If I told you that you could increase the value of your home by 10% by doing just a few quick things that cost little or no money, you’d probably say I’m crazy. Well, I may be crazy, but you really can increase the value of your property by an average of 5-10% very easily. That is, if you have a lawn anyway.
A few weeks ago I talked about using these late summer and early fall months to get a jump on landscaping discounts and projects. And while that’s a good start, I left out the most important aspect of most landscapes–the lawn. Most homes are surrounded by a lot of grass, and it should be no surprise that the appearance of this grass can have an impact on how others view your home. According to a Michigan State University (my alma mater) study, an attractive lawn and landscape can increase your home’s value by 5% to 11%. The good news is that you can achieve attractive results by following a few simple tips that cost very little.
One of the biggest problems I see when it comes to lawns is when people mow it too short. I don’t know if people are looking for a golf course fairway as a lawn, or simply think that if they mow it shorter they won’t have to mow it as often, but this is the number one way to damage your lawn. Cutting the lawn short actually triggers it grow faster, which in turn means it requires more water and nutrients than normal to stay healthy. If you’re just cutting it short and not increasing the water or fertilizer, you’re basically asking for a thin and weak lawn.
So how long should your lawn be? Most common grasses do just fine at the 2.5 to 3 inch range. This may seem long at first if you’re used to cutting it down pretty short, but your lawn will thank you for it by remaining a lush green longer, grow slower, and provide thicker coverage as the root system begins to take hold.
Keep the Grass Healthy by Feeding It
Just like you and I, plants need nutrients too. While water is the most important thing for the lawn, it does need a good supply of things such as nitrogen as well. If you bag your clippings, guess what. You’re robbing your lawn of natural nutrients. Grass clippings can provide a great source of nitrogen and other nutrients that your lawn needs, but if you’re bagging the clippings to dump in a compost pile, you’re not doing the grass any good.
If you bag your clippings, try using a mulching blade so that you can get finer clippings that will settle down and decompose while releasing their nutrients into the soil. Bagging should only be done if you’re cutting very tall grass, or if there is a lot of debris on the lawn like leaves. But the rest of the time, let those clippings work for you.
In addition to mulching your clippings, your lawn may still need, or benefit from additional fertilizer. There are dozens of different types of fertilizers for different types of lawns and climates, so your best bet is to check with your local nursery to see what they recommend. Some people recommend a 4 time application throughout the year, but I’ve had pretty good success with just applying twice a year. I apply a weed & feed spring fertilizer when the growing season starts, and then I apply a winterizer mix in the fall. The rest of the year should see ample nutrients from the mulch.
For an idea of what it costs, we have nearly a third of an acre, and I buy two bags of fertilizer for around $35 each. Those bags will last for two years, so it effectively only costs $35/year to keep the lawn fed. I did buy a handy push spreader to make the job easier, and that was a one-time purchase of $50.
It’s Fine to Go Brown
Most people think a brown lawn is a dead lawn, but that’s not necessarily true. Generally, grass simply goes dormant when there is a lack of water, and this actually protects it and keeps it from dying. While a brown lawn may not be as visually appealing as a lush expanse of green, don’t go overboard and try to fix it. You can actually do more harm than good to your lawn if you try to constantly combat a dormant lawn by giving it more water. If you want to avoid your lawn from going dormant in the hot summer months to begin with, you’ll need to have a consistent watering routine in place, but if it does start to go dormant, just let it be. The autumn rains will bring it back to life again.
If you are looking for a constantly green lawn, you will need to water it when it starts to get dry. This is easy if you have a sprinkler system installed, but keep in mind that this can also be incredibly wasteful. A lot of watering timers are simply placed on a regular interval, and they will turn on regardless of whether or not it has rained recently. Have you ever noticed someone’s sprinklers going off while it’s raining out? Yeah, don’t be that guy. In most cases, you’ll get enough rain throughout the week or month that you may not need to water the lawn at all, or if you do, it might only need it once and a while to keep things damp when you hit a dry spell.
Keep in tune with your weather. If it’s starting to get dry, but they are forecasting rain tomorrow, you might as well wait to turn on the sprinklers and see if mother nature pulls through. If not, then go ahead. And if you’ve been getting a little rain here and there every few days, you may not even need to water it at all. So, by keeping tabs on your past weather and upcoming forecast, you can conserve water which is not only good for the environment, but can save you money as well. We don’t have a sprinkler system, so I don’t bother watering our lawn. If generally stays green for most of the year, and unless we go a few weeks without any water, it will go dormant for a while until some good rains come again.
Regular Maintenance Items
Along with the basics, there are a few regular maintenance items that should be attended to throughout the year. First, tackling weeds. While there are plenty of “weed & feed” applications you can apply to your whole lawn to combat weeds, I find this only really works if you have a very limited weed problem, or don’t have any weeds at all and you’re just preventing them from starting. If you already have some established weed areas, your best bet is to target them directly with a weed application. This is much cheaper, and you can target the problem areas without wasting the product on other areas. If you do this once or twice a year as needed, you’ll be on your way to a weed-free lawn in just a few quick seasons.
You’ll also want to make sure to keep that mower blade sharp. Sure, a dull blade still cuts grass, but what you don’t realize is that a dull blade does damage to your grass. Sharp blades make a clean cut off the top of each blade, while a dull blade more or less tears the grass off at the top. These ragged edges generally turn brown. Why keep your lawn looking nice if the tips get brown every time you mow? If you keep your blades sharp, you’ll make sure that your grass is getting cut, and not ripped apart. You can do this yourself in a few minutes if you have an angle or bench grinder, or simply take them to almost any hardware store and they will sharpen them for you for around $10.
And finally, don’t forget to add new seed where the lawn gets thin. If your lawn isn’t perfect, it will likely have some thinner patches. While over time the existing grass will begin to fill it in, for very little money you can give it a head start by putting down some extra seed. Applying a little extra seed, or a patch material in the fall will help it fill in by spring.
Reviewing the Steps
All of the things I talked about above can be done with little money, and only slight changes to your existing lawn habits. So, just keep the following things in mind:
- Mow your lawn to the correct height. Remember, 3 inches isn’t too long. Double check height setting on your mower and keep it between 2.5 to 3 inches in length. This will promote healthy grass that requires fewer nutrients and water.
- Feed the lawn. The easiest way to do this is by mulching, using nature as a fertilizer. But, a few added applications of additional fertilizer can make a big difference as well.
- Going dormant is normal. When your lawn goes brown, don’t freak out. Grass is supposed to go dormant during a period of drought. Avoid trying to force it out of dormancy, and let nature take it’s course.
- Be smart when watering. If you do water your lawn regularly, make sure you let mother nature help. Don’t waste water by watering the lawn if it doesn’t really need it.
- Keep up with regular maintenance. Don’t forget to keep your lawn equipment running smoothly, your blades sharp, and the weeds down. Tackling these little chores throughout the year will keep you from having a major chore down the road.
As you can see, just by keeping up with your lawn, make sure you don’t damage it with bad habits, and spend a few dollars keeping it healthy, you can increase the value of your home. I don’t know if it is just perception when home buyers are looking at landscapes, but I know I’d rather be in a position where I’m selling a house with a healthy and attractive landscape versus a landscape needing repair. Whether or not it really increases the dollar value or not, the cost and effort of creating a nice looking yard is worth the potential payoff when it does come time to sell.
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.