The Cost of Maintaining the Perfect Lawn

1106523_green_grassOne thing I’ve noticed since we’ve built a house in suburbia is that everyone strives to have a perfect lawn.  It’s quite the sight to drive through a subdivision, and all you see is perfect golf grass.  Some of these lawns are managed by professionals, but others are cared for by enthusiastic home owners.

I’ve never been much of a grass person, but since moving in, the grass obsession has been contagious!  I’m not to the point of trimming the lawn with scissors, but I do like having a nice lawn.  With that, I phoned around to the various professional lawn services to get quotes.  Without the lawn cutting services, most have packages that cover applications throughout the season.   These applications include aeration, spring lime, spring fertilizer, mid season fertilizer, bug/weed spray, fall lime and fertilizer.  The package prices ranged from $160 per season for the bare bones, up to $400/season for all of the services listed above.

Being the spend conscious person that I am, $400/season for someone to feed my lawn a periodically seemed like a lot of money, so I decided to figure out how to get a nice lawn on my own.  The easiest way to figure out the golf green puzzle is to ask existing home owners.  From my research, most home owners simply:

  1. Dethatch (optional aeration) as soon as the snow melts
  2. Followed by lime
  3. Fertilize (with high nitrogen) after the first mow
  4. Fertilize again 6-8 weeks after (high nitrogen)
  5. Fertilize again in the fall (high potassium)
  6. Lime before snowfall.

I left out the anti-weed chemical application as most weeds can be kept at bay by keeping the grass fairly long.  That is, use the highest blade setting on the lawn mower.

How much does this cost?  Here are some of the costs of the materials from the local hardware store (like Home Depot).  Note that the materials are for a standard 50×100 city lot (in NL).

  • Lime:  $5.99 per bag x 4 (2 applications, 2 bags per application) = $24
  • Fertilizer: $16 per application/bag (3 applications) = $48
  • Aeration: I own a 2 prong aeration tool, and only used in compacted soil areas: $20
  • Spreader: $35
  • Total: $127 first year, $72 per season after.

So for $72 per season after the first year, it’s quite a difference from the $300-400/season quote from the local lawn companies.  The $72 does not count for my time, but I must say that spreading lime and fertilizer does not take much time at all.  In fact, mowing the grass takes longer.  The one big value I can see the pros adding is if the lawn has an insect problem.  In that case, I would simply hire them for the pesticide application(s).

For those lawn enthusiasts out there, do you have any tips on maintaining a nice, cost effective, lawn year after year ?

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Derek
10 years ago

I am full of hot air.

I forgot to mention ‘The nature of things’ ran a show about our ‘addiction’ to the perfect lawn which highlight some of the above criticisms.

The last side note we also planted a veggie garden this year. We (my wife bought) and her Mom and i planted (as she is 8 mo pregnant) lots of flowers and trees this year. That cost me a fair bit more than a few lawn care items.

I wished i got a carbon credit for the trees. I remember reading something about that a while back during the initial carbon trading craze.

Derek

Derek
10 years ago

How about a picture or 2 of your lawn? A picture tells an articles worth…

I am in between all above comments. I have a below average lawn in my area, because i don’t want to spend $500 or more for water.

I have a few weeds, because i don’t want to really spray chemicals with a 4 and 2 year old running around, although i have and will again, but only after locking up the kiddies.

All other costs are fairly insignificant really after you buy your first few lawn care tools (mower, rakes, spreaders, etc) and factor out your time.

I will also get an electrical mower at some point which will reduce pollution as mowers are not good in this area. Since i am in MB it means my power will also come from hydro and not fossil fuel.

A sand point will be another thing i may add since many neighbours have both underground sprinkers and a sand point to water (many water when its raining!?)

In the mean time i will enjoy the golf like turf on the course!

