The art of lawn obsession explained

On the daily pre-sunrise (thanks summer solstice!) dog walk today, I observed that this seems to be a big year for crabgrass, with the exception of those few homes where the homeowner has meticulously poisoned the ground to create a well manicured putting green for a front lawn.

The actuarial tables can be your friend when deciding how much work you want to put into creating the perfect lawn. When you’re young — and, perhaps, stupid — you have all the time in the world to believe that your lawn is a statement about you. As time is running out, you begin to realize that dandelions and crabgrass were here before you, and they’re going to be there long after you become tomorrow’s mulch.

And then there’s Oktay Mustafayev, of New Jersey, who is profiled without irony this week by the Wall Street Journal.

He mows the lawn twice each time, then yanks out — by hand — blades that aren’t at the same height as the others.

The Journal found several lawn-obsessed people — all of them men — more than happy to share their pride and tips.

Dominick Segro, a police officer who lives in Springfield, N.J., for example mows two or three times week.

His kids are allowed to play in the yard but they have to move around so they don’t hurt the grass. No blow-up pools, either. You can’t have a nice lawn and fun.

Eric Cozart of Coldwater, Mich., has the same deal. No kids allowed on the front lawn, leaving the question: What’s the point here, fellas?

  • jon

    Seems like there is an easier way.

    Thought the route I took was just to go river rock… (only did half the front yard… so far.)

    • Ugh, I just moved a bunch of river rock OUT of my garden area in favor of cypress mulch and weed block film.

      I love it when people in the desert waste a ton of water to keep their lawns green.

      And by “love it” I mean “shake my head”.

      /Embrace the native plants.

      • Jeff

        We mulch people welcome you. We don’t associate with the rock people. I have no idea what they’re thinking.

        • Jerry

          Just remember not to mulch your boulevards/hell strips. When it gets into the streets it clogs storm drains.

          • Also small rocks and gravel by the street are a real pain. Just don’t.

          • Jerry

            We have pea rock there. Seems to work pretty good. If we used a snowblower on our side walk it would be a different matter.

          • Postal Customer

            hell strip?? 🙂

        • jon

          I’m both a mulch and a rock person in my yard… (rock in the front, mulch in the back.)

          Mulch requires refreshing every few years (or every year depending on the mulch)… and you still need to pull weeds (though it’s easier and there are fewer).

          Rock has even fewer weeds, also easy to pull them, but only requires a refresh every few decades.

          I could go on about the amazing power of mulch for gardening for paragraphs (I have actually in other places). And I break my own mowing rules twice a year and bag the first two times I cut the yard so I can put the clippings down for mulch in the veggie garden (grass clippings to the heavy feeders (only way I can get broccoli to grow to a reasonable size is with grass clippings) and leaves from the neighbors maple tree saved over the winter go on everything else (or anything that is getting fertilized in other ways.))
          And for anywhere that I don’t have enough mulch to cover in the garden, there is the scuffle hoe… or the stirrup hoe, or the hoop hoe, or the action hoe, they are all the same thing but no one seems to have settled on a name for it…

          Perennials in the back get wood chips… mostly pine now… trying to get away from cedar after my apple trees developed cedar rust…

      • Ugh – you’ll regret the weed blocking film. Humus will form over the top of it, allowing weeds to flourish and every time you want to change plantings, you’ll try stabbing your way through it, cuss, and go to find a box cutter.

        • Jerry

          You need to stop planting so many chickpeas.

          Oh…humus. That makes more sense.

          • Rob

            A truly humuserus comment

        • Al

          I curse that stupid film EVERY TIME I go to try to plant something, anything in my yard.

        • I’ve used it before so i know what I’m up against.


      • jon

        I’ve got 3 layers (minimum) of weed blocking cloth under the rock…

        in spring spring I put down weed preventer down, that seems to prevent some of the other issues mentioned further down.

        I’ve got plants put in the rock garden… all edibles… currants, honey berries, and high bush cranberries (I think the currants are native, I know the cranberries are, the honeyberries are native to russia I think, but they grow well in our climate).

  • Rob

    I guess if you’ve got OCD, there are worse ways for it to manifest than engaging in a Protean battle with your lawn every year.

    Gotta go; my OCD for the deep shade, a hammock, a glass of iced tea, and some jazz tunes playing gently in the background is flaring up…

  • John

    I’m all for evolution.

