My First Yard! (tm)
March 31, 2007 4:04 AM   Subscribe

After years of renting apartments, I have moved up in the world: I am now renting a house. Strangely, the house comes with small organic green things projecting from the ground. Having never been responsible for a lawn before, I don't really know what to do with it. I also have two, I don't know, shrubs (I think). One is low growing, thick, with branches that kind of double as rhizomes, and one might be a juniper. As you can see, I'm pretty clueless. What do I need to know/what must I do/what must I buy to take good care of my lawn and it's various planty inhabitants?

How can I find out what my shrubs are (other than consulting the Knights of Ni) and how do I take care of them? What kind of lawnmower do I need and how do you mow a lawn? Fertilizer? Watering schedule? Various tips?

If it matters, I am in a small city in Southern Alberta, Canada.
I think the juniper-y one is a juniper because it smells like gin and has "berries" like the ones I saw on wikipedia under "juniper berries."
posted by arcticwoman to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have neighbors in similar plant circumstances? You could ask them!
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 4:14 AM on March 31, 2007

Best answer: How big is the yard? How good are you with small gas engines? Would you rather use electric tools, or a reel type push mower? Are you wanting to do everything yourself, or are you planning to hire a service for fertilizer and chemical application? What kind of watering system, if any, does the house have?

You can get plenty of general advice on the Web and at your local library. You may also find some local gardening clubs, and sources of advice at nurseries and big box home stores in your area.

But really, to grow grass, all you need is sun, water, and fertilizer, in the right combination for the type of soil and grass you have. And you have to control about 200 types of insects, fungus, and bacteria that will try to compete with the grass for the water, or eat the grass as food.

Have fun!
posted by paulsc at 5:00 AM on March 31, 2007

How can I find out what my shrubs are

Oooo - you have a shrubbery! Do what everyone else does...take pictures of them and post them here. There are a lot of people here who fancy themselves experts in anything bush-related, in case you haven't noticed ;)
posted by iconomy at 5:54 AM on March 31, 2007

When you walk across the lawn in the early morning, and the cuffs of your pants get wet, it's time to mow. If you're wearing shorts, it's too late for that, you're into "haying" now. As a renter, that's all you're responsible for. (The landlord would doubtless prefer that you mow before haying is required.)

As for the shrubs, unless they grow large enough to impede access to the house, ignore them. They probably will flourish, but if they don't, it's not your problem.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:03 AM on March 31, 2007

For mowing, if the lawn is a half-acre or less and relatively flat, a rotary push mower is the easiest way to do it. You can get a gas-powered one new for about $150 (US). Electric mowers are also available, but wrangling extension cords is a drag.

If the lawn is bigger than a half-acre, or is hilly, you'll want a self-propelled or a riding mower. They cost more. At that point, you should consider hiring a neighbor's kid (and mower) to cut the grass. If I were renting, I wouldn't spend the money a lawn service charges.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:12 AM on March 31, 2007

Best answer: Most of the green stuff will be just fine. Wait till it's big enough to be identifiable, then post pictures. Then you can care for things appropriately.

What you can do now is start a compost heap. Mine is just a long piece of wire fencing in a circle, with the ends fastened to make a tube. It sits in a corner of the yard and gets all leaves, clippings, and maybe some veg scraps from the kitchen. I don't try to balance green/brown, or turn it, because I can't be bothered. It takes longer, but still makes fantastic compost that has improved the soil immensely, and I get to feel all virtuous about being green, for very little effort.
posted by theora55 at 8:01 AM on March 31, 2007

If you see slugs, kill them by throwing them into the street. Do not step on them. Slug juice is nasty and pernicious.
posted by theora55 at 8:02 AM on March 31, 2007

Best answer: Second the compost heap, it's a good place to get rid of the lawn clippings. It starts as a huge pile and in a couple of weeks, turns into a flat layer that takes up no space at all. Later, it turns into good black dirt. You'll want to keep it a long ways from the house if you don't like bugs; they are part of the process. (Mine's close to the house, small yard, but they are so happy where they are they don't try to wander off.) I don't turn mine or balance it either, and somehow, Mother Nature seems to do a fine job. I've had heaps that I used for 5 years, and they never fill up. You want to use wire though, so it's nice and drafty. The plastic objects they sell for compost usually don't have enough airflow.
The shrubs or bushes you can mostly ignore, except you have to water them regularly or they will turn into an unsightly brown corpse. (Evergreens especially are sensitive to lack of water.)
posted by unrepentanthippie at 8:31 AM on March 31, 2007

I've rented houses before, and every time, it was the landlord who was responsible for the maintenance of the lawn/yard/garden. You might want to check if that's the case with your house, before you start investing your time, money, and effort into things like lawn mowers.

