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Almost half of those who answered our latest lawn poll said they'd be spending more time in their outdoor spaces this year. Although entertaining and personal enjoyment are high on their list of activities, spending time and money aren't.
The good news is that a better lawn with less work and money aren't mutually exclusive. Our experts and turf specialists can help you trim an hour or more off the average six hours per week people spend mowing and gardening. You can also save $100 or more this season and get a better-looking lawn. But that's only the beginning.
Our latest mower and tractor test shows that the easiest-to-use, best-mowing machines often cost hundreds and even thousands less than their competitors. Not in the market for new gear? Our insider's tips can help you keep the mower and tractor you own humming along. We also offer safety tips for riding mowers and tractors. And if you're one of the 27 percent of people who told us their yard is damaged or needs repair, our low-cost yard makeovers can make the neighbors green with envy.
Fight the urge to fertilize your lawn as soon as the weather starts to warm up. A strong dose of spring fertility will green up lawns quickly, but it also makes turf vulnerable to weeds, disease, and summer heat, says Martin Petrovic, professor of turf-grass science at Cornell University. It also means more mowing.
Instead of stocking up on fertilizer, clear out yard debris and test your soil. You'll find out your soil's pH, any missing nutrients and how much of each is needed, and when to apply them. A soil test could save an overeager feeder $50 or more in materials plus several hours of labor per year. It can also help keep phosphorous and other unnecessary chemicals from leaching into the local water supply.
Insider's tip: Cheap, do-it-yourself soil testers, sold at garden stores and home centers, didn't deliver accurate-enough results based on our tests. You're better off paying $10 or so for your local cooperative extension service to do the analysis for you.
2. Maintain your mower
While you're waiting for your soil-test results, spend a few hours (or $50 to $150) getting your mower or tractor in shape (see Can This Mower Be Saved?). More than a quarter of the people we polled admit they've never even sharpened their mower's blade. Dull blades stress grass, making it more susceptible to diseases. A sharp, balanced blade also cuts faster and cleaner, so you'll get a nice, even cut and reduce mowing time. Along with oil changes and basic engine maintenance, sharp blades can reduce fuel costs by up to 25 percent.
3. Thicken your turf
Nature abhors a vacuum. For lawns, that means weeds will quickly fill bare patches. Unless your lawn is filled with weeds or has huge bare spots, seeding over the existing grass will help build up turf. Choose grass suited to your climate, soil conditions, and lifestyle. Your local cooperative extension should have a list of recommended species and varieties, including those that need the least fertilizing and watering. For instance, tall fescue is a good, low-maintenance alternative to Kentucky bluegrass and perennial rye in the Northeast. Buffalo grass is a hassle-free favorite west of the Mississippi, and zoysia and seashore paspalum are popular newcomers in the South.
Always check the seed label to see precisely which varieties you have. Also look for a germination date that's less than a year old. And buy "weed free" seed.
Insider's tip: Cover seed with a fine layer of soil, compost, or peat moss. Add starter fertilizer and gently pack the soil down with the back of a hoe or shovel. Seeds do better in lightly compacted soil.