clip the edges with some shears when the grass gets long enough at the edges.

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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by lululu » Tue Apr 15, 2014 3:26 pm

protagonist wrote: This is a bit of a radical solution, and it may not appeal to you, but if you don't have young kids who demand a lawn that tolerates extensive foot traffic, you might consider replacing your lawn with a self-sufficient ground cover that does not require mowing. It will save you a lot of work and money over the long run, as well as (at least in my opinion) look way more beautiful and it is an outlet for your creativity. It's also good for the environment, esp. in water-hungry Texas. 4000 sq ft should be easily do-able. You mentioned the HOA...that could be a stumbling block, but maybe not.
Overseeding a grass lawn with clover helps. Not only does clover fix nitrogen, but it is low growing, so mowing a mixed clover and grass lawn is easier. Clover seed used to be in lawn seed mixes until someone decided to call it a weed so they could make more money selling herbicides to kill it and also sell nitrogen fertilizers.

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ryuns
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by ryuns » Tue Apr 15, 2014 4:12 pm

In what world is 4000 sf a small yard anyway? My entire lot is a hair larger than that and includes my house, outbuilding, a ton of adapted landscaping, 3 garden boxes, compost bins, a couple fruit trees and my hop bines. And *I* feel like I have that's just too...much...grass.

Still, if it's not an irregular shape, I don't think corded mowers are much of a pain. You get used to it. Buy a cord winder, which really saves hassle on dealing with the cord. Then you'll start close to the outlet and move away in a way that keeps you from attacking your own cord. Can't comment on St Augustine, but I've cut my lawn pretty thick and wet with this little 10 amp mower and never had a problem: http://www.amazon.com/GreenWorks-25142- ... greenworks
An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered. -- GK Chesterton

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Cosmo
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by Cosmo » Tue Apr 15, 2014 6:02 pm

livesoft wrote:The OP's St Augustine grass will simply laugh at an electric mower, so getting one will be a waste of money.

A string trimmer is fine, but a blower? That's ridiculous. Get a broom. Even I use a broom. It's energy efficient.

Infrequent watering is once a week. Twice a week is illegal in some water-restricted places in/near Houston.

A herbicide will kill your grass. Just pick the weeds by hand. You can set a goal of picking 10 weeds a day: When you get out of your car and before going in the house, pick 10 weeds. After a while, you will have no weeds.

Fertiilzer: In Houston, the grass won't grow unless it gets up to 85 deg F during the day. So fertilize on April 1st, July 4th, and Labor Day. Use something like a 15-10-10 fertilizer with at least 5% slow-release nitrogen. If you use higher nitrogen such as Scotts 32-x-x, then you will get brown patch which is a fungus and your grass leaves will turn brown.

And finally, it is actually cheaper to buy sod each year and put it down yourself, than it is to water your grass.
Since I live in the greater Houston area and have 20 years experience with southern lawns down here, I thought I should chime in. As usual, Livesoft is correct. A rigorous growing St. Augustine lawn will be a tall order for a electric powered mover. I guess you can make the argument that you will stay on it twice a week. Good luck with that. You will find that even in drought-plagued Texas you will get a string of wet days where you will be unable to get out there and cut for several days or even a couple of weeks. Get a gas powered mower, you won't regret it. They are relatively low maintenance.

Additionally, owning an electric blower is a good idea IMO. I was surprised at how often I used it -like for blowing leaves out of the gutters and also blowing out the garage once a week. I own a Toro. Get an irrigation system. Up here in the Woodlands, we have a permanent 2X per week water restriction. I used to whine about that until I realized how much better off and better looking my lawn was doing a 2X/week deep watering. I am not aware of any 1X per week water restrictions but it wouldn't surprise me.

I use the Scotts Southern Turf Builder with 2% iron. I do have a small area that consistently gets brown patch in the fall in the back but I notice it comes back every year regardless of whether I fertilize or not. I usually find myself doing what livesoft does during the winter and early spring and hand pick a lot of weeds. However, once I get the fertilizer down in the first week of April or so, the vigorously growing grass and the developing heat usually chokes out most, if not all the weeds. A great cost savings there as fertilizers with herbicides are often 2 or 3X more expensive. An expense that is not necessary IMO. By the way, I think the key, Livesoft is not when daytime temperatures hit 85 but when your overnight lows are consistently above 60. That is when your grass starts growing like weeds although I do admit that your daytime temperature min requirement often coincides with nighttime lows above 60 down here.

Next up. Fire ants! Guess we can save that for a separate thread.
Cosmo

(Edited to add blowing leaves out of the gutters with an electric blower)

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dratkinson
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by dratkinson » Tue Apr 15, 2014 8:11 pm

+1 for gas mower and Toro electric leaf blower/vacuum.

I use a Toto electric (corded) leaf blower for gutters. It makes a 30-minute stand-up walk-around job of this chore.

I use a Snapper Convertible (mulch, discharge, bag) self-propelled gas mower for the lawn.

Today's electric mowers are not as good as the one I used as a teenager: too little power, too much safety, not enough suction.

A push-type reel mower is okay, if you correctly step up the blades and stay on top of the lawn. You can easily do 4000 sqft in 30 minutes. However, skip a mowing letting the lawn get above 4" and you'll need a gas mower to get the lawn again under control. Why? A reel mower has a nose bar (to protect shrubs from the cutting reel) which pushed tall grass forward and away from the cutting reel. I quit using my newer Scott's Classic 20" for this reason; also it is a cheaply-built mower and difficult to keep adjusted. Lesson learned.

