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Fall Checklist: Overseeding the Front Curb Strip!

This blog mini-series is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

For many years, like probably most of my years, I’ve held onto this idea about what autumn would look like when I was all grown up. I know it, you know it—it’s the best season. Crunchy leaves. That crisp fall air. Warm drinks. Plaids. Brown liquors. Candles. Gourds. Sweaters. More clichés. Other clichés. Different clichés! Fall is the king of clichés, as far as seasons go. Pumpkin Spice Lattes (or PSL, if you really want to be a nightmare) are among the worst of the clichés, which is why I will not discuss them here.

I still think this way, as it happens. I turned 29 a couple of weeks ago but I still picture grown-up me as a totally different person with, like, nice clothes and an organized day planner. A person for whom home maintenance tasks are undertaken promptly and efficiently, who might start the day merrily clearing leaves from gutters and end it merrily setting potted mums and an assortment of gourds on my porch, because that’s just what this merry person does to usher in the season on October 1st. The weekend before, this guy probably went around the house and inspected for any areas of peeling paint and quickly addressed them, and the weekend after, he’ll flip on the heat with complete and total confidence that it’ll work because the whole system has just been recently serviced—well in advance of when it was needed, because he thinks ahead. He has it all figured out.

Where this concept and reality clash is…well, basically all of it. Grown-up me—the real one with the garbage wardrobe who continually tries and fails to really get into a groove with the Calendar app on my phone—has not exactly lived up to this specific expectation. It’s not because he doesn’t try. He tries very hard. But he takes on these really big projects, and either doesn’t have or doesn’t create the time for things like the mums and the gourds and the boiler-servicing-while-it’s-still-80-degrees-outside. Instead he’s usually up on a ladder, well into November, really putting the temperature requirements for most paint brands to the test, because what he thought would take one month has taken four. By most people’s standards, fall has decidedly given way to winter at this point, but his autumn to-do list still has so many unchecked items that he can’t admit what is plainly clear—most of this stuff won’t happen. The leaves and spent perennials will rot under the impending snow. The weed content of the grass will increase. Nothing will be planted in the ground, and that one radiator will, once again, refuse to heat. Better luck next year, ya little mess of a man.

Back in the spring, I made a Very Big Boy Decision: not taking on another exterior wall of the house to restore this year. I had the actual foresight to know I couldn’t finish the sides of the house I’ve already started over the past few years plus a whole additional side, while also starting and finishing two big freelance jobs, while also finally getting the cottage ready for very long-overdue finishing work. As such, I’ve still been a busy bee, but a bee who isn’t quite so thoroughly overwhelmed. Wanting to take advantage of this, I promptly overwhelmed myself by creating a Big Fall To-Do List, and my pals at Lowe’s stepped in to help me work through it! I feel like I’ve entered a new stage of adulting. Getting these fall house/yard maintenance tasks done has felt SO GOOD I CAN’T EVEN STAND IT and—let’s be honest—long overdue considering I’ve never done most of them and this is going to be winter number SIX in this house.

So! Over the coming days and weeks I’ll be sharing these small but impactful projects with you! Because this is a blog! And that’s what we do here! Let’s dive in!

MISSION NUMERO UNO: OVERSEEDING THE CURB STRIP

I used to be that kid with the bad attitude when it came to lawns. Loving a really dense, thick lawn seemed like something for…other people. surely don’t care about that classic staple of American yards! have no need for a thick bed of vegetation that needs to constantly be mowed and watered and fussed over. Who cares if the lawn is just some struggling grass and clover and a bunch of weeds? I can mow weeds too, ya know!

I now totally understand the appeal of a nice lawn. First of all, it really does look good. Second of all, it feels nice—to walk on, sit on, roll around on if you’re a dog or that’s just your thing. Third of all, having a healthy lawn means fewer weeds, simply because they don’t thrive as well when competing for space and resources with well-established grass. And that thing I said about just mowing a weed lawn earlier? WRONG. WRONG WRONG WRONG. Weeds really do suck, because they take up a lot of space—meaning that when you mow over them, you expose a bare patch around the roots where their leaves and water consumption haven’t allowed anything else to grow. Multiply that by a lot of weeds and you have lots of vegetation but still a lot of exposed dirt. And when you have a bunch of bare dirt, and a dog who goes in and out of the backyard and then all over your house and on all your furniture all day long (FOR INSTANCE), it gets EVERYWHERE. I feel like the amount of dirt I’m constantly sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping up could be really cut down with some commitment to good lawn care.

