Investing time and money into the value of your home is important. Our homes are some of the largest investments we’ll ever make and obviously we want them to be presentable. The effort to achieve a perfect looking lawn though is really a rather new thing since the 1950’s. With each year that passes companies have found more and more ways to add costs to maintaining a beautiful lawn. If you’ve never added up how much your grass has been costing you, the numbers may be surprising. Let’s break down how much it truly costs to keep a lawn looking as green as possible.
The first problem with attempting to figure out an average cost is that there’s a lot of different services you can do for your lawn. Not everyone is using pesticides for instance. Another obvious problem is most lawns are different sizes and shapes. Plus lawns exist in different climates meaning they require different things.
For our purposes, let’s look at the cost of maintaining a one acre lawn in the Finger Lakes region. To make things a little more simple, we’ll just talk about the cost of maintenance, assuming the lawn is already installed.
Here’s a quick list, but I’ve broken down the math in each section below.
- Lawn Mower: $500
- Watering: $300
- Fertilizers: $1,200
- Aerating: $500
- Lawn Rolling: $150
- Dethatching: $250
- Insecticides: $30
- Weed Control: $??
Lawn Mower Costs
For a one-acre lot, it’s likely that you’ll want a riding mower. After a quick look on Home Depot’s website, a medium-sized riding mower with at least a 46″ deck starts at $2,800. At the top end, they list a Toro 48″ zero-turn for $6,800. You won’t need a $7k lawn mower of course, but for a 46-48″ deck you’ll average $4,000 just to buy new.
Technically, a mower should have annual tune-ups that include cleaning the deck, sharpening blades, and greasing gears plus a few other things. Depending on the size of the mower and what you want done, an annual tune up averages about $50 to $150. (Of course if you’re handy and up for the task you can save money by doing it yourself.)
With a $4,000 mower that you keep ten years, that averages about $500 annually. Remember: we didn’t even talk about the cost of gas you’re using to fuel it or any other maintenance costs! If you’re looking for a total on your lawn care cost estimate, you’ll want to add those costs.
Watering costs will depend on two things: 1. How green you want your lawn, and 2. How much rain you’re getting.
Usually in the Finger Lakes springtime means more rain. Unless it’s an unusually dry spring or you’re doing a new lawn install, you probably won’t need to water the first couple of months after the thaw. Once we hit late June the rain usually comes less frequently and grasses tend to slow their growth. If it’s a particularly dry summer, they may even go dormant.
Even with water being the cheapest of a homeowner’s utilities, if you water regularly it’ll add up.
To keep your lawn looking lush, you need about one inch of water, which requires about a half gallon per square foot. Since we’re looking at an acre lot, let’s pretend we’re working with a simple 208 feet in length and width. At a half gallon per square foot, you’ll use 21,632 gallons of water. Here in Monroe County the charge is $3.80 per 1,000 gallons of water.
This is a pretty rough estimate, but that’s $82.00 to water your one acre lawn a single time. If it’s a dry season and you want your lawn lush right into the fall, you could easily be spending a few hundred bucks for the season just on water.
And remember: you’ll need to buy hoses and sprinklers!
Fertilizing has gotten more than a little out of hand. Most fertilizer companies have developed programs to help you spend money on products that will cause your lawn to grow extra green and extra fast at the expense of the roots.
Most lawn fertilizers are mainly nitrogen (some are only nitrogen) and they will change the priorities of the plant, causing it to push more top growth at the expense of the roots. The grass will need those roots to help it survive the hot and dry weather of summer.
Scotts recommends a four-step program. Their first is Crabgrass Preventer plus Lawn Food and runs about $95 per bag to cover a 10,000 square foot area. For our one acre, you’ll need just over four bags if you follow their recommendations.
Their second step is a Weed Control Plus Lawn Food running about $80 per 10,000 square foot bag. Again, you’ll need at least four of these.
Their third step is Lawn Food with Iron and runs about $64 for a 10,000 square foot bag. Then before winter you’ll need a Fall Lawn Food which is also about $64 per bag.
Some companies have tried to add in more steps or additional functions to their fertilizers like grub killers. Assuming you’re doing the bare minimum with Scotts four-step program, you just spent at least $1,200 for the season.
The worst part about that $1,200 is that you probably put down more fertilizer than you really need, and that fertilizer may force you to mow more often especially in the spring.
This is one service that not everyone does, and maybe even the folks who do it aren’t doing it every year. But, that’s probably because it’s wicked expensive, not because it’s unnecessary. If you’re concerned with lawn care cost, this is one you’ll need to weigh.