Electric string trimmers/edgers are useful. If you get one, get one that uses strong line, and automatically feeds out new line, or can accept one of the newer, more permanent blades. My cheap ACE (B&D) string trimmer has thin line (breaks easily), annoying manual feed (every minute or so), and can not accept stronger blades/line. Still it is much better/faster than the hand trimmers I used as a teenager.

Electric hedge trimmer. My B&D is okay, but it can't handle anything thicker than ~3/4": about the same as all hedge trimmers. For the occasional thick limb, you will need a manual lopper.

Buy quality hand tools: I borrow my neighbor's Fiskars geared bypass loppers (manual hedge trimmer) as my cheap one (Chinese-made, Big Lots special) annoys me and doesn't work easily.

A Weed Hound (with the round handle on top) and a 5-gallon bucket works well for weeds. Once a week, on a watering day (the ground is softer), I walk around and pull out the newly-sprouted small weeds. I stop when the bucket is full.


I haven't yet broken the code on what it takes to have the most beautiful lawn in the neighborhood. Will try again this year.



Full disclosure. Over 15 years, I've tried an electric mower, reel-type mower, riding mower, and small lawn tractors. I now use an old Snapper Convertible self-propelled gas mower as having the right balance of constant capability and cost. Anything less doesn't does work as well for my constant lawn needs, and anything bigger needed occasionally I can rent for the day.

My neighbors pay ~$700/year for lawn service, April-September: (7 mo *4 weeks/mo *$25/week = $700/year). I paid $150 for my Snapper mower (disk transmission, old VW-simple to repair) off CL. I intentionally avoided all self-propelled mowers with expensive-to-repair transmissions.
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by lululu » Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:10 am

Cosmo wrote: Additionally, owning an electric blower is a good idea IMO. I was surprised at how often I used it -like for blowing leaves out of the gutters and also blowing out the garage once a week.
I just scoop the gutter leaves out with my gloves. I use my shop vac to vac the garage floor once a month or so. It does not accumulate debris often enough to need cleaning more often than that. So, one less tool, less noise, less energy usage when dealing with the gutters. Also a blower will not do a good job on gutter leaves if they are wet.

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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by protagonist » Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:21 am

lululu wrote:
Cosmo wrote: Additionally, owning an electric blower is a good idea IMO. I was surprised at how often I used it -like for blowing leaves out of the gutters and also blowing out the garage once a week.
I just scoop the gutter leaves out with my gloves. I use my shop vac to vac the garage floor once a month or so. It does not accumulate debris often enough to need cleaning more often than that. So, one less tool, less noise, less energy usage when dealing with the gutters. Also a blower will not do a good job on gutter leaves if they are wet.
I went from scooping in '12 and prior to blowing in '13, and IMHO, blowing is the way to go. A hand-held corded blower is cheap. It's way safer and more fun to watch them fly.
It does an acceptable job with wet leaves as well, though I usually wait for a day when it hasn't rained in awhile.

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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by Rupert » Thu Apr 17, 2014 10:32 am

I just wanted to second (third and fourth) the previous posters who said you can't cut healthy St. Augustine grass with an electric mower. It simply won't work (I've tried). I also have a small, Southern yard. I do the routine maintenance myself. By that I mean mowing and trimming. After experimenting with other options (including the aforementioned electric mower), I've determined that buying the cheapest self-propelled gas mower at a big-box store and replacing it every 7-10 years is the best way to go. I also use a gas trimmer. I've tried the electric trimmers and have found that they will not cut the St. Augustine runners. They'll trim the grass leaves just fine but won't cut the runners. After years of poorly fertilizing and weeding my own yard, I started using a landscaping service to do that in my front, street-facing yard. They use organic products when they can (organic products won't kill some pests and fungi). It looks great, and my neighbors don't complain. I let the backyard run wild and don't apply any products at all to it. That's where my kids run barefoot, build forts, and dig holes. It's full of clover, and I love it.

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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by dratkinson » Thu Apr 17, 2014 3:54 pm

protagonist wrote:
lululu wrote:
Cosmo wrote: Additionally, owning an electric blower is a good idea IMO. I was surprised at how often I used it -like for blowing leaves out of the gutters and also blowing out the garage once a week.
I just scoop the gutter leaves out with my gloves. I use my shop vac to vac the garage floor once a month or so. It does not accumulate debris often enough to need cleaning more often than that. So, one less tool, less noise, less energy usage when dealing with the gutters. Also a blower will not do a good job on gutter leaves if they are wet.
I went from scooping in '12 and prior to blowing in '13, and IMHO, blowing is the way to go. A hand-held corded blower is cheap. It's way safer and more fun to watch them fly.
It does an acceptable job with wet leaves as well, though I usually wait for a day when it hasn't rained in awhile.
+1

I bought my house in December. Checked the roof after moving in and discovered the gutters (all sides, ranch style home, hip roof) were full of leaves/twigs. Spend 2-3 hours one sunny, dry winter day on my knees, wearing neoprene gloves unclogging the soggy mess. Talk about a miserable job. Never again.

Neighbor suggested I try their leaf blower next time. I did. It worked great. Then bought mine.
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HardKnocker
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Re: New homeowner: lawn care advice

Post by HardKnocker » Fri Apr 18, 2014 8:42 pm

4000 sq. ft. yard is for example 40 x 100.

This is not a big yard in my area.

Am I missing something here?

1/2 acre lot is 21,780 sq. ft.

1 Acre is 43,560 sq. ft.
“Gold gets dug out of the ground, then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility.”--Warren Buffett

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