D

Jo
10 years ago

I dont judge those who love thier lawns. I prefer the look of more a more natural and organic look. If done with planning and thought it can look just as “manicured” or landscaped as you would like. Our neighbourhood has slowly transitioned over the last 10 years to this type of front yard and it raised the profile and character of it. Almost every house looks unique from the front. And those who do have some lawn have converted to a more eco-friendly means of maintaining it and yes, we do seem to have a wide variety of “wild life”. No manicured, golf greens here but houses sell very quickly and it’s a very popular area for potential buyers. But Im not an expert and could not debate this with hard facts. Too each is thier own. I will however pass on the lawn care tips here to our lawn loving friends. Thanks

George
10 years ago

Nothing but cutting high and compost. And most recently compost tea. That makes the compost go a long way.

Grass is just as green as the neighbors and ALOT less time fussing over it.

Ben
10 years ago

I absolutely abhor and despise gardening and find it somewhat amusing that people spend so much time, money and energy aiming for the perfect lawn. (In fact I consider them as having a lower IQ). We get maybe three months of “summer” in Canada (It’s going to snow this weekend) and one of those months: it rains or hails! So just when the lawn is perfect down comes the winter snow and covers it all – what a complete and utter waste of time!!

Scott
10 years ago

“Lawn” is the largest crop in North America.
Look it up.

And it is worthless.

Way to go suburbia.

(For such a FRUGAL guy, your lawn is completely NOT you!
Even more bizarre that you filed this article under ‘Saving Strategies’!?)

In my West Coast part of the country, the grass naturally turns brown and dies in the summer. Every bright green lawn I see during July makes me cringe because I know the huge waste of water it sucks up just to go against Nature (even more so when every summer we have water shortages!).

As others have said, ditch the green 100%.
Install something that is either a) far more interesting and intriguing (shouldn’t be hard) and/or b) useful (eg. garden).

On the positive side, a few people in my neighbourhood have started growing front yard food gardens. It is a joy to watch the growth of plants from sprout to fruit (or veggie in this case!) and to know that it is feeding that family.

Go green, Frugal, and nix the lawn. :)

Brendan
10 years ago

My lawn is horrible, thinning out, and full of weeds.
The only water it gets is rainfall. No raking, weeding, fertilizing, etc.
Cut once a week if that.
I dont care, and I dont care if the neighbours talk. It’s just grass, and it makes no sense to spend a dime on it. Maybe if I want to sell the house I will spend some money and effort because people like a nice lawn, but seriously a lush green lawn would not improve the quality of my life one bit.
It’s pretty hard to kill grass. Look at all the fields that get even less care than my lawn. Not lush, but still grass.

It’s only grass.

savvysavingbytes
10 years ago

One of the nice things about building a home with no adjoining neighbors is that you can do whatever you want with your lawn. A friend and naturalist took care of his lawn forever all in one shot: he scattered wild grass and flower seeds over the space. Now he’ll never spend a minute mowing or “dressing” the thing and has all those lovely flowers to look at.

Rachelle
10 years ago

Hah after talking to my husband last night he clearly is not so enthralled by the dandelions as I am.

Then I read the post from Tony and it did bring to mind one other point about my terrible lawn. My house is about 60 years old and the builder who built my home clearly did not have a strong background in lawn making. In short he put no topsoil down and the ground is very uneven. Then lawn next door to me also suffers the same fate.

My neighbor with the perfect lawn resodded her lawn entirely. Her lawn is not lumpy like mine. She did this a number of years ago before I moved in.

So it appears that the initial preparation of the ground is also important and can certainly lead to your lawn not growing properly and being taken over by weeds that are used to more adverse conditions.

Laketown
10 years ago

We keep it fairly simple. Fertilize in the fall with a winter fertilizer and overseed once a year, our yard always looks fairly good. Not golf course quality, but the only house on the street that looks better has their lawn professionally maintained. I never water the lawn and we use a hand tool to pluck up the dandelions. I figure that does an good enough job aerating the lawn to worry about having it specifically done.