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Bob dirt

Lawn “blower.” All photos by Bob Smith.


Now that we’ve moved to the shore house, and remodeled our home, I’m developing an inferiority complex about our front lawn. About three years ago, we thought we’d spruce up the place, so we put in underground sprinklers and a carpet of sod in the front and back yards. The landscaper tore up the weeds, and rolled out the new grass, like so much dirt-backed broadloom. It was thick, lush, and a deep money green. My yard looked like a golf course.

But almost immediately, crabgrass began to poke through the new turf, first along the seams of the rows of sod, then slowly in the middle too. Apparently, the roots and fragments left behind after the landscaper had cleared the ground were enough to allow the weeds to reassert themselves so that, within a month, my new sod lawn was nearly one-third crabgrass again.

My neighbor across the street, who always had a flawless lawn, had one word of advice:

Bob grass 2

Lawn poisoner.

“Poison,” he said. “Have the landscape guys come once in the spring, and then every few weeks, and spray weed killer on the lawn. No problem.”

Being too frugal to hire a landscaper just to spread death and destruction among the weeds, I bought a jug of granulated broad spectrum weed killer. “Broad spectrum” means it kills lots of different weeds, which is what I needed – who knew what evil weeds lurked under my new sod? And the stuff worked great – I put it down once, and the weeds stayed away for six weeks.

But then they started coming back, so it was time to re-apply. The problem was I’d already sworn, after the first application, that I’d never touch that stuff again. It came with use instructions and warnings as extensive as the Manhattan phone book. The manufacturer advises you to wear a respirator, special impermeable rubber gloves, goggles, long sleeves, long pants tucked into your shoes, and even hair protection when you apply the poison. You’re supposed to avoid working downwind, not breathe the dust, shower promptly afterwards, and launder your work clothes separately from other wash. And you’re to be especially careful not to apply it where pets, water fowl, or small children may come into contact with it.

Isn’t that what lawns are for? Dogs, cats, kids, and those Canadian geese crap-machines? If I followed those instructions, I’d be spreading poison pellets in a parking lot somewhere. And why the hair covering? Is the poison absorbed through hair follicles? Or does it just make your hair hurt?

So I surrendered and stopped applying the poison altogether, and within one season, my lawn returned to being all crabgrass, dandelion, and other weeds unknown. It looks particularly bad now because my next door neighbor has since laid down sod, and he has someone regularly apply weed toxins, so his lawn looks great.

photo 1

One word: Plastic.

Like me, my across-the-street neighbor was tired of periodically contaminating the area surrounding his house with airborne and water-soluble death dust, but he’s taken an entirely different tack. His new word of advice, like the helpful neighbor in “The Graduate,” is simple: plastics. Specifically, plastic grass.

His lawn is picture perfect every day of the year because it’s Astroturf. The landscapers still come, and blow actual leaves and twigs off the plastic carpet, but it never needs cutting, watering, or chemical nuking. It’s a bold move, but I just can’t see myself buying a petroleum-based lawn covering that, despite the manufacturer’s assurances, is likely to fade, fray, and need replacement within five or 10 years.

We’ve just finished some more renovations, so our front lawn is now mostly dirt. It’s too late in the season to plant grass now, but come spring, the weeds will sprout, the dandelions will bloom, and our yard will look raggedy and scruffy again. My neighbors, I suspect, will secretly curse me for not keeping up appearances. I’ll endure their scorn in the hope that, by boycotting weed killer, I can avoid coming down with those annoying tumors of everything that seem to plague so many people these days.

In the meantime, I’m hoping for lots of snow cover this winter so that, at least for a while, I won’t be ashamed of my front yard.