    May the strongest plant survive.

    Okay, that’s not true the last couple years – I couldn’t take the three feet of dirt between my house and the street, so I hired a chemical company to poison everything that isn’t grass and feed the grass. My lawn has never looked so good. (It helps that my son is old enough to mow now. The work involved with just asking him to mow it is less than mowing it, so it gets done when it needs to and not just when I get around to it.)

    But, the plant with the best drought resistance still has the best chance. No way am I watering.

    • jon

      Set the mower to its highest level… mow it at that height, mulch don’t bag… it’ll help the grass establish deep roots, and better drought resistance… also provides more shade to the ground for better water retention.
      Mulch will feed the grass (feed it back to itself… cannibalism grass) and help dump more moisture back down to the soil and retain it…

      It’s the best chance for the grass to be the plant that is successful…
      Anything beyond that is to much work for me.

      • John

        that’s pretty much what we do (except the chemicals part – but I just pay for that, because I know from years of experience that i”ll never actually put down the treatments). It’s the strip along the road where the plow throws salty, sandy, grass killing ice every winter that I hate. Nothing byt crab grass grows there, and by November it’s dead again.

        • Jack

          Do you think that hostas would survive? That’s my next plan of attack.

          • jon

            That’s actually what I’ve been thinking for the strip on the road… Hosta’s are supposedly salt tolerant… but I’ve not done it yet to say for sure.

            My plan: once the county puts in curbs in 2019 (fingers crossed) I’m going to rip out the “grass” (weeds) and put down a layer of weed cloth (probably two or 3, because one layer is usually insufficient) then some big rocks (something heavy enough to keep animals from digging in there) and then drop in hostas in the rock garden…

            What I’ve not figured out is what to do where my “Grass” meets my neighbors grass (he takes care to keep that stuff alive and healthy… more effort than I wish to put in)… I don’t want his grass growing into my rock garden, so some sort of barrier (few inches into the ground and a little bit above the ground) need to be put in place… this is the same reason I’ve only dont half my yard in river rock.

      • Postal Customer

        I’ve tried the mulch don’t bag thing. It just leaves clumps of dead grass in its wake, and that has to be raked up. What did I do wrong?

        • Leroy

          Either A. Use a mower that doesn’t mulch well, B. Let the grass get to high before mowing, or C. Mowing the grass while it’s damp.

          I’ve got a section of my yard that grows significantly faster than the rest so it tends to clump. I’ve gotten very good at ignoring those clumps.

        • You are either cutting too much off at a time or mowing while the moisture content is too high. Try raising the mower deck and don’t mow wet grass. If you are adventurous, try just blowing the clippings out the side onto the lawn. That’s what I do and it clumps less, is super easy (lazy dude’s dream), and it still all ultimately returns the organic matter to the soil.

        • Jeff C.

          I have a “mulching mower” and I’m amazed that I never get clumps. Long grass. Wet grass. Doesn’t matter. No clumps of dead grass. Never have to bag.

        • John

          dull blade?

        • jon

          Sharpen your mower blade. Do it annually.
          Preferably use a mulching mower and a mulching blade. (mulching blades/mowers will often be designed to lift the grass clippings up and run them through the blade a second, or 3 time to chop them up really small.)

          If you feel capable of doing it yourself you can save a bunch of money/time over the years sharpening your own blades, bench grinders can be had for $20-40 after sales/coupons… and a balancing tool can be had for $8… so for $48 you have a nearly unlimited supply of sharp blades, vs. $15-20 a year…

          As a kid (when I had access to my fathers bench grinder) I sharpened our mower blades, and my uncles down the street, and ended up doing it for a few other neighbors when they saw me walking up and down the street with mower blades to my uncle’s house… I didn’t charge for it at the time a few people tossed me a couple bucks, but I made my money cutting grass for people not sharpening blades….

  • KTFoley

    And here I’ve just come to appreciate creeping charlie as a ground cover that will thrive in the shaded, compacted, root-strewn stretch of boulevard “lawn”, without ever getting too long for the push mower.

    • Al

      I’m fairly certain we’re the block pariahs, but dammit, I like the way Creeping Charlie smells. It’s green. Mostly. Whatever.

