Cheap Trick Remix (the lawn version)

I want YOU to want ME…to give you five cheap tricks for a healthier, happier lawn! (Do we still call this a Dad joke if I am a Mom?)

It is the last week of school, Memorial Day is just around the corner, and our lawns and gardens are green and growing quickly. A lawn is a quintessentially American space to lounge and play, but can actually become an ecological desert if we begin to think of our grass as a green carpet instead of a living system.

Bee-friendly lawn (photo by

It is estimated that American lawns use 9 billion gallons of water per DAY; 3 million tons of fertilizer per year; and 30,000 tons of pesticides per year. So, what can you do if you want a beautiful, healthy lawn that is safe for your kids and pets, but you don’t want to spend a lot of money and you don’t have a lot of time?

Here are five cheap tricks:

  1. Sprinkle smart. Lawns in Minnesota only need one-inch of water per week (including rain), which translates into approximately 20 minutes of watering, twice a week for most yards. If you have an automated irrigation system, install a SMART controller or set your system to “manual” mode and turn it on only when you need to water.
  2. Use free fertilizer. Leave your grass clippings on the lawn and they will naturally add nutrients to the soil throughout the summer as they decompose. If you would like to add additional fertilizer, University of Minnesota recommends doing so only once per year around Labor Day. Adding fertilizer now will just make the grass grow faster so you have to mow even more often.
  3. Take it easy when it’s hot and dry. Mow less often or not at all during dry spells and avoid adding herbicide or fertilizer, which could injure your grass. Grass will naturally go into a state of semi-dormancy during the mid-summer and resume growing in the fall.
  4. Let it grow! Let your grass grow at least 3 inches tall and it will have deeper roots, be more resistant to weeds, and require less water to stay healthy.
  5. Add a little pizzazz. Prior to the 1940s, lawns contained a mix of species, including broadleaf plants like clover. Consider adding low-growing species like creeping thyme, self-heal, and ground plum to create a more diverse and pollinator-friendly lawn. It won’t look like a conventional lawn but will still give you space to play, let the dog run, or sit in a lawn chair.

For more information about healthy lawns, head to There are instructions for how to create bee-lawns and low-mow lawns and resources including the Blue Thumb Guide to Year-Round Yard Care, instructional videos, and What to Ask for from Your Lawn Care Provider.

Head to to learn about pollinator lawns and perennial groundcover, and see example photos from local yards.

This summer, Brown’s Creek Watershed District will also host a free online workshop on Wed., July 7, 6-7:15pm. During the seminar, speakers will share best practices for mowing, irrigation, weed management, and fertilization, with a focus on strategies to keep your grass green without polluting our water or endangering children, pets and wildlife.

Presenters include Paul and Karen Richtman from the University of MN Master Gardener program and Brown’s Creek Watershed District, and myself. RSVP at