In the never-ending quest for the perfect expanse of green grass, homeowners are spending an incredible amount of time on basic lawn care.
Depending on the type of mower you have, you could spend anywhere from seven to 47 days of your life just mowing the lawn, according to a new survey from House Method. And that’s for a yard that’s just 0.15 acre; that figure can skyrocket if your property has a lot of green space.
To figure out how you can recapture some of that time, we asked landscape experts for advice on which projects to focus on. Whether you’re doing the bare minimum (cutting the lawn) and trying to up your game, or looking for ways to do the most, here’s what you need to know.
If you have 5 minutes
If you have just a few minutes to spare, you can still make an impact on your lawn.
For example, if your grass is looking less than vibrant, but you can’t figure out what the problem is, consider doing a quick round of dethatching.
“It’s one of the best ways to stimulate lawn growth quickly and naturally,” says Blythe Yost, CEO and co-founder of Tilly, an online landscape design company in Pearl River, NY. “You can either rent a thatching machine or quickly move across your lawn using a rake. The goal is to remove a thick layer of built-up, dead plant material, and allow air, water, and nutrients to reach the soil again.”
Dethatching also helps with drainage.
Cost: Free if you use a rake you already own
If you want to quickly improve your lawn’s curb appeal, planting flowers around the perimeter is the way to go. If time is of the essence and gardening isn’t your forte, Jill Sandy, an entrepreneur and gardening guru at Constant Delights in Grand Forks, ND, recommends skipping flower beds and just opting for a few simple flower pots.
For those who don’t want to invest time in ongoing plant care, geraniums, petunias, hydrangeas, begonias, and impatiens are hardy, easy to grow, and require little to no maintenance.
If you have 30 minutes
Some homeowners may believe that more water guarantees a greener lawn, but that’s just not the case.
“It’s a common myth that you should constantly be watering your lawn,” says James Morgan, a lawn and landscaping expert at Get Rid of Things in Saint Paul, MN. “The best approach, and one that will save you time and make your lawn look better, is to water once or at most twice a week, for longer periods of time. For most lawns, a solid 30 minutes of steady watering will do the job. It also encourages root growth, which leads to a greener lawn.”
Another way to lay a foundation for future lushness is to aerate your lawn, says Ben Wallington, CEO of Designerwear in Preston, England.
“All you need to do is make 3-inch holes in the lawn, throughout the yard,” he says. “Space the holes evenly for best results.”
You can find aerator tools or aerator shoes (see photo above) at your local hardware store or online.
Simply giving the soil more air increases its ability to absorb nutrients and circulate air, Wallington explains. Better soil ultimately leads to greener grass and a healthier yard overall.
Cost: Aerator tools are $25-plus; aerator shoes are $22-plus
If you have 1 hour
An hour is enough time to remove weeds, dead plants, and dandelions with a spade, to make your lawn look tidy, and to prevent future issues.
“Dandelions look nice for a few days, but in the end, they’re a noxious weed that quickly start to look awful,” says Christina Mendez, a Realtor® at Kaleo Real Estate Company in Glendora, CA. A few can even spread their seed quickly and turn into an infestation, she adds.
Cost: Free if you own a spade
Another relatively quick investment that will pay off for years to come is improving your lawn’s drainage. If you see sections getting waterlogged every time it rains, that’s an issue. It will ultimately affect the health of your lawn, washing away the upper layer of the soil and preventing the soil and grass from getting nutrients and oxygen.
Sarah Finazzo, chief marketing officer at Tilly, recommends adding significant quantities of topsoil to low points or wet areas in your yard, and then overseeding it with the appropriate seed mix. You can either buy bags of topsoil or have a yard or two delivered from a local nursery.
Cost: $200 to $500
If you have 3 hours
In three hours, you can improve the aesthetics of your lawn area. One backyard feature that has gotten a lot of traction in the past year, especially, is the outdoor fire pit, says Sandy.
“Bringing one onto your lawn a la carte is the easiest option, but you can also have it built and installed by a professional,” she says. The latter option takes longer and costs more, but both add fun to your space and neither requires serious upkeep.
Cost: A pre-made fire pit starts at $50. To have it built and professionally installed costs an average of $700, according to HomeAdvisor.
If your lawn has dead or dry patches or the grass is thin and you have a few hours, Ryan Smith, owner of Ant & Garden Organic Pest Control in Beaverton, OR, recommends top-dressing it with compost.
“Compost has everything plants need for vigorous growth, and it doesn’t require chemicals,” Smith says. “It takes a few hours to do yourself, but it encourages high microbial soil content, which, in turn, prevents pests and disease naturally.”
Cost: $200 for materials
If you have a weekend
With a full weekend ahead of you—and an open mind—you can make a serious impact on the look and health of your lawn.
While walkways aren’t technically part of your lawn, they do enhance the green space in your yard, says Tyler Forte, founder and CEO of Felix Homes in Nashville, TN. Pavements, bricks, and other walkways can shift over the years, but patio pavers tend to stand the test of time, he says.
“They can withstand heavy foot traffic, require little maintenance, and adjust as the ground shifts,” Forte says. They can also generally be a DIY project, unlike the more labor-intensive and costly pavements and bricks.
Cost: $8 to $25 per square foot
While a perfectly manicured lawn has been the aspirational norm for decades, many homeowners are finding that simply allowing their lawn to go (a bit) wild not only benefits the environment and saves you hours of effort, but is actually much prettier than the conventional lawn.
Going “wild” entails not just letting your grass grow, but also actively encouraging native plants and flowers to grow through seeding.
“Converting a non-native lawn expands the opportunity for more plant species to grow and provides a habitat for threatened pollinator and bird species,” says Erin Maciel, founder of the Urban Landscape Studio in Saratoga Springs, NY.
“We can do our part in supporting native ecosystems by reducing the amount of lawn we have within our gardens and letting nature come back into the American landscape,” says Maciel.
Plus, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that as much as 50% of the water we use outdoors is wasted from inefficient watering methods and systems, so letting your lawn become more of a wildflower meadow can help save natural resources.