I’m a hobbyist who has become a bit addicted to landscaping. I say that only half jokingly. I’m creating this to share some of the lessons I’ve learned and hopefully some of the positive outcomes of these. And these lessons typically came from reflecting on mistakes, so hopefully that can save you some time. This first entry will be a bit more wordy, and more of a story… sorry. The later ones should have pictures, data, and be quite a bit more brief on the stories.
If you’re a seasoned professional, you’re probably in the wrong place, but since you’re here, please bear with me; I promise I do learn, and I’m curious how closely my story relates to how you got started.
If you know me, and I do know myself, it seems and somewhat feels like a completely different direction for me, but it’s very simple.
First, I heard early on that landscaping is one of the home improvements that can return dollar for dollar. They implied “if done correctly” but sometimes anything is an improvement. So I’ve been landscaping as a hobby ever since I bought my first home, which was about 12 years ago.
Second and most importantly, I grew extremely agitated and tired of spending four hours a week mowing and trimming my lawn.
Third, that second factor (above) drove me towards native plants and landscaping. Learning that I could support the natural ecosystem while reducing the amount of work I had to do was a very cool realization. This third point supported the second and eventually took over in importance to me as the work I have to do has become enjoyable and shows an additional benefit other than the purely selfish reason I started out with.
And finally, I think it balances out my other interests. Technology is relentless and demanding, and software development leads to hectic and long days. Hockey is fast paced and sometimes a bit brutal. This slows my world down and helps me find peace.
The Start of the Addiction
I had seen a sign multiple times on the drive back from St. Louis stating Grow Native and that’s where it all took off. Before this, I battled mother nature; put in improved beds and watering systems to make whatever I wanted survive. And most of it did, but at some expense and a lot of effort.
So, I decided the answer to reason number two was to work some huge features in that wouldn’t need mowing. I’ve always been a bit of a tree-hugger, and my parents taught me not only to recycle but to reuse and preserve at an early age. So the idea of going native really appealed to me.
I headed down to the local Nature Center to get some books and find some ideas. In the smallest and simplest of books that I purchased, Tried and True Missouri Native Plants For Your Yard, I found the thing that has explained my latest obsession. It was a professional native bed designed by Josh Rathert of Jefferson City, which had an informal look and showed nice color and texture. Most importantly, there were these words hidden in the text; it was the fourth time or so that I looked at the picture that I found them:
“This garden frames a Buffalo grass lawn …”
And so it began… calling vendors I already knew, spending way too much time on the web, and going to seed and plant shows and finding new vendors, dragging Dana along with me. By the way, she has almost no interest in this, so she was a trooper putting up with my random obsession, and she still humors me with it. Wait until you see what we did to her suburbia home! :-D It was a compromise, but much better than before.
The result is I now have about an acre and a half of Buffalo lawn, with informal areas of native forbs and grasses that emphasize it. I no longer spend 4 hours a week mowing, however I’m still probably in the yard just as much as I was before. But it’s a lot more enjoyable now, and it’s not spent on the mower, wasting money on gas and fighting Mother Nature. Her and I still don’t always agree, but I’ve tried to come to her terms, and she seems to have no problems reminding me when I haven’t.
The Buffalograss Lawn
Buffalo is a Midwestern grass that is drought and disease resistant. From what I’ve been able to find, it may not actually be native to Missouri, I find a lot of posts about Colorado, but it has established well and lived up to its promises. It has low vertical growth, so it requires minimal mowing, while some opt not to mow it at all. I mow mine once every two weeks in the spring and early fall, and once a month in the summer. I do not water and there is no need to fertilize, unless you want to encourage weeds to grow and make your life harder.
There is some care that has to go into establishing a Buffalo lawn, especially when you make the mistake that I did and rush it and till your yard… you definitely have to be patient, and that is not a trait that exists naturally in me. (Don’t till your yard!)
But really, now there are just a couple critical times, and you have a bit of flexibility here. In the spring, with a “traditional” fescue / bluegrass lawn, you can do irreparable damage by missing a mowing. Buffalo is much more forgiving, as are native plantings.
In a young yard (but not a new seeding, obviously), it’s helpful to put down a pre-emergent, and maybe apply glyphosphate at the same time to kill of all of the non-buffalo volunteers. You’ll know them because they’re green while your lawn is a nice golden color.
