Preface: It occurred to me as I was writing this that there is a very long shot that some readers will not live in the Washington DC area. I suspect that as much as 50% of my readership lives in different climates than my own. The math is sound since I have a total of two readers, one that lives in the same house as me and the other that lives in Florida (I’m looking at you Cindy Richetti) so this blog has a very limited audience but I hope you can still find some good tips and some humor mixed in.
I wasn’t one of those kids growing up that had to mow the grass every weekend. I probably would have but my Dad enjoyed the yardwork. He would get out and push the mower every weekend to make sure that our yard didn’t turn into the set from the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. He worked hard to trim the hedges, edge the driveway and the curb, and keep our yard looking good.
My grandfather was the same way. Pop loved to be out in the yard working. I remember riding in his lap on the ancient riding lawnmower that he would drive around his yard in Herndon, VA. As Pop got older he did less yard work but he road that lawnmower until the day he died. In fact, after he died we went into his shed and found that he had not one but two riding lawn mowers. One of them had stopped working so he just got himself another one instead of fixing the first because (I believe) he didn’t want to miss a weekend of riding around the yard, smoking his cigar, enjoying being outside and the smell of freshly cut grass.
My Uncle Paul is yet another in a line of male relatives that loves getting outside and doing yard work. As a kid, my Uncle had lots of land to cover so Paul had the big lawn tractor to mow his grass. Paul also had lots of hedges to trim and even planted a nice sized garden that we would all help out with during harvest time. Depending on where you are from you may have believed his garden to be a farm since it did include, at the very least, several rows of corn and several rows of potatoes (I hate digging potatoes but damn if they weren’t delicious). The point being that growing up I saw lots of adults around me that were working hard to keep the yard in good shape and I hoped to be able to do the same one day.
One of the things that sold Rizzo and I on the house we bought in Herdon was the back yard. We knew we wanted a place for Ellie to get out and run around but we also knew that we wanted to have kids. We wanted a place where the kids could go in the back yard and run and play. We wanted a place where we could have a bouncy-house for a birthday party. We wanted a place to set up some cornhole, or ladder golf, or both for friends and family to come over and enjoy. We wanted a yard to call our own and we got it. Now I had a place to practice what I learned from my Dad, my Uncle, and my Pop.
I always knew that keeping up a yard was going to be a physically challenging and time consuming endeavor but I never knew that it would entail as much as it does. The regular upkeep alone is enough to keep a guy busy all weekend every weekend. Let’s start off by talking about mowing.
Mowing the Lawn
I had the picture in my head (probably from too many movies) that lawn mowing in a suburban neighborhood would be a community event with every house starting up their mower at 8:30am every Saturday morning between Memorial Day and Labor Day. I, of course, got this picture because I was clearly raised in a dramatic comedy set in suburban Chicago in 1964. What I actually discovered is that most, but not all, of the folks living in my neighborhood have employed a landscaping company to mow their lawn each week, typically on a Wednesday. For some reason this urks me; probably because watching my Pop and Dad mow the lawn every week ingrained in me the need to keep my own lawn.
As it turns out, I’m usually the only one up at 8:00am mowing my lawn. It also turns out that some folks aren’t big fans of grass being mowed at 8:00am. I don’t know why. If you aren’t up by 8:00am on a Saturday then you are clearly wasting your day. There is so much to do and so little time. Rise with the sun, people. Get out of your bed, out of your house, and smell the freshly cut grass.
Rizzo and I bought the house in June so we wouldn’t have too much mowing to do over the summer. I’ve determined that in Virginia there are three mowing seasons. First, there is the spring mowing seasons. Beginning in late March or early April, the skies will open up for the “April showers” followed by lots of sunlight during the day and cool temperatures at night. This results in the grass growing faster than that dude’s hair at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Yes! Two Indy references in one blog! “He chose…..poorly”). During this time of year you must, must, must cut your grass once a week. This is the absolute minimum. If you miss a week then your grass becomes thicker than Tom Selleck’s mustache and it is almost impossible to cut it without a titanium lawnmower blade.
The second mowing season is in the summer, which due to Virginia’s ADHD-type weather could begin anywhere between February and July and could end anywhere between August and November. During the summer mowing season you may only have to mow the grass once every two-three weeks. It is during this time of year that all of your grass will die. You can fertilize, aerate, water, and shade your grass and it won’t matter. Your yard will look like the outside of the White House after it was burned by the British during the War of 1812 (Sorry about this comparison., I’m reading a biography of James Madison and I’m getting to the part where this happens.). Some of my neighbors water their grass religiously. Some have gone so far as to have sprinkler systems installed so they don’t even have to think about watering the yard. Guess what? There grass is as brown as mine and I saved money on my water bill so don’t even bother.
The reason you still have to mow during this summer season is because not all of your grass will look like it should be tumbling across the set of a John Wayne movie. There will be that part where all the water gathers on the rare days that it rains. This will also be the exact same location where there happens to be some shade from the sun. So while the rest of your yard will crunch under your feet this small area will grow at four times the rate it did during the spring season. I once didn’t mow the grass during the summer for an entire month. This didn’t matter for most of my yard. However, one small section on the side of my house grew so rapidly that I actually lost Cece in the grass. I mounted an expedition and found her three days later being cared for by a new species of monkey that had kept her safe. That was a crazy weekend.
The third and final mowing season in Virginia is the fall season. Again, due to the unpredictable weather patterns in Virginia this can sometimes begin in August and last until the following June. The fall mowing season can even occur right in the middle of the summer mowing season when the weather drops into the 70s during the day and the 50s at night for a week in early August before jumping back up to 117 degrees. The fall mowing season is when you can finally get into a groove of a weekly mowing schedule. It is this time of year that you can take a few hours on a Saturday morning to enjoy the cool crisp air, get in a few thousand steps for your Fitbit challenge, and mow the grass. The fall mowing season is the best mowing season but it also means that soon you will have to “winterize” your yard.
P.S. It turns out there wasn’t much wrong with Pop’s older riding lawnmower. My Uncle Paul was able to get it up and running without much effort. It’s good to know Pop’s old tools, from the ancient wrenches that I have in my work room in the basement to the riding lawnmower, are still being put to good use. Thanks Pop.
Be on the lookout for part two of this three part series, "Winterizing your Yard"