Archived Story

Caring for the lawn is an onerous burden

Published 9:19am Friday, June 14, 2013

Column: Notes From Home, by David Behling

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I hate being responsible for a lawn, no surprise, in part, because I’ve written about it before.

Unlike running, however, which I also have written about and have come to embrace as a positive thing in my life, spending time making sure the monoculture surrounding our house is alive, green and as weed free as possible is just short of misery for me.

Though I am tempted to just pretend there isn’t anything growing in the ground outside my house, I do not give in. I mow the lawn when necessary (or draft the teenagers still living with us to mow it for me). I pull weeds … sometimes. I water shrubs and trees and even the lawn itself, when absolutely necessary (like last summer and fall).

But for the really unpleasant, time-consuming and skill-requiring tasks, I hire a lawn service. They take care of the chemicals — the fertilizing and the weed murdering. As for aerating and rolling it? Hasn’t happened while we’ve owned this house (though I suppose I should get credit for at least knowing what those words describe).

There’s no way to escape the charge of laziness when I air these attitudes in conversations with friends (or in columns), and there doubtless is some of that character flaw in my lack of interest. But, honestly, I don’t see myself as a slacker when it comes to issues with grass and weeds. I’m already busy with my job at the college, and a house has many caretaking needs beyond lawn care. Plus there’s the cooking of meals and the regular indoor chores.

Except for the parts I do myself (or with the assistance of the teenagers), it’s not cheap; the lawn service costs more each month than I make writing this column. But it’s worth the expense because it’s about being a good neighbor.

As much as I detest all of that time and money wasted on useless monoculture, I live in a community and letting dandelions, thistles and other obnoxious forms of plant life use my lawn as a staging area for a neighborhood invasion is unacceptable. And I suppose there is some benefit to the extra CO2 the nasty little stalks of grass suck up.

Part of this inner indifference to lawn care is history. I grew up in a desert, and we had cactus as our landscaping — cactus and crab grass. But the grass only grew when the rains came. The rest of the year it was dormant. And even when it was green and growing, it was only the backyard, which was very small. I could easily mow it with a manual push mower in about 20 minutes.

Since I was a teenager at the time, though, I usually made sure it looked harder and took longer. That way mowing the lawn got me out of weed pulling, a far more obnoxious chore.

If there’s one thing I wish was different about the way I alternately deal with and ignore the lawn, I wish I could find someone local to take care of it (the lawn service is based out-of-town) who would aerate and roll as needed, and would also be as attentive to environmental issues — like excess fertilizer and herbicide runoff — as I would prefer.

I pay for chemicals because the alternative would require even more attention, not because I believe in “better living through chemistry” when it comes to lawn care. And as I pointed out already in this column, I have a more than full-time job elsewhere.

Eventually I want to get rid of as much of the lawn as possible. Rain gardens. Native vegetation. More vegetable beds. I have plans. But they’ll have to wait awhile. For now, it’s a monoculture. And I’ll do my best to make sure it stays green and free of weeds.


David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.