But really, if you miss this by a week or two, it’s not the end of the world. And if you miss it by a month, just skip the pre-emergent and use 2-4D instead. It’s not as effective, but unless you are really bad at math or have a bad mishap, you won’t harm the Buffalo at all, and you’ll kill everything except the clover. You can then go around with a bottle of glyphosphate and hit any patches of clover; they choke out just about everything so you probably won’t hit the Buffalo if you’re careful.
I remember being absolutely tired of the futility of mowing my lawn; wasting money on gas, care of the lawnmower, trimmer line and oil, all just to turn around and do it again in four days. It was all so meaningless, my neighbors don’t even care, I live in the middle of nowhere; I see them once every couple of years. So I had the idea that this would save me time and money. The problem is that I became obsessed, and I also made a lot of mistakes, so I’d be lucky if it’s a wash.
But, I have a lot more tools and cool toys now. I started this adventure with a handheld bottle sprayer. That grew to an assortment of hose end sprayers, a bottle for each type of chemical, a backpack sprayer, plus, and most importantly, a boom sprayer. Then there’s the assortment of spreaders, including a pull-behind, and on top of that I look like a smurf through the critical seasons because I use a blue indicator to see where I’ve sprayed. Then there’s the roller that I bought for establishing good soil contact. And very soon, I should probably buy a shed for all this crap.
While there are times in establishing this that I was overwhelmed, at least this time I had no one to blame for it but myself. I had some obstacles to deal with due to my lack of patience or not asking enough or the right questions. I knew I had a lot to learn, and I asked a lot of questions, but I could sense I was pestering people and I had this nagging urge to get all of this done before that specific season came up; I didn’t want to spend 4 hours per week mowing again the next year.
So I’ve talked a lot about my addiction, but I haven’t mentioned the benefits. I truly enjoy going out into my yard now. Spring and fall are some of my favorite times, and I can really appreciate the harmony between my yard and nature.
You may be able to establish a fescue lawn and have it look perfect with a lot of work and care; but you’re fighting the natural order; you fertilize, water like crazy, and have to have everything in line and in order. When you learn to see and appreciate natural beauty, especially if you help establish it, it will change your life.
I remember seeing “Old Man Pete” out in his yard every afternoon, covered head to toe to avoid sun exposure, toiling over his bluegrass lawn. No doubt he was proud of it, but two years after he passed, the yard was overrun by crabgrass and looked like absolute crap. All of the order and perfection he forced upon it was erased when he wasn’t there to care for it.
The point is that you cannot understand the peace that you will find in knowing your yard is in harmony with nature until you experience that first hand; then you’ll scoff at people like “Old Man Pete” and you’ll never look back. Furthermore, in my case I have been able to establish forbs and grasses that support native wildlife: deer, butterflies, birds and all other kinds of bugs and critters that are native and vital to this region. There’s something about that which just makes me feel good.
If you’ve ever longed for that walk at the Nature Center and not known why, this is for you. I strongly encourage anyone in the Missouri area to visit MO Botanical Gardens in Eureka, MO, outside St. Louis. It is less than a mile off of the highway, and yet you can still dissolve. You can run the trails if you like, but make sure you take a moment to stop and look around and feel what is surrounding you.
It showed me the peace and beauty that exists naturally in our area if we just stop trying to control it. I don’t mean to say there isn’t work that goes into making it aesthetically pleasing, but we shouldn’t be fighting nature.
Most importantly, this place helped remind me that I’m just a small part of it all and that I have the most power to upset the delicate balance. I have always tried to respect that balance and minimize my footprint, but this showed me that sometimes expanding the footprint can be the right answer instead. It’s the balance between offense and defense, you need them both.
So there you have it. Why I started, my views on going native, and how this turned into an obsession. In the coming posts, I expect to be able to tell a story of my trials with photos, and present some tips that I learned in the process. Maybe they’ll help you avoid making the mistakes I made, give you some ideas, or if I’m lucky, you’ll see something I could do different. :-D
I had a long day at the office, about 11 hours. Typically the last thing I want to do is hop on a computer when I get home, but this has made me feel better. The days are still short, so while it’s warmed up a bit, my only chance to get outside right now is on the weekends. This has helped me wind down a bit and is giving me something to look forward to. Told ya I’m obsessed.
Tried & True Missouri Native Plants For Your Yard,
Missouri Department of Conservation,