Minimalist Lawn Care

When it comes to our beds and borders, I am a helicopter gardener – constantly hovering, intervening, helping (or interfering, depending on your point of view) and worrying.

On the other hand, about 99% of the time I ignore the lawn. Because let’s face it, lawns are boring.

The Back Garden lawn after I spread compost on Sunday.
The Back Garden lawn after I spread compost on Sunday.

I do mow it every week in season, but I don’t water or fertilize it. I welcome Violets (Viola) and White Clover (Trifolium repens), most anything that is green and can be walked upon. The only weeds I really hate are Plantain (Plantago major) and Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea).

Every once in a while, though, I am stirred into action.  It’s sort of like a neglectful parent who suddenly shows up with expensive toys to make up for a long absence.

back garden compost 3
Casimir, our concrete chicken, approves of organic lawn care.

About once or twice a year I might throw myself on the ground in order to engage in a frenzy of pulling Plantain and, if I am feeling unusually intolerant, Dandelion (Taraxacum).

And twice, in a fit of Creeping Charlie Madness, I sprayed parts of the lawn with Weed B Gone. Charlie can cause stronger men than I to weep and/or reach for the applicator. The thing is, it grows so fast and it gets into EVERYTHING.

The last time I did this was three years ago. The herbicide slowed Charlie down, but not for very long.

back garden compost 4
The back gate. Hellebores and Corydallis are looking pretty good.

Eventually I decided that I didn’t want to contribute even modestly to the toxic cocktail being spread and sprayed upon the suburban landscape. The benefits of application once a year were limited, and I didn’t want to do it more often.

Instead, I listened to some sage advice and started spreading a thin layer of compost over the lawn every fall. And that’s what I was doing last Sunday, after the November snow had melted and I was able to get the fallen leaves out of the way.

Creeping Charlie drives men to dark deeds. Photo from University of Illinois Extension.
Creeping Charlie drives gardeners to dark deeds. Photo from University of Illinois Extension.

The theory is that healthier soil will promote grass that is better able to compete with objectionable weeds, some of which actually prefer poor, compacted soil.

The compost looks kind of messy, but it won’t be noticeable by the time the grass starts growing again next spring. In the meantime, you do have to be careful about tracking the stuff into the house, which is why I leave compost-free paths for walking.

This is a long-term approach, so patience is required. It could be my imagination, but it does seem to be yielding some results even now. In the meantime, if I get impatient I can always throw myself down for another frenzy of weed pulling, just to show I care.

Do you practice minimalist lawn care?

I’m linking this post to Beth’s Lessons Learned meme at PlantPostings and Donna’s Seasonal Celebrations at Gardens Eye View.


67 Comments on “Minimalist Lawn Care”

  1. We are experimenting with grass substitutes that will not require mowing. The gophers have turned our so-called lawn into something resembling Verdun. Advice from a friend who is a garden designer was to plant things that will disguise the damage since all-out warfare was getting us nowhere, as is its wont.

  2. Ah, Creeping Charlie. Believe it or not, I don’t have it here. I guess that’s one good thing about a shady garden. It’s all over the farm where we planted a pollinator garden, and at the Arboretum. I love the smell of it, but it is a persistent little bugger of a plant. I wonder if corn gluten meal would take care of it. We use CGM on our lawn twice a season–it’s a great organic, pre-emergent weed-prevention method, and it’s also a great fertilizer. We get ours at a local ag co-op, but you can get it through Gardens Alive and other organic suppliers. Thanks for joining in the memes!

  3. actually, I’m just like you when it comes to the tiny bedsheet of lawn in front of my garden. no maintenance would describe it best. I do get the weeding frency in spring with dandelions (to no avail, the grow faster than I can weed). I am happy, there is no creeeping charly here (I’ve never seen it before). But I have been thinking about aerifying the little strech of grass next spring and give it some sand/topsoil mixture. I think about this every spring but am then too busy with other stuff to follow through with it, I must admit.

  4. Rather than minimalist lawn care, mine gets eliminist care – as in: out- with as much as is practical. I like a bit of good lawn, but what’s left of ours is anything but. Since it’s an extremely inhospitable growing area, we just let it get weedy, bare, and mossy in winter. Yours looks far happier, even covered with compost.

  5. We are even more minimalist than you – it gets cut once a week and that is it! There are lots of other plants growing in amongst the grass, but as long as the overall impression is green, then they stay. It is also full of moss and clover and they always stay nice and green. Part of the lawn is allowed to grow longer in the summer and it is amazing all the lovely little flowers and grasses that pop up and attract different butterflies to the ones that visit the flowers in the borders. I think lawns are essential if you have room, as the green sets off the flower borders so well.

  6. Yes I do practice minimalist lawn care as a matter of fact. The front and sides do get some weeding and a bit of fertilizer, but the back paths get none. They are mostly clover which is actually prettier and softer to walk on….Charlie is in the back in spots and I think a bit of compost may help the lawns. Will have to remember to do it. I know folks who will put it on in early spring here. We have no snow. I think our only snowfall was maybe an inch….and our weather is said to stay warm (40s) and rain for at least the next 2 weeks…very strange.

    Thanks for joining in Jason!

  7. I’d like far less lawn and far bigger borders and each year make them bigger. My children used to notice but now they have homes of their own I can do what I like! We have lots of clover, so as well as being good for bees, it stays green in a drought and needs far less mowing.

