The trials and travails of lawn care

05/27/2010 12:00 AM |

Ah, springtime! Now, let the “party” begin — my annual lawn party; time to mow, trim and make neat! Yet, as our green monster grows up around me, a guilty feeling settles in; with all the things to do, the lawn is the one thing I care least about! I know full well how some take pride in a swath of green that increases in size every year. We even know folks who water all summer and worry about weeds. Not yours truly!

No, for me a lawn is a symbol of time forever lost, hours that will never be spent doing activities that make a real difference — like spring fishing or training dogs. So I dutifully smear on sunscreen and swallow half a tab of Allegra, grab safety glasses and ear protectors, and crank up the equipment for the first time. If I’m lucky I’ll finish the job without incident, then count the days until I am forced to do it again, and again, and again!

Of course, there are as many approaches to lawns as there are individuals. Most yard mavens never seem to have enough lawn, starting with a few patches of front yard and reaching out ever farther until the wild backyard is forever tamed. On Long Island, there’s a certain logic to this because it prevents accelerated succession in fallow, open lots. Briars give way to multiflora rose and other “pasture snatchers” so that, within a few seasons, only a backhoe can penetrate the tangles. In any case, you can follow the progress of the lawn freaks by the equipment they buy. The push mower gives way to the power mower, then the riding mower. No horsepower becomes three, 10, and finally 15 or more. Hand cutters turn into weed trimmers, then robust whackers that have to be supported by belts and harnesses!

And then there are the rules of the road for the amateur. The rock you hit last year will still be in the same place when you make your first cut of the season, and it’s still harder than the blade of your mower.

If your mowing equipment chokes up with grass, a common event on those early forays, no amount of swearing, shaking, or smacking the deck will clear it. You have to shut the mower off, grab the mess with your hands and extract it, praying that your machine will start up right away without needing to cool down or requiring the change of a fouled spark plug. Incidentally, if you really enjoy doing this, try putting off your first cuts for days when it’s cold and drizzling!

If you have any question about cutting along that slope or dip with your big mower (and thus avoid getting out a smaller mower to do the job) you had better have a tractor on standby to right the mower and haul it out when the inevitable happens. Moreover, if you wonder where those little plantings are that your partner so lovingly put in a couple of weeks earlier, you’ll surely find them when you’re backing the mower along that overgrown edge. You’ll have a wonderful time later, planting another series of seedlings in the same place! Finally, rest assured that when all the equipment has been put away and you’re setting out the drinks to watch, say, the Preakness, you’ll look out and find several patches of lawn that you completely missed!

May and June are ideal months for extended vacations, but this leaves a real headache for us. Do we trust the neighbor’s “kid” to do the lawn for us in our absence without wrecking our equipment in the process? Once, years back, we actually did this successfully, but the nearby Kaelin family belonged to a well-known Southold farm supply clan, and naturally Drew knew his way around even the balkiest of our machines! Up in the North Country where we have property today, you don’t take that sort of risk, so you just “let the yard go” during the time you’re gone. If you’re fortunate, you can somehow find the driveway upon your return, and that’s when the real fun begins. Lawns become fields of hay, gardens are obscured in weedy tangles, and all the local critters, especially the woodchucks, have made your place theirs. It takes a good couple of weeks of solid effort to reclaim it.

We’ve come to the conclusion that while lawn maintenance is never-ending drudgery, it comes with the property, like it or not. Perhaps you’ll catch a break and a long, hot summer will turn it all brown for a month or more. If not, you’ll just have to count the days until late autumn. By the time you’re gearing up for the fall bass run, that maniacal lawn (due to shorter daylight hours and cooler temperatures) has got to stop growing — right?