I always thought the phrase ‘about as interesting as watching grass grow’ conjured a vision of ultimate boredom. That was before I attempted to grow my own no mow lawn. It turns out that watching grass grow can be a roller-coaster of emotions: the angst of wondering whether my inability to precisely follow directions would matter… the excitement of seeing the first blades of green poking up… the anguish over bare spots… and the pride over healthy, lush sections.
For years I advised clients to consider no mow lawns in their green homes, but I had never seen the end product through a full cycle of seasons. Friends of friends who own a turf farm expressed their interest-slash-skepticism at my undertaking, which more or less echoed the sentiments of a whole stream of landscape architects before. “Sure, you could try no mow if you really WANTED to… ” A search of local nurseries turned up nothing available. I couldn’t figure out why something that sounded so ingenious wasn’t more popular! An internet search for “no mow grass” turns up Prairie Nursery in Westfield, WI as a major supplier. A colleague used their product, and they were extremely helpful on the phone, so I ordered the No Mow Lawn Seed Mix online.
Our house is affectionately named ‘The Fiscal Cliff’ because it is a money pit, purchased in 2012, on a very steep rocky incline. Most of the yard is rock and plantings, but there were two areas that I could get flat enough for a lawn by building small retaining walls out of the abundant stones. We brought in topsoil and compost to help make up for the rockiness. Per the Prairie Nursery website, ‘Site preparation is VERY important.’ Gulp. Following directions precisely is not my best skill. For instance, their suggestion to completely choke out all prior weeds by covering with newspaper for a year or so (a YEAR???) was blatantly ignored. Other instructions like sprinkling 1/8” of soil over the seed… short of getting out a flour sifter, I deem that impossible. In April 2015, friends and I did the best we could spreading the seed evenly, tromping it lightly into the soil with our shoes, and sprinkling hay on top. Then came watering and LOTS of weeding – at least an hour a week for the first 2 months. If I had it to do over again, I would make sure to plant in the Fall to reduce both watering and weeding.
So how did it all turn out? Mostly, I love it. It tends to fold every which way, making these cool hills and swirls. But there are some issues. My no mow seems happiest in the deep shade along the fence, although my colleague in DC reports that hers thrives best before the leaves come out in the spring and then the shade seems to suffocate it. Soil quality seems to have been a big factor, and where the soil is thin (due to rocks underneath) there are bare spots. Re-seeding last fall didn’t seem to help much. This spring we added some more soil in those areas, and this fall I’ll try to replant them again. After the painstaking weeding the first summer, things are mostly under control but I still weed it every six weeks in the growing season. The bent-over grass tends to hide moisture underneath, which seems to encourage some mushroom growth. Not the end of the world, but not exactly what I was hoping for.
And the million dollar question… is it truly no mow? Photos show the yard this morning, about 15 months after it was planted. This spring some tall seed heads shot straight up, and we took the weed whacker to it twice (our terrain is not lawnmower friendly) within two weeks. It’s back to looking well-behaved, folding over nicely, and while it will not be featured in a Scott’s commercial anytime soon, it serves its purpose. I spread a blanket out to take lawn naps, and the puppy loves to play in it. And anything I can hit with the weed whacker just twice a year definitely qualifies as low-maintenance no mow in my book; which is a relief after all that drama.