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Column: Incredibly specific, somewhat overwhelming lawncare options

BY JIMMY FROST

VIRGINIA BEACH — It began as an exercise program of sorts, and it became an obsession. Well, let me get the order right: it began as therapy, then exercise, then an obsession.

Last summer, my wife picked one of the warmest days to share with me her wish for a “nice garden” in our backyard. Since she had a stroke, she spends a lot of time at home. I guess it’s therapeutic for her to have me making our front and back yards beautiful while she watches videos on her computer and naps in the living room. 

But hey, if I’m going to bust my can in the summer heat, I’m going to get something out of it, so I bought the new lawnmower that I wrote about in another column. 

Inspired by Clint Eastwood’s character in the movie Gran Torino, I’ve done a pretty good job of becoming a grumpy old man, admonishing others to “get off my lawn,” though more peacefully than in the movie. 

While I have learned that frequent mowing does promote growth, I’ve also learned that a razor-sharp lawn mower blade does make a noticeable difference in how cleanly the grass is cut. I’ve also learned that, as with anything else, you can spend all the money you want on lawn tools, machinery and products to achieve your goal of a “perfect” lawn and never quite achieve it.

I found myself talking to a man buying four bags of lime and asking him, “Well, why are you going to put lime on your yard when you haven’t tested your soil to see if it even needs it?”

Instead of dreaming of money or fame, my daydreams now included a new, self-bagging walk-behind mower that can be stored standing up on its end.

That is until I discovered a front-reel mower that looks similar in size and appearance to an industrial floor cleaner you might find in a retail store. This beast of a mower has interchangeable mowing heads, can be ordered with leather hand-grips, a drink holder and headlights so you can mow at night if you like and will only set you back about six times what the most expensive walk-behind mower you might find in a big-box store will cost you. 

Want to find out how fast your wife will issue a permanent veto to an idea? Suggest spending $3,100 on a lawn mower you can’t even ride. The fact that you would be able to “stripe” your lawn like a professional baseball field because it has a roller on the back won’t tilt the scales in your favor, either. 

I’ve also learned that some fertilizers will kill a wide variety of weeds, most of which currently reside in my neighbors yard. I’ve discovered that like the pre-Civil War differences between North and South, the argument between those who claim plug-aeration and dethatching your yard will never be resolved just as those who insist that you must pick up the “plugs” after a core aeration and those who claim leaving them where they lay to help fertilize the lawn is best. 

Another well-debated topic is between those who believe side-discharge is best, mulching your clippings is better but bagging is still the only way to go. I can now identify the difference between zoysia, broad-leaf and fine fescue, bermuda grass as well as several different kinds of common weeds. 

I’ve also learned that when using power lawn equipment, you still only ever get one set of eyes and safety glasses are now inexpensive, stylish, look more like sunglasses and like our “shop” teacher use to insist, are still essential. 

How far has lawncare come over the course of my lifetime? There are now programmable lawn mowers that don’t require a human operator, work like an automatic floor sweeper, make little or no noise and virtually eliminate the need for teenagers (or adults) to cut grass anymore. I still don’t know how comfortable I am with that idea. 

I just find it odd how now that I’m a lot further along life’s journey than I was as a teenager, something I once dreaded has now become something enjoyable, a little competitive and rewarding. It certainly keeps me closer to home these days, and that makes the Missus happy. 

I think that might have been her goal all along. 


Frost is a web designer, campaign consultant, photographer and writer who is a lifelong resident of Virginia Beach.


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