      • I’ll see your Creeping Charlie and raise you a yard full of clover!

        • Postal Customer

          I don’t think clover is as bad. I’ve noticed that creeping charlie is the final state of a lawn. If you neglect the lawn for 5-10 years, eventually it will be all creeping charlie. I’ve seen that in some yards.

          • Al

            We’re not neglecting, so to speak. Just benevolently ignoring.

          • There was a good article in the Strib on Sunday about letting nature balance things in a lawn. Rabbits love clover. If they’re eating clover, they’re not eating yourflowers. And they make good dinner for owls.

          • Jack

            Could send some owls my way? The rabbits don’t care about the clover this year. They are eating my raised flower bed that hasn’t been touched for the past 17 years.

        • Jerry

          I’ll take the clover and even the creeping Charlie, it’s the purslane that is taking over my backyard that I can’t stand.

        • jon

          clover is a legume.
          legumes cultivate a bacteria at the base of their roots that turn atmospheric nitrogen into the stuff plants crave.

          If you have some clover in your yard then don’t worry about it, just keep mowing high and mulching, eventually the clover will die, and self reseed (every few years), if the clover has established enough nitrogen for the grass to thrive it will fail to reseed itself…
          If the clover is super healthy and established the mower will hack it back down and return those nutrients to the soil, where the clover and grass can fight over them, eventually the grass will win in a high nitrogen environment with decent turf built up because the clover can’t reseed.

          If your yard is entirely clover, say you planned it that way… it’s a thing.

  • lusophone

    One of those toddler-sized Barbie Jeeps given to us by a neighbor brought the death of a good portion of our backyard grass/weeds.

  • MCH

    I am not as obsessive as those guys but I really like a nice looking groomed green lawn. I do use week killer but not the 7 times a year the large companies push on you. I love sitting on my porch and just enjoying how nice it looks. My husband on the other hand has almost nothing to do with the yard. But I will take my lawn over his hours of computer games anytime. My neighbors are not into their lawns and I don’t fuss and fret over that–I just do my own thing.

  • I’m aging out of the “need to mow” phase. Cold turkey didn’t work as well for lawn-care as it did for cigarettes.

  • KariBemidji

    Can you guess which of my neighbors has a sprinkler system?

    The rest of us realize we live on the tundra in the winter and live on sandy soil in the summer. It’s not worth the extra effort. He has stopped shaming us over our dandelions and crabgrass.

  • Kellpa07

    Decades ago, the busybodies wanted everyone to have grass lawns, and mandated that everyone must. Oh they had their “reasons” (noxious weeds! allergies!) and of course others had reasons (fertilizer sales).

    Now of course, the busybodies don’t want anyone to have lawns. They too have their reasons, and of course they are convinced they know what’s best.

    To all the busybodies, I say “Get off my lawn!”

    • I’m not sure mine is doing any good.

      • It is. We could still use more, though.

  • Postal Customer

    I’m not a lawn obsessive, but I’ve noticed that if I don’t spray stuff, weeds move in. And the longer I don’t spray, the tougher the weeds get. It begins to take several years to get back to good turf. That’s where I am now. It’s not that fun.

    Basically, maintaining a yard is a lose-lose situation. It is a hassle, it is expensive, it’s not good for the environment.

    • daklute

      I use an organic lawn company. The chemical make-up of your soil – I am told – can either encourage or inhibit weed growth. When I bought my house my lawn was a fright of burnt-out sod. Now it is the greenest on the block, but not b/c of frequent chemical applications. I prefer a diverse culture of plants, so have dandilions, violets, grass and others. I pull the creeping charlie and crab-grass.

  • Wayne

    Guessing that they don’t own dogs…

  • The Resistance

    Our solution has been to create a large hosta glade and and we split them each fall, take out a few more feet of lawn, and extend the glade. In other areas we have done the same thing with sedum. We’ve replaced about half of our lawn over the last 3 years. Renting a kick sod cutter makes the lawn removal much easier.

    Another option is to plant Buffalo grass, which is native and drought tolerant. But I don’t know of a place that sells it as sod. Seed starting it can take awhile.

    Two of our neighbors have converted their front yards to prairie forbs. They are beautiful but take a commitment.

    • Jack

      We are going the hosta route after resisting for years. That and perennials in the flower beds. Getting too old for all the maintenance…