If you do a quick lap through many suburban neighborhoods on any day of the week in Spring or Summer, you’ll find no shortage of mowers. Or, for that matter, landscaping service crews using those mowers.
And according to the American Time Use Survey, this obligatory chore, for those of us lucky enough to have any green space at all, is on the decline.
If you’d like to drill down into the data, it’s pretty interesting. There isn’t any published data for 2020 due to COVID (and we likely saw a jump in the number then), but it looks like we’ve mostly been on a decline from a peak in 2016 of 10.3% down to 8.7% in 2019.
There are lots of factors at play. Aging populations, increased renting, higher density housing, and very time-starved folks.
I get it. Plus, it’s time consuming. And sweaty.
But wait. So is…jogging? Spinning? Hot yoga?
Obviously, I’m in the “for DIY yard work” camp, so there’s some obvious bias here in this post. But I’ll throw some data at you, too, and a few other personal comments that will explain why maybe this dreaded chore isn’t so bad, and perhaps, even worth all that time spent.
What the Science Says about Yard Work and Physical and Mental Health
Doing your own landscaping and yard work can be intense and hard, but there’s an impressive cardiovascular benefit.
And it’s not for everyone. But if you are able, the calories burned with this kind of physical activity is pretty impressive, especially if you’re using more manual tools such as a reel mower or a push mower without a self-propelled feature.
The mental health benefits are pretty surprising, too.
Scientists have linked microbes that can actually function like antidepressants to soil. So all of that hand weeding and digging really does yield a positive benefit for the mind. And some (not necessarily scientists) even swear that there can be a meditative, stress-reducing effect from the repetitive movement and sounds.
Also, the power of green is kind of a thing, too. Technically, you aren’t actually “forest bathing,” but the smells and colors of nature are all still there. Who doesn’t like the smell of freshly cut grass?
It might keep you younger, from a cognitive standpoint, too.
Last, don’t forget the healthy dose of Vitamin D, which a lot of us struggle to get by spending so much time indoors.
Why We Like to Do Our Own Lawn and Landscaping Work
Besides the health benefits above, here’s why it makes sense for us to do all of our own yard work versus paying a service.
Two birds, one stone. I personally hate the notion of scheduled gym exercise. Call me a rebel, but I’d rather be doing anything else but that on any given day. But to get some physical exercise in and get something done? Win.
Continuous learning. Nature presents with all kinds of curve balls, and each is an opportunity to learn something new. Given I was a city-girl apartment dweller before all this, I enjoy the challenge of being able to figure out how to work with something different, especially as the seasons change and the yard matures.
A feeling of accomplishment. How often has the act of doing something entirely yourself seemed much sweeter? Whether it was making a minor repair or doing something original, how often in life can you attribute things to entirely you? With a freshly cut lawn, you can see, smell, and touch the results.
Alone time. I think the husband will agree here, but when he’s using motored lawn equipment, generally he’s not being bothered by anyone—not even me! It’s a good stretch of time for him where he can just zone out and get in some good thinking time.
Cost savings. The cost depends largely on the size of your yard and your area, but without going into the specifics, it would cost us roughly the amount of an annual resort vacation somewhere tropical in order to pay for the full-service package from a local lawn company. For smaller yards, it may not command that much, but it’s something we personally don’t want to have to budget for.
How Do I Get Started Doing My Own Lawn?
This is the beauty of a lawn. You won’t be a lawn “expert” overnight, but there is always an opportunity to learn. It’s also pretty forgiving in that if you mess up it just grows back! Nature is great that way.
Here are a few tips that help us manage our yard throughout the growing season, so that we don’t become overwhelmed:
Break up the work over several days. You may be pressed for time and can only mow say, the front yard, on a Tuesday evening. Another option is to outsource the heavier activities and focus on doing lighter tasks like weeding and pruning yourself.
For lower maintenance and repair costs, stick with basic equipment. The zero turn mowers and lawn tractors of today are impressive, but we’ve found the repair costs can be high once they do break. Luckily, my husband knows how to tinker on and maintain our simple gas-powered lawn mowers. One mower we’ve managed to keep for 20 years!
Embrace a “minimalist” yard. Sure, there are beautiful displays of yards that burst with color in Spring, but as people not-yet-retired, we have to be realistic. For example, I don’t plant annuals, and we don’t plant new trees that drop a lot of leaves in the fall.
Evergreens – holly, boxwood, varieties of juniper and cypress with various pops of color, and my shifting technicolor favorite, the Nandina (below) keep it easy year-round, but still give enough texture and visual interest. There is even a popular purple bush out there for those that live in the Southern part of the country (don’t ask me to pronounce it, but you see them everywhere) that comes in dwarf, mounding, and weeping varieties.
If you are still having reservations about jumping in, there are tons of free resources out there. Your state Cooperative Extension Service usually has a number of downloadable guides to get you started, covering everything from lawn care by grass type, to pest control, to plant selection. Some counties also have Master Gardener associations which are easy to locate on social media, such as Facebook.
Overall, it doesn’t have to be perfect–just get started!
I’d love to hear how other yard enthusiasts manage, or if you’re now considering becoming a DIY yard convert! Leave me a comment!