Before getting bogged down in addressing the entire backyard, I actually wanted to focus on the grass in the front of the house. I’ve never done anything to maintain the grass in the front hellstrip other than mow it, and…it shows. It could definitely look a LOT better, and that’s an easy thing to do while the front of the house still awaits restoration. I’ve been working a tonnnnn on the side of the house, meaning the front has started to look increasingly shoddy.

FIRST, I blew the leaves. I have two honey locust trees in front of the house, I’d guess around 40 years old, and those little leaves get everywhere! Honey locusts can be great because the leaves are so small that a lot of people just let them compost themselves on the ground without raking or blowing, but that doesn’t really work for sidewalks and streets. Rather, it does work, but it’s a mess and it’s slippery and not good. Basically my strategy is to move from the house toward the street, blowing onto the sidewalk and the street and then sweeping up and bagging my piles. It works well. I used the blower to get as many leaves out of the grass as possible.

There are a few things you may notice about this picture, such as my sweatshirt bearing the likeness of my favorite Insta-cat, Princess Monster Truck. There is also the rest of my ensemble which I cannot explain other than to say it’s both disappointing and invigorating to be at this point where I simply no longer have the energy to care about looking a hot mess on the internet or in real life.

The thing I’d like to draw your attention to, though, is my SUPER AWESOME NEW LEAF BLOWER. When I bought this house, I did the ill-advised thing of buying the cheapest outdoor equipment available, basically without exception. The first lawnmower we bought was the manual kind you just wheel over the grass without the benefit of modern technology like, ya know, a motor. My leaf blower has heretofore been a super lousy battery-powered number, and while it does produce air it doesn’t have the power to disturb more than an upper layer of very dry, lightweight leaves, and the battery dies really fast and recharges slowly. So that’s where I’m coming from. Essentially I’ve just been replacing all of these lousy tools one by one as they either stop working or become unbearable.

Which leads me to: GREENWORKS! Back in the spring, I took the plunge (totally independent of this sponsored series) and bought the Greenworks Pro battery-powered lawnmower from Lowe’s to replace the bottom-of-the-line gas mower which I bought after quickly giving up on the manual mower. The gas mower died, and the options were to basically spend as much as the mower cost to have it repaired or just invest in something new. Over the past few years, the market has been flooded with battery-powered outdoor power equipment, and it seems to clearly be the wave of the future, so I opted to just go for it and I’m SO glad I did. No gas! No oil! No smoke! No yanking on a string over and over again hoping that this is the pull that will finally persuade the engine to start!

But who really cares how clean it is if it doesn’t really work? WELL. These Greenworks Pro tools are far and away the best thing I’ve ever used—battery-operated or otherwise. I never really understood the importance of a high-quality leaf blower until I upgraded to this one, and it’s kind of like…OH, THAT’S how this is supposed to work!! It saves SO MUCH work when it actually does the thing it’s supposed to do! The power that comes out of this thing is insane, and it just keeps goinggggg and goingggg and goinggggggg. The upfront investment of these tools did strike me as a bit high when I started looking into them, but considering how well they work, that they don’t require any future investment of oil or gas, and are far less prone to issues that might require professional repair (meaning $ and time without your tools!), I actually think they’re totally reasonably priced. Plus, they’re just SO COOL! SO FUTURE!

When the leaf blowing was done, it was just a matter of popping the battery out of the new leaf blower and popping it into my well-loved lawnmower! The great thing is that the batteries—as long as they’re the same voltage—interchange between tools, so you don’t have to buy a new battery/charger every time you want to add a tool to the arsenal. That’s why it’s smart to pick a brand and stick with it.

So, I mean this sincerely. I love this lawnmower. I never, ever thought I would love a lawnmower. But I love this lawnmower. Let me count the ways.

First, obviously, is the battery. I HATE dealing with gas and oil, so that was my main motivation to go battery-powered, but it’s SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT.

Out of the box, it’s basically ready to use. There are like three things to screw together and it’s ready to go. For the leaf blower, you just insert the battery and you’re off to the races. Amazing.

And then. It starts with a button. A button!

It’s SO QUIET. The first time I used it, I wasn’t even sure if it was working properly because it was so quiet. I can listen to