An acceptable suburban lawn must be green, full, weed-free, and an even height

At this time of year, the lawns of the Chicago area are slowly emerging. Some residents are already mowing to address one key feature of an acceptable suburban lawn: it must be even.

You can have a green, full, and weed-free lawn but it is not complete if it is uneven. This primarily has to do with grass height. The acceptable lawn is uniform. The grass looks like a flat surface. It does not have to look exactly like a golf fairway or green but the idea is the same. A lawn with weird dips and rises can also make it look uneven compared to a flat surface or a continually sloping area.

In the spring, the grass may be particularly uneven. Some of it is due to the activity of dogs. Some of it has to do with all the rain and moisture the grass has had. The growth might be different across a lawn, meaning mowing would lower the height of the grass in some spots and not be needed elsewhere.

This time will pass as more growth, higher temperatures, and regular mowing evens out lawns. For those who like lawns that do not have a uniform height, now is the time to enjoy.

Will there be more lawn mowing or less lawn mowing with climate change?

If the climate is changing with some places predicted to receive more rain and some to receive less rain, how will this affect lawn mowing in the United States? A few quick thoughts:

1. If droughts (such as a few years back in California) and high temperatures are more common in certain places, more people could seek alternatives to lawns (looking for less water use or greywater use plus painting lawns or replacing them). Less lawn mowing!

2. If rain is more common elsewhere, this could lead to lusher lawns, the dream of many suburban property owners. More lawn mowing!

3. Producers of grass seed, lawn mowers, and others would have to adjust. This is a sizable industry that could pursue a variety of paths. Still sell the perfect lawn concept in wetter parts of the country while also selling lawn alternatives in drier regions? Selling hardier and less water dependent seeds in drier areas? I assume they already have plans. Perhaps more lawn mowing if people still want lawns and the right products are available?

4. This could affect how Americans regard the lawn. While the nicely kept green grass lawn seems fairly widespread, perhaps it will be a strong norm in some regions with significant variation elsewhere. How much this could affect other areas of homeownership and suburban life is hard to foresee. A wash for overall lawn mowing?

5. The doomsday scenario: perhaps other problems become so pressing that few care about lawn mowing. For example, why mow the lawn when food supplies are limited?

This question came to me after several stretches this year where rain and humidity constant for a few weeks. This required more mowing then and we have not experienced the typical July/August browning of the lawn because of the rainy spells.

“Our veterans deserve a clean [and mowed] lawn”

The American quest for a good-looking lawn extends to one man determined to keep the lawn mowed on the National Mall during the government shutdown:

A kind-hearted South Carolina volunteer who has mowed lawns, cleared a fallen tree and emptied ‘hundreds of trash cans’ up and down the National Mall since the federal government partially shut down told MailOnline that an aggressive, ‘bully’ of a U.S. Park Police officer who ‘looked like Robocop’ today ordered him to leave the Lincoln Memorial.

Chris Cox, the one-man landscaping crew, calls himself the Memorial Militia. He said he has been on a mission to spruce up the lawns, trees and trash bins near America’s grandest memorials before the weekend, because a ‘Million Vet March’ event is expected to bring scores of retired servicemen and women to the nation’s capital...

‘I’m calling on Americans,’ the 45-year-old told MailOnline: ‘Find a memorial. Go there. Instead of bringing a picnic basket, show up with a lawn mower and a rake.’

The peak of American patriotism: a cleanly-cut lawn! To me, this hints at the American obsession with lawns. On one hand, there might be safety and health arguments about garbage sitting out or fallen down trees that might lead to some harm. But, keeping the lawn neat? If the grass gets a little long, it is a major problem? The connection to veterans is intriguing as well: we can honor fellow Americans by having a well-manicured lawn.

How long until suburban homeowners use goats to keep their lawn in shape?

I read that Naperville is using goats to clear some parkland and I had an idea: why shouldn’t suburban homeowners use goats to keep their lawns short? This could provide some nice benefits: no need to buy a lawnmower; less pollution; less noise; goats could handle grass as well as other vegetation (weed control!); they could be shared or rented out so that not every homeowner has to have a few goats. The drawbacks: the lawn probably wouldn’t look as nice; goats may be unsightly or detract from nicer neighborhoods (see discussions about suburban chickens); and tending goats would be time consuming.

I don’t suspect this is going to happen in large numbers anytime soon. Oddly enough, the biggest drawback might be that the goats won’t be able to produce the kind of finish that suburbanites tend to prefer…


My, your lawn is lush and green…especially where the dogs were!

Record temperatures in Chicago have meant green lawns ahead of schedule. This is not usually considered a bad thing: the brown or dormant grass of winter has given way to verdant lawns that wouldn’t look out of place in the many lawn commercials one can see at this time of year. However, in walking around, I noticed that these lawns are often punctuated by more lush spots, presumably from the work of dogs. Here is one picture from an adjacent neighborhood:

Some thoughts about this:

1. The typical “perfect lawn” doesn’t include such spots. So if someone has pets and wants a great-looking lawn, how do you balance these two interests? Cut the lawn a lot? I haven’t noticed any products talking about this kind of fertilization.

2. Perhaps this is a bigger problem in townhome/condo/apartment neighborhoods where there are common lawns. To curb their dog, people walk about the neighborhood and use the common areas. Why use spaces close to your home when you can take advantage of other areas? (Additionally: you are paying for those other areas so why not?)

3. Some patterns emerge: I would estimate at least 80% of the spots were within four feet of the sidewalk. This likely says more about the dog owners than the dogs: the owners want to stay on the sidewalk so the dogs have to stay close by. Also, taller objects, signs, mailboxes, trees, etc. tended to have lusher grass around them. Here is another shot that also shows the first pattern:

Does anyone get upset about this desecration of the lawns? If the battle is between dogs and a perfect lawn, it looks like the dogs win at this time of year.

The value of lawn mowing

English professor Jerry DeNuccio discusses the value of mowing the lawn. In addition to being an important marker of a middle class lifestyle, he suggests it has additional value:

Cutting grass is transformative. Having finished, one can see, immediately, that the lawn is manifestly different than it was, manifestly better, improved, prettier. Mowing is applied art; in doing it, one edits the lawn, grooming the ragged, shearing the shaggy, making the unruly ruly. I value this transformation because it stands in such stark contrast to what I do for a living…

For me, cutting grass involves a kind of invisible growth. Ironically, the very routine of grass cutting, its essential mindlessness, clears mental space to fill with intentional, task-unrelated thoughts. I call it “the mull.” I experience regrets; weigh alternatives and make choices; plan upcoming events; sing songs I find meaningful, which almost always means songs from the 1960s…

But I find there’s another, less volitional mental activity that occurs while cutting grass, one that seemingly lowers a hook to snag things lurking beneath the surface of consciousness. Experts would call it “the incubation effect.” Most would call it “zoning out.” I call it “the dream-drift.” The mind wanders. Stray images and unkempt thoughts slipstream in from some far away cognitive Pacific…

This thinking aspect is intriguing. On one hand, DeNuccio suggests mowing the lawn is an accomplishment, giving the mower the ability to quickly see that one has “improved” the lawn. Man or woman has quickly tamed unruly nature with the force of a human-pushed machine.

On the other hand, the process of mowing the lawn grants one important time to let the mind wander. This sort of time seems to be in short supply in our modern world, particularly for younger generations where time tends to be filled with some kind of digital input. This time can be found in other places, such as driving on long car trips, but lawn mowing could provide a regular, uninterrupted place to mull.