Sunday, August 24, 2008

Of Yard Care And The August (Not So) Doldrums

In my corner of the Great Southwest, there has been rain. Rain aplenty. It began about two weeks ago with a large tropical system. I believe that kick-started the cycle that had died out in mid-July: daily afternoon downpours three to five days a week. It's a feature in this part of the world. Needless to say, the grass has been growing aplenty along with the rain.

We are at that most horrible of times, the twice-a-week mowing season. After four days, the grass has grown sufficiently to justify mowing. There are problems with this, however. First, no one wants to mow twice a week at this time of year. Second, gas is much more expensive than it used to be. Third, it rains just about the time you think about mowing, and then you have to take a day to let the ground dry (unless, that is, you like huge ruts in your front lawn). Very quickly, the grass in one week can get to unmanageable heights.

For the commercial crews with their commercial mowers, this isn't as big of an issue. But I cut my own grass. This gives me exercise, plus it lets me control the quality. I use a mulching mower (a Murray 22"), and very high grass creates a dilemma. I can continue the enviro-friendly mulching and take forever to cut the lawn and leave huge streams of mulch in my wake; or, I can bag it and spend time emptying the bag (no zipper!) and feel guilty about wasting landfill space, but spend much less energy pushing the mower. (NB the Honda self-propelled is in storage, and it has no mulching blade and no bag --but it would go through high grass in an instant.)

"Why not just cut it shorter to begin with?" At this time of year, it doesn't make a huge difference. The grass will grow that quickly anyway, unless you scalp it, at which point you risk killing your lawn altogether (or letting invasive species like centipede and Bermuda in). St. Augustine looks great, but my next lawn is going to be Bermuda because it doesn't grow so quickly, or as tall.

I bit the bullet and got out the bagging kit, just to do a time comparison. I was surprised by my results. Contrary to my initial beliefs, I found that bagging took marginally shorter time overall than pushing a mulching set-up slowly through very high grass. The time loss from emptying the bag was not as significant as the time savings from being able to zip over the lawn quickly. Moreover, I found my misgivings about the small bag size were overblown, I did not have to empty with every other pass as I had once feared. And the lawn looks very very tidy indeed.

"But you cold-hearted brute, you're wasting landfill space!" Au contraire: I took the bag and emptied it into my vegetable beds for mulch. Less work than filling a bag, and no guilt. Grass clippings in large amounts make great mulch, and while the week's takings from my lawn don't go far, I have discovered that I can cruise my subdivision on Tuesdays and Fridays (the days before garbage pick-up) and easily grab 15-20 large garbage bags of clippings in less than an hour. If I had a trailer I could easily make it 30 or even 40. Not that I would do that every week, but once a month is more than sufficient to keep the weed levels down in the beds.

So there it is: until the grass quits growing so quickly, I'm going to be bagging it and throwing it all into the beds. The lawn is growing well enough that it can do a while without the self-fertilization of mulch.

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