The problem with the grasses we have in yards is that the root systems are shallow. Aerating helps to remove compaction below the surface allowing roots a little more room to grow deeper and stronger. Aerating also helps that root system more effectively use the water and fertilizers. If you avoid using insecticides on the lawn, you’ll have more earthworms which are aerating your lawn every day all year long.
The cost of aerating changes based on the size of a yard. A half acre will likely cost more per square foot than a 2-acre lot will cost per square foot. On average, you can expect a bill of about $500 to have someone come and aerate your one-acre lawn.
There’s a few reasons why people want their lawn rolled. Admittedly it’s probably not needed annually even for the most avid lawn aficionado. But if you’re calling a service out to roll your one acre lawn, you’re probably looking at an average of $150 per visit.
You can get away with doing it cheaper yourself by renting the roller, but unless you’ve got a good way to get it back home, you’ll be renting a truck to get the roller you’re renting back to your yard!
As the organic matter in your lawn breaks down, it can create what lawn lovers live to get rid of. Thatch is kind of a woven blanket of dead grass and organic matter that creates a barrier between the air and the soil. Getting rid of that is called “dethatching”. The process basically involves an intense raking to the surface of the soil to pull it all up. Then all of that dead matter needs to be raked up and removed.
If you’ve ever tried to do it yourself, you know it’s a lot of work. In fact, it’s probably one of the most time consuming and expensive line items of lawn care cost. If we want to hire a professional with a power rake, our entire one acre property could run a few hundred bucks.
Ironically the dethatching process removes lots of precious organic matter that would have provided nutrients and helped retain water for your lawn. It is rare to find lawns with significant thatch layers and once again earthworms are the best dethatchers.
It can be very impressive how much material a dethatching machine can remove, but it actually better for the lawn in almost every case to leave that material in place. One of the key reasons there are so many fewer lawns with a heavy thatch layer is because we have stopped bagging grass clippings, and these clippings help to decompose the thatch layer by keeping it from drying out.
The average annual cost of pesticide use is a tough one to nail down because each lawn has different needs. A lot of people will automatically treat for grubs when they don’t have a grub problem. Grubs eat roots and if you use a balanced fertilizer that encourages root growth, a few grubs will not be able to eat all those healthy roots.
A 20 lb. bag of Ortho Bug B-gon will treat a 33,000 sq. foot lawn and costs about $21 but that only covers about 3/4 of an acre. We’ll make a rough estimate and say a single application will cost us $30. They recommend doing this once in the fall, so as far as costs go it’s not enormous, but if you’re having a service do it for you it’ll definitely be more.
Consider though that you may be paying for additional insecticides that might not be necessary in a healthy ecosystem. Rather than spraying for mosquitos, you could encourage bats by installing a bat house! One bat might eat 1,000 mosquitos in an hour and perhaps consume up to 4,500 in one night.
Those homeowners that have a perfect lawn are always concerned with weed control. Without some measure in place, you’re bound to get a patch of crabgrass here or a dandelion there. If you’re someone who can’t handle that, you’re likely putting down regular treatments to prevent and kill non-grass plant life.
There’s a ton of products on the market that are promoted to kill “weeds but not the lawn” and treatment schedules will vary based on your level of OCD behavior. Because there are so many options and treatment schedules we can just list a range from the minimum cost of $15 for a small bottle of concentrate that you spray yourself, or hundreds if you’re paying a lawn service to manage it.
Either way, that’s costing you money you could be putting toward something else for your home and your landscape.
Additional Lawn Care Costs
Depending on your commitment to having a golf course level looking lawn, there’s other things you’re spending money on. You probably have an electric or gas trimmer which requires new line a few times a year at least. You’ve probably got a leaf blower somewhere in that shed. You may be overseeding in the fall which means you’re buying grass seed. Maybe you bought a lawn leveling rake and you’re filling in spots with new soil or compost each year.
Plus, those toys are taking up space in your garage and shed!
Total Lawn Care Cost For One Acre
If you’ve read through each of those breakdowns you already know that defining the precise cost of maintaining a lawn isn’t an exact science. In fact, some companies use that to their advantage by upselling services you don’t need. Even if you’re doing the bare minimum for a one acre lot in the Finger Lakes area, it’s likely costing you hundreds of dollars each season just to maintain a mower. If you’re going full-golf-course-grass on your one acre, you could be spending over $3,000 in a season!
While you could potentially scale back some of the services you’re using on your lawn, an even better solution is to transition a portion of that property into something else. Replacing even 20% of that space with a diverse selection of native plants will not only be more environmentally sustainable for our ecosystem, it’ll save you money in the long run.
If you’re ready to get started, here’s some ways Naturally Green can help!