Ruben Keogh is a retired plumber and sprinkler fitter who discovered his true calling after graduating
from apprentice to journeyman blogger. When he acquires enough experience, wit and insight to
become a master blogger, he’ll let you know. Meanwhile, Ruben spends his time daydreaming about
the fishing in Costa Rica, surf and turf grilling and his lovely wife Gina (not necessarily in that order, or
If the term “lawn guilt” doesn’t exist, it should. Lawn guilt is a phenomenon experienced by
homeowners who (obviously) have to keep their grass a vibrant shade of… grass green but can’t
help feeling bad, and maybe a little defensive, about the water, greenhouse gasses and/or chemicals
it takes to do so. Well guess what- there’s a great treatment for your lawn guilt (and your lawn) that
requires no chemicals (either for your lawn or psychoactive ones), but perhaps a little therapy.
From Tip to Turf
Before we get to the nitty-gritty, keep in mind that your path to a greener green yard isn’t just some
lesser evil of a little less water wasted or anything. Lawns actually serve a number of genuinely
positive services. They’re environmentally beneficial in a number of ways: lawns prevent soil
erosion, control storm-water runoff, generate oxygen and consume carbon dioxide, filter and
process both air and ground pollutants, collect dust, recycle organic products and purify the water
that cycles through their root systems. They’re also great fire-breaks, give us a place to relax and
hang out- with the attendant psychological benefits, lower the overall ambient temperature and
they smell good when cut. Now- onto the tips.
Speaking of tips, this first section will deal with your lawn from tip of each blade to the top of your
Believe it or not, using a gas mower actually represents a fairly significant contribution to harmful
greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA reported that a single, unassuming gas mower running for one
hour output as many greenhouse gasses as eleven automobiles running for the same amount of
time! According to several researchers (and their studies), gas mowers contribute 5% or more to all
of air pollution in the United States. That, it probably goes without saying, is a huge chunk.
The obvious take away from all of this is: use a gas mower, particularly a riding mower, as little
as possible. The best option is a good, old-fashioned push-mower. Like straight razors, although
they’re a little tougher to use, push-mowers give a cleaner cut than their newfangled counterparts.
With a smaller lawn, the push-mowers are great. I actually use one and there’s something generally
satisfying about the experience- it’s good exercise; produces a pleasant sound, rather than the
loud, whining grumble of a gas mower (so you can mow early on Saturday morning without being
attacked by neighbors); and there’s no gas, oil, leaking or deflating tires to worry about.
If a push mower is going to be an untenable option due to the size of your lot, look into an electric
or battery-run mower. Years back I also used an electric and had no problem with it. I heard any
number of horror stories (or inconvenience stories) about people dicing their extension cord, but
personally, that was never a problem. If that won’t work, look for the most fuel efficient push gas-
mower or, *sigh*, riding mower. With any gas mower, but particularly a rider, be very careful about
spilling gas, keep the blades sharp, keep the filters checked and clear and everything else in good
running order. Finally- do not cut your grass too short- taller grass (like 3-4 inches) means deeper
roots and better water retention.
Thatch and Dethatching
Thatch is the buildup of dead grass and other organic detritus in your yard. Thatch soaks up water
that would otherwise be feeding your grass, steals space that would otherwise be occupied by
growing lawn and chokes off the healthy growth. Giving your plot a raking over with a dethatching
rake, or even a vigorous garden raking, can prove a surprisingly effective lawn-maintenance
Below the Surface
If you’re on this site you’re likely either already familiar with or curious about the benefits of
aerating. After a while, particularly if there’s foot traffic, the soil of your lawn becomes compact.
Lawn aeration is the process of “opening” your lawn to increase the availability of air, water,
nutrients, contributes to the elimination of thatch and can increase the activity and mobility of
Although there are a number of aeration methods there are two chief aeration vehicles- core and
liquid. Liquid aeration involves the application of chemicals to loosen and soften soil and break up
sodium deposits, improving oxygen and nutrient flow. Traditional aeration involves driving spikes
or something spike-like into the earth intermittently. For the unfamiliar- if you’ve ever encountered
a lawn covered in hundreds of little cylindrical grass-topped dirt plugs lying next to round divots-
that’s a recently core-aerated yard.
Although that plug-removing core-aeration (or “coring aeration”) is probably the most efficient
and effective aeration method, DIY aerating can be accomplished with a step-aerator; rolling
manual aeration devices (basically a rolling, spike-covered drum); aerating-spike shoe-attachment
crampons you can stomp around your yard in (and they’d probably be a real asset in a gang fight),
the longer the spikes the better; or even a pitchfork. If that all sounds like too much work you can
always hire a lawn aeration service.
Water and Watering
Every lawn needs water (an amazing insight, I know) and most of them will need some you-
provided moisture to supplement the stuff Mother Nature allocates. Watering green means
watering smart. If you have access to non-potable water from a canal or whatever irrigation source,
taking advantage of that sort of water rights situation is always preferable to using drinking water.
Be diligent when you’re watering- don’t leave water on and wander away for long periods of time.
That’s wasteful and can hurt the vegetation that’s left to start swimming. For either automatic
or manual sprinklers, water in the very early morning before the sun appears to avoid losing
your irrigation to evaporation. Keep on top of automatic sprinkler programming, positioning and
maintenance. Look for unnecessary overlaps in your sprayer heads’ coverage areas and be sure to
research, and purchase, the most water-efficient equipment.
If your automatic sprinkler system is functioning poorly, you could be losing lots of water, and
undermining your lawn, with underground leaks. That’s no good especially when close to your
house’s foundation! One of the most common causes of sprinkler malfunction and general hardship
is winter freeze damage. Always winterize your sprinkler setup and be sure you know whether
your system can be drained passively or requires a pipe blow-out.
Otherwise- doing research and familiarizing yourself with your property, your soil, your lawn and
your options is always going to pay off. Chemical pesticides should never be used, as there are
virtually always non-toxic alternatives (nematodes, dethatching). And be sure to enjoy your own
personal green patch of paradise!