Single Motherhood and the Art of Yard Maintenance

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If you’re struggling with a yard that is overgrown despite countless hours of elbow grease, there’s an easier way. With the right equipment, help, and know-how, you can whip your yard into civilized people shape in no time!

yard maintenance

After a year in a second floor apartment with my two energetic, boisterous boys, I knew we needed a house with a yard. So I jumped in head-first when I found an affordable place near the beach with a yard and ready-made garden. What I didn’t bargain for was the burden of yard maintenance. Thanks to a year and a half of residency and an extra heavy Florida rainy season, my yard finally got the better of me this summer.

I used to skate by with mowing my lawn every two to three weeks, buoyed by the occasional good samaritan. It wasn’t perfect, but it was okay. Last week I realized that my trees were eating my house, my gutters were clogged, and my weed whacker had become nonfunctional. When my lawnmower smoked, sputtered, and died, I threw up my hands and cried “Uncle!” to the yard gods.

When I reached my wits end, I called my mother. Thankfully, I have a handy, mechanically inclined mother who dug me out in a mere two days. Here’s what I learned from her sage advice, handed down from the knowledge she acquired as a little girl by shadowing my grandfather.

1. Don’t mow grass that is too wet or too high.

I learned this one the hard way. My mower first started having trouble because it had been raining so much in Florida that the grass never dried out enough for me to safely mow it during a time when I didn’t have the kids. Instead of weed whacking it down first, I plowed through with the mower to get the job done before the kids came home from summer camp. Wet grass built up underneath the mower, which led to a clogged air filter, and leaky oil…which brings me to tip number two.

2. Tip the mower away from the air filter.

If you have to tip the mower to clean the undercarriage (the space around the blade), be sure to tip it away from the air filter. I tipped it whichever way I fancied when I needed to clear built-up clumps of wet grass from the blade. Consequently, the oil leaked into the air filter and all over the mower, which led to a clogged air filter and smoke as the oil burned off the engine.

3. Clean the undercarriage.

Do clean the undercarriage—the underside of the mower that contains the blade—each time you mow. Just be sure to tip the mower away from the air filter! (see tip #2) Clean built-up grass with a wire brush and finish by spraying it with the hose. My lawnmower has a special attachment area on top for the hose to allow the water to safely spray the undercarriage. If you don’t have this feature, be careful not to spray the rest of the lawnmower as you’re cleaning the area around the blade.

4. Do or get an annual lawn mower tune up.

Newsflash! Lawn mowers aren’t like energizer bunnies. They don’t keep going and going without annual maintenance. Here’s what needs to happen every year: change the oil, sharpen the blade, change the air filter, change the spark plug, and drain the gasoline at the end of the season if you live in an area that has an off season in the winter. If you get a professional tune-up, it should cost you between $50 and $75. If you have a kick-ass mom like I do, she can show you how to do it yourself. If you want to put the time into it, your owner’s manual should have the information you need, for example what type of oil to use and what size of air filter you need. I highly recommend finding an experienced yard caretaker to teach you.

5. Check the string on your weed whacker.

For the longest time I complained that I didn’t know how to use my weed whacker. I asked my mom for tips. I watched YouTube videos. Then I finally realized I was having a major blonde moment. I looked underneath the weed whacker and discovered the string was a mere 2 inches long. When I took the cartridge out, I found it had no string left in it. No wonder it wasn’t working! You can buy replacement cartridges with string already in it for about $10 per 60 feet. Or you can buy a large spool of string for just $12 per 150 feet and rethread the cartridge yourself. If you go the inexpensive route, it won’t automatically feed out of the cartridge. Instead you’ll have to take the cover off the cartridge and pull the string out yourself every time it gets too short. This is the route I chose, and it wasn’t so bad.

6. Turn the head to switch between edger and weed whacker.

This is by far the most magical tip I got from my mother. Until the string ran out, my weed whacker was great for cutting grass around fences. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to edge around my sidewalk. It turns out that there’s a way to turn the head of the weed whacker to put it in the ideal position for edging. Check out this video at 6:00 minutes for a look at how it works.

7. Use the right tools for trimming trees.

It used to take me 3 hours to tackle just one area of overgrown trees and weeds in my back yard. I’d walk away with battle wounds from the dead sawgrass and wake up the next morning with bites from what I think were chiggers. This week my mom and I trimmed all the trees, pulled all the weeds, and edged all the grass in a mere four hours. How did we do it? We used the right tools. I thought I was going to have to hire someone for $30/hour to trim my trees. Instead, my mom came waltzing along with her loppers and her ladder. I had been trying to trim everything with hedgers, which are great for trimming hedges or a hibiscus. For oleanders and bigger, badder trees, you’ll need something more like this. Who knew? Pruning sheers also came in handy for trimming around areas that couldn’t be weed whacked, like the electrical connection for the septic tank.

8. Watch out for pests.

While hauling branches to the curb, a group of fire ants attacked my upper arm. My mom instructed me to go inside and apply baking soda to the affected area for quick relief. It turned out to be super effective by drawing the venom out of my arm. The other pest I ran into was a dead rat…with my lawn mower. Let’s just say it wasn’t a good time for my boyfriend to be traveling on business. LOTS of plastic bags were involved.

Long story short, ask for help. There’s no sense in fighting an uphill battle with your yard. Work smart, not hard, because we all have way better things to do with our time!

What’s your biggest yard faux pas? How do you keep your lawn under control as a single mom?

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