Lawn care: How to mow like a pro

  @Money August 10, 2012: 10:24 AM ET
mow, lawn
NEW YORK (Money magazine)

I'm one of the last guys on the block still mowing his own lawn. This saves about $1,500 a year and, I'd like to think, shows that I'm handy, youthful, earthy, and well attuned to my small property.

As I zig and zag, I can spot a thirsty hydrangea, a wasps' nest, or a loose porch screen. Plus, since I so often write about yard care, it's important to actually do yard care.

Witness these time -- and money -- saving tricks learned in the Saturday morning sun.

Treat your gas. The secret to getting power equipment to start on the first pull isn't hauling it in for $50 to $90 tune-ups. It's all about the gas, which begins to degrade as soon as you pump it.

After a couple of months (never mind a whole winter), it will gum up the carburetor, and you could shred a rotator cuff trying to start your mower.

See also: 4 ways to save on landscaping

There's a simple solution: a few drops of fuel stabilizer. One $6 bottle of Sta-bil has kept my tools purring like lions for two years and counting.

Don't bag clippings. Every turf scientist and workaday landscaper I've questioned recommends forgoing the collection bag and setting the mower to mulch. That pulverizes the clippings and recycles them into the soil, saving water and fertilizer costs. It also keeps me honest.

With the bag, I might get lazy and let the lawn reach meadow height before finally chopping it down (bad news since removing more than a third of their height harms the plants), but the mower can't effectively mulch that much material. And my better half won't abide the clumps of hay it leaves behind. So unless I want to rake, I have to mow often.

Let the pros fertilize. Passing joggers and dog walkers may think I'm some sort of grass whisperer, but fertilizer is beyond me. I can't interpret the back-of-bag chart, and I once applied a weed-and-feed mix when the temperature was over 80° F and burned out the backyard. Now I hire a crew to fertilize (and aerate in the fall), for around $600 a year.

See also: Low-cost ways to put off pricey home repairs

Edge twice. It's easy to get lazy about edging, which is really a two-step job -- a horizontal cut anywhere the mower can't go, then a vertical one to slice a line wherever the lawn meets beds and walks.

Trouble is, this eats up trimmer string. So I attach extra precut pieces to the wand with Velcro tape. I can pop in replacements quickly, and I'm back inside for lunch.

Contributing writer and home-renovation expert Josh Garskof is a former editor for This Old House and Martha Stewart Living. To top of page

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