How to Save Time and Money Just by Watching the Grass Grow

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Laziness is often accompanied by guilt. But when it comes to your lawn, there’s ample justification to do less rather than more—saving time and money and being kinder to Mother Nature while you’re at it.

The deep green, meticulously groomed, Wimbledon-like front lawn is undeniably attractive. It’s also undeniably useless compared to a garden of vegetables and fruit-bearing plants, and undeniably bad for the environment if it’s loaded with chemicals and requires near-constant watering.

As an alternative to devoting abundant time and attention to your lawn weekly (or hiring a landscape company to do the same), Consumer Reports has consulted several university professors to find out which efforts are necessary to keep a decent lawn, and which are overkill. The result is the “Slacker’s Guide to a Great Lawn,” published in the May 2012 issue.

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Among the tips, which all save time and money, are that homeowners should fertilize less, perhaps once or twice a year, rather than the five times annually recommended by (who else?) fertilizer companies. It’s also unnecessary to go overboard getting rid of all the dandelions, clover, and other weeds on your lawn. Their presence often helps improve the soil structure.

There are limitations to the do-less or do-nothing approach, though. The experts say there are a few proactive steps that really will help your lawn over the long haul, and they don’t require too much time. These steps include keeping a sharp blade on your mower (otherwise the grass will be frayed and won’t grow well) and getting rid of grubs (they feed on grass roots).

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If Consumer Reports doesn’t address all of your lawn issues, chances are This Old House does with its piece, “Your Toughest Lawn Questions Answered.” It’s an in-depth primer that’s a bit more obsessive about lawns and lawn maintenance (there are 37 entries in the Q&A), but the TOH experts also advise homeowners there’s no need to freak out about something as minor as a few weeds on the lawn. In a question about the topic, the editors’ answer states:

Keep in mind that a few weeds won’t ruin your lawn. We all have a picture in our minds of the “perfect” lawn. I think we should redefine the “perfect” lawn as a lawn that is useable and chemical-free, where we use as little fertilizer and water as possible to achieve this “new” look.

A lawn that requires less time, money, and effort is a lawn that’s perfect indeed.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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