My lawn is sad. And unhappy.
May 31, 2020 10:46 AM   Subscribe

My lawn needs help. I do not have money to throw at the problem. Simple and/or inventive solutions sought.

I am sure some of you will shake your heads at what will sound like a ridiculous Ask, given the limitations. Just bear with me here. Recently I got a complaint from the HOA board that my lawn is ugly and needs care. They aren't an especially stringent HOA, but nevertheless my lawn has been deemed disreputable. Okay, fine. It is. Unfortunately the times being what they are, I am not in a position to be able to fix the sprinkler system or have the lawn graded and re-sodded, which is their ideal. To head off protests regarding my compliance with the HOA guidelines, no, this isn't a neighborhood like some, where the HOA fees are huge and swarms of anonymous lawn people show up weekly and prune and tend everything down to the last grass blade, while homeowners retreat to their living rooms and the cat hides from the masked guy tearing past the window on a huge roaring lawn machine. People are pretty relaxed here. So my goal is just to make the lawn nice enough, in a way that I can maintain by myself, to avoid another such letter.

The lawn, located in central Florida, is part of a property of about a thousand square feet, and dominated by a large curved driveway, splitting the area into a back part and a smaller front part. There is a regular straight driveway, as well, that is connected to the curved driveway. There is lawn next to the straight driveway. The most visible parts of the lawn, therefore, are the area in front of the curved driveway, the lawn next to the straight driveway, and one more forlorn patch that is tiny but which manages to grow the most tall, enthusiastic weeds on the entire lot, for whatever reason. All of these visible areas need to be addressed, the sooner the better.

The problems: brown patches, weeds, and a general parched look to everything: the whole front yard is relentlessly pounded by the sun. Even the aloe plants I planted out there suffered until I finally moved them to a more shaded area in the back. I need quick fixes on how to remedy the brown patches, at the very least, and ideas on how to tidy up overall without spending a lot of money, and preferably have it be projects I can do by myself.

So I am here looking for quick tips, websites and resources which cater to the frugal, and suggestions on what plants to buy that would be happy in the merciless bright light, such as prickly pear. I can rig a hose to a sprinkler and get the worst parts of the lawn with that a few times a week, as I know the lack of water is a major issue.

Thanks for all input and suggestions.
posted by Crystal Fox to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A photo would help, I'm having trouble picturing the space.

Short term, in your shoes I would probably re-seed the entire lawn with grass seed and then cover with straw (assuming that's ok in the HOA rules). Of course the straw won't look great but it's a temporary measure to allow the grass time to get established, and in my area it's something you'd see even in the richest neighborhoods. I'm not an expert on grass but you can probably do a little research and find a variety suited to full sun and the Florida climate.

In the longer term it sounds like xeriscaping would be more appropriate for the space, but again it depends on if your HOA will allow it. It would probably be more expensive up-front than new grass though.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:07 AM on May 31 [1 favorite]

When was the last time your lawn was aerated?

You can rent aerators to punch holes (and pull up plugs) in your lawn to make it more absorbent so what water you do give it is better used and the grass will spend more time being grassy rather than spending its energy trying to force it roots around the compacted earth.

But yeah, xeriscaping is cool, if your HOA is cool about it.
posted by porpoise at 12:21 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

The cheapest, but most labor intensive, fixes would be quality edging and aeration. The clean edges make the color differences less noticeable. You'll want to cut a strip of grass around 1.5"-2" thick away from all sides of the drive- and walk-ways. Just cutting the grass does not suffice. A flat-headed shovel, a spade, etc are the best tools. If you have some money to throw at this, you can rent an edger from home depot, or buy a cheap one from a big-box store for under $50. You can also rent an aerator, either motor or manual. If you can afford to, there's really cheap plastic edging options that will keep your yard contained.
Aeration promotes better watering, new root grown, and oxygenation of the soil. You can rent, like I mentioned, use a pitchfork, or purchase a cheap one. The ones that take out plugs of your soil are most effective, but they're also more expensive, and you'd have to add on all the labor of cleaning them up.
posted by FirstMateKate at 1:04 PM on May 31

Xeriscaping is a terrible name for water-efficient gardening in central Florida because central Florida is not a xeric climate, but reusing the name brings up one-size-fits-all recommendations that won't work for long in the wrong climate. You can spend as much money and energy trying to maintain a chaparral landscape out of climate as you can trying to maintain a temperate grassland. This soapbox is relevant to my actual point, which is:

Does the HOA have a decent low-key gardener who can talk you through an appropriate plan for your yard? Based on what my Florida grandparents grew - and how they grew it - the water-and-time efficient planting for a sunblasted front yard probably isn't grass, it's a layered set of natives that reintroduce some shade. IIRC the grass they had was much nicer in part-shade from scattered tall trees, but there were also view- and wind-blocks of waist-high flowering shrubs and succulents. You might have to put up a screen to provide enough shade to establish those. But lots of them grow easily from cuttings, so a good gardener can probably hand you some free.

Failing a neighbor gardener, your extension service should be good at advice although not so likely to be able to give you cuttings.

The place that grows tall weeds will you nill you -- that sounds like the right place to put in a show plant.
posted by clew at 1:38 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]

Get in touch with the Cooperative Extension Office in your area; they are great at all things local and garden related. You want seed that will work for your location, and you may need to use a sprinkler, or soaker hose to get prompt-ish results.
posted by theora55 at 3:27 PM on May 31 [2 favorites]

Check these out: and this
Youtube (Lawn Care nut) Link here:
posted by foveacentralis at 7:37 PM on May 31

Grass needs water, fertilizer and regular mowing to become dominant over the weeds. Mow it every week, water it and use cheap fertilizer and it'll green up and start to fill in the burned spots and generally look fine from a distance even if it's not perfect lawn grass. Use as little fertilizer as possible, but you need some initially. After that top dressing with compost annually or semi-anually will work and is largely free. A little more money will let you seed those spots with either regular grass seed for your area or the kind that has green mulch in it so it looks good right away. Overseed once a year to keep it lush.

You can gradually fill in with plants but its expensive to go buy a bunch of plants from a commercial seller. Instead look for free planta online or grow from seed or cuttings and build up gradually. You can often collect seeds of native plants or rescue them from construction sites.
posted by fshgrl at 9:53 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

It helps to cut grass to a longer height than one usually sees done. It helps shade the roots, and works to shade-out weeds to some extent. You see a lot of people scalping their lawns (to get that golf course look, I suppose), and that's pretty much the worst thing you can do to a lawn, especially in bright, hot areas (like Florida)
posted by Thorzdad at 6:00 AM on June 1

« Older Very very high-waisted leggings?   |   How deep does this lavender go and can I... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments