Friday, July 09, 2004

Competitive Lawn Mowing

Growing up, I don't recall anyone in our neighborhood paying particular attention to their lawn. Our lawns were all just green grass that none of the teenagers particularly wanted to mow on any given weekend. Even when I worked summers mowing lawns I rarely wanted to go out in the heat to earn my keep - unless there was a particular something such as a new bicycle (that I still have, thankyouverymuch) or new watch that I was trying to earn enough to purchase.

Of course, throughout my college days, I either lived on campus or in an apartment. Each came with its own landscape management as part of the rent.

When my wife and I finally moved into a house in Perkins, Oklahoma, lawn maintenance was still not a big issue. Every summer, the grass in the entire neighborhood would turn purple on a weekly basis with buds from a weed that I never felt the need to specifically identify. In the beginning, I tried to keep the grass under six inches but there were times when I just didn't have the energy.

You see, our house took up three lots, according to the legal description. The house wasn't particularly large (less than 1,600 sqft.) but it sat on what we assumed was close to an acre of land. Maybe it was close to a half acre but the point is that our back yard was HUGE. To give you an idea, there was a 75ft tall pecan tree (I'm not making this up!) that sat just the other side of our fenceline in our neighbors yard not quite half the distance from the back of our house to the back fence. Even with its sprawling canopy, it barely hung over the back of the house and only covered about half the width of the yard. Using a walk-behind mower, it used to take me an hour and a half, minimum, to mow the yard. Spending an hour and a half in 100 degree heat (37.7c) with 60% humidity (that's a heat index of 129 degrees [53.8c]) can take a lot out of you.

During the eleven years we lived in that house, we eventually bought a riding lawn mower. It cut my mowing time in half and I was able to better keep up with the growth of the grass. I actually spread some grass seed on a large, bare section of the lawn under the pecan tree about 18 months before we moved out. It came in nicely the next season but that's the most I ever did to that lawn. My best efforts toward continuing lawn care were limited to spreading a bag of weed-n-feed fertilizer at the beginning of each season.

When we moved about a year ago it was into a brand new house. There was no lawn. The builder had seeded it but much of the seed had been consumed by visiting waterfowl or had simply washed down the slope of the back yard in summer rain storms. To our West was a large, empty field and to our East was an empty lot followed by the only other occupied house in the edition (there were several occupied duplexes but only the two houses and a house-in-progress).

Last summer, our neighbor worked with a landscaper to put in an irrigation system and actually laid sod. As it began to take root, a few wide-bladed weeds could be seen dotted around the yard. Our neighbor dutifully sat in the grass removing them one-by-one to eradicate them from her lawn. I was seeding every four weeks or so and simply hoped something would grow. It didn't matter if it looked like grass or not, as long as it stopped the erosion. It actually turned out well (in the front yard, at least) and we had what would easily pass for a lawn by the end of the season.

As for the back yard, I didn't have any better luck than the builder. Every time I would seed, heavy rains would come within two days and wash the seed - and a good portion of the soil from my yard - down into the wetland. At the beginning of this season, I was happy to see various weeds pop up. At least I have been able to retain some of the shape of my back yard.

During the cooler months - we don't really have what some would consider a "winter" here in Oklahoma - the lot next door (between our two houses) was leveled and a house was built upon it. Even though a single builder is constructing the development, he had sold the lot to his plumbing contractor with the intention that the contractor would have a house built and sell it. During that time, I also took the opportunity to forcibly remove several patches of large, thick-stalked weeds from my yard. This left a few bare patches but nothing terribly large.

At the beginning of spring, I noticed a major difference between the primary builder and the plumbing contractor... The contractor laid sod. This didn't bother me so much at first because the sod was in a dormant state and was mostly brown. As the earth continued to awaken, however, the yellow-flowered weeds and weeds of other varieties began quickly overtaking the grass in my yard.

Roundup to the rescue!

It was actually early enough in the season that most of the grass was still dormant. I took the opportunity to chemically control my weeds. Unfortunately, when the grass did start growing, it left me with large dead patches to match my bare spots. My lawn looked pitiful.

It was about this time that I began to broaden my horizons and started reading the blog, Human Oddities and Mishaps. As I read, I found it humorous that she had a neighbor who was so obsessed with his lawn that if she mowed, the neighbor would mow within 24 hours. I thought it was her way of torturing the neighbor but then realized that she has her own obsession with lawn care.

I found it humorous, that is, until the house next door sold, the neighbor's sod started to green up and they mowed for the first time. Suddenly, it was pristine lawn, excellent lawn and... my house.

To be fair, we have different types of grass. The sod is most likely some sort of bermudagrass and I planted fescue. Add to that the weed incursion level I experience (I'm closest to the big field-o-weeds) and you have some explanation. That does not help, however, when my grass (not including the weeds) appears to grow denser and faster than the houses with sod. Even when I do mow it still looks like I need to mow when compared to their smooth, even, carpet-like yards. Landscape Lady even does the diagonal-cut thing that makes her lawn look like a work of art when she's finished.

For some reason, our rainy season came late and I was able to seed just before it hit. This has, fortunately, filled in the bare spots and livened up the dead spots. The lawn still looks shaggy in comparison.

So here I am, never having cared much about or for lawn maintenance in all of my 37 years, laughing at the exploits of a blogger with a turf-obsessed neighbor, suddenly finding myself really caring what my lawn looks like. Me... an overweight, turf-challenged, lawncare slacker in a competition to keep the neighborhood looking fertile. Whoda thunk it?

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