  8. Hurrah! Throw away those chemicals! I don’t tend my lawns, apart from to remove anything spiky which might maim bare feet. I love the flowering weeds in my lawn almost as much as the bees do. I make no apologies for the state of my lawns, although one of them would probably benefit from a top dressing of compost, so I’ll give your theory a try.

  9. I am definitely a member of the minimalist lawn care group. If it is green, it is okay with the exception of one weed that I don’t know the name of but it makes me nuts. It is like a half sized Plantain but fuzzy and once you have one it starts creating a whole nest of them spreading out into huge spaces. It has a fairly strong root system and can’t be pulled by just your hand. It requires digging which requires repair work. I just spent about 20 minutes trying to find it on the net so I could get a name but was unsuccessful. I’ve been know to grab my gardening seat and dig up a whole patch. But, then again, I have lots of opportunity to do that. 🙂

  10. I am definitely a minimalist lawn person. My “lawn” is green most of the year because it is almost all weeds. I hate Creeeping Charlie and plantain is a nuisance. It will kill anything it can climb over and it is a good climber. Did you know they sell a variegated Creeping Charlie. I about fainted when I saw it. I could just image it romping through the garden. ugh…

  11. The lawn is my husband’s territory, which is fine with me, because we have a couple of acres of it. There are weeds throughout, especially dandelions and clover, but it’s much too big an area to treat with chemicals–not that I would anyway. I’ve noticed, though, that once it’s mowed, it all looks green anyway:) Creeping Charlie–ugh!! It’s become my nemesis. It’s bad enough that it’s in parts of lawn, but it likes to creep into my flowerbeds as well. Last year I pulled so much of it that I developed tendonitis in my hand.

  12. Yay for a minimalist approach! At the little house in the big woods, the front “lawn” is mostly moss, and I think it’s lovely. Good luck with that creeping Charlie! Before reading your post, I’d never heard of it, and I hope it never comes here.

  13. My hubs loves a lush lawn and thick grass is harder for the dogs to tear up as they run around the backyard. We have it aerated every fall and fertilize with ground alfalfa meal and sometimes corn gluten meal. I fill my bare patches with clover or I let the native carex take over.

  14. I guess I practice minimalist lawn care since I don’t have a lawn at all (:) ), but good for you for spreading compost and taking a limited approach to lawn care. Per Ms. Mariposa’s comment above, have you ever tried the corn gluten treatment as a pre-emergent? I haven’t, but understand that it works well.

  15. We practice such minimalist lawn care here that we outsourced the mowing. But we do have about 4 acres of lawn, and it was taking up most of a weekend to get it mowed. The guy who mows it for us has a much larger mowing deck than we have, and can get it done in a third of the time! We don’t worry too much about weeds in most of it, but there is one section that is on top of the septic field that gets particularly dry and weedy. We tend to do a weed-and-feed in the spring on that section, if we remember 🙂

  16. What!? Compost onto the lawn? Why not burn money next?
    I admit to putting a bit of cheap fertilizer on every spring and maybe even fall, but only so I can collect more lawn clippings to compost for the more pampered plants to enjoy. Weed can have their way, although I did notice the creeping Charlie has built up three strongholds, all of which trace their origins to a phlox plant transplanted from the old garden…. Oh if I was only a bit more careful 7 years ago.

  17. I could care less about turf grass, but I do like some swaths of green that one can walk on. Anything green that can be mowed is fine with me; if it flowers, even better. Hawkweed, clover, bluets, moss phlox, and haircap moss (which grows in my poor sandy soil) are all welcome.

  18. Most sensible people in Australia know you should not have lawns, they just need too much water. However, we have a few small lawn areas in the garden, and on a hot day, it is just so cool looking and lovely …I love to sit out there on it. (and as for care, fortunately, that is Paul’s job!)

  19. Ha ha love this post. It reminds me of our home in the ‘burbs before we moved to the city. Our lawn would probably have won the “most weeds contest”. We didn’t believe in chemicals, so wild violets took over, but it looked just gorgeous in the spring, and whenever there was a drought, ours was the greenest lawn :). We don’t have a blade of grass here, and that suits me just fine, but love all the flower beds I tend to. My husband like you is a minimalist, both inside and outside the house.

  20. What is this Creeping Charlie stuff? I never use chemicals on my lawn, after all, I only require it to be green and short and not poisonous. I like it when daisies spangle it. I think an obsession with a perfect lawn is usually a man- thing.

  21. I’m also a minimalist when it comes to lawn care. If it’s green, it can stay. I’m also not one for chemicals. I tend to not mow my lawn too short so that the grass will block sunlight from reaching weed seeds. Nice photos.

  22. Hello Jason, you take more care of the lawn than we do. We just let the weeds and grass fight it out among themselves. It does mean that over the summer, the “lawn” is full of buttercups, dandelions, yellow rattle, daisies, some unknown blue flowers and all manner of other bee-friendly stuff and that actually looks quite nice!

  23. My nemesis has been Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis). Roots are fine and travel deep into clay. If you attempt to pull it, it breaks off and develops yet more plants. God help you if you let it go to seed. It’s EVERYWHERE out here– prairie, roses, lawn, pasture. One year I tried smothering it with black plastic in the veggie garden – IT LOVED IT – no competition!

    Creeping Charlie is the bane of shady lawns. I only have it on the north side of the house. Last year I attacked it with some success, same reason as others as it gets into your beds if you ignore it. I guess you’ll have to do a new post on weed management. Believe me, we are all ears!

  24. Pingback: Seasonal Celebrations Revealed-December 2015 | Gardens Eye View

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