That's one of the benefits of renting in general - you can enjoy the house/yard without being responsible for maintainance. (After all, you don't want to know how to fix a fridge or a toilet, even though your house certainly has them. Why? Because you know that the landlord will do that for you. Same with the lawn!)
posted by Kololo at 8:53 AM on March 31, 2007

Best answer: How can I find out what my shrubs are (other than consulting the Knights of Ni) and how do I take care of them?

What I've done in the past is to snip off a little piece of the plant in question and take it to a nursery. The people who work there be able to identify it and tell you how to care for it.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:59 AM on March 31, 2007

A resource that continues to amaze me is the cooperative extension of the any state university in the US. They have gardeners and agricultural experts hired just to advise regular folks about plants and bugs and such. The University of Edmonton has such a service, based at the Devonian Botanic Garden. If you're very far south, maybe the web site of Montana State University can help you.
posted by wryly at 10:25 AM on March 31, 2007

Seconding Kololo's advice to check and make sure you're actually responsible for keeping up the lawn etc. I'm renting half a duplex and my landlord cuts the lawn, tidies the garden, etc.
posted by benign at 11:10 AM on March 31, 2007

If you want to save yourself some work, do not water or fertilize the lawn. It will naturally go dormant and turn brown in the summer. In the fall, when the rains return it will turn green and start growing again. Water and fertilizer just require you to cut it more often.
posted by JackFlash at 11:26 AM on March 31, 2007

Spray RoundUp periodically, remove the dead plant material, and keep the bare earth nicely raked.
posted by polysigma at 1:05 PM on March 31, 2007

Second the compost heap, it's a good place to get rid of the lawn clippings.

If you don't have room for a compost heap, you could just mow without the collection bag on the mower. Then the clippings decompose in the lawn and help fertilize it.

It helps if the clippings are short (mowing regularly). If you mow less frequently, the clippings will be longer and you'll see a lot of drying dead grass laying around. Bagging and a compost heap would be better in that case.
posted by CKmtl at 2:16 PM on March 31, 2007

Best answer: Please, for the sake of good insects and the health of birds who eat them, don't spray RoundUp or any other herbicide. If you come across a weed (looks mutantly different from grass) and want to snuff it, what's wrong with yanking it out with your hands or a gardening spade? There are too many chemicals on our lawns, which after rainfall gets into our rivers, lakes and aquifers, thus slowly poisoning all of us.
And if you find earthworms (not grubs), bless them and keep them healthy -- they are good little creatures. Good for your yard, for the birds to eat and as fishing bait, if you're so inclined.
So please, no RoundUp, no herbicides, no pesticides (unless they're organic).
posted by Smalltown Girl at 4:42 PM on March 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Obviously you have / will be planting cool season grass, like fescue, which you need to plant in the cool season. More specifically, do all the work in the September to November timeframe -- the rest of the year is just maintenance (and more to the point, seeding in the spring is a waste of time). Timing is everything in lawn care.

If you choose to revunate the lawn via tilling, then you need to till deep (~9 inches deep) and till in a massive amount of manure and gypsum. For me that totally loosened up and rejuvenated the soil, which looked about the same as yours. That gave the grass a chance to develop a deep root system, and THAT is what promotes a healthy lawn.

Plan to get weeds out on your hands and knees, not with poison. I spend an hour per weekend and over the years it really does the trick.

I just plan on spending a large chunk of weekends in the fall on the lawn, but then that's it.

Also, I cut my grass using a push reel mower, but I'm hardcore. It's better for the grass (scissor cutting), and you (exercise), and your neighbors (noise).

Back to the cool season concept ... it's spring and heading into summer. The cool season grasses may just go dormant, and that's OK. Give them a good working over in the fall: thatch -> lime -> organic fertilizer -> overseed. Repeat every fall. Works great.

Regarding watering, I wouldn't do it. Certainly don't water a little bit daily, because that's just babying the grass. You need to give it tough love, which means deep watering for a few days straight every few WEEKS. Grass has deep root systems and can handle that; weeds don't and can't.

Do all this and over the long term the grass will win.
posted by intermod at 9:19 PM on March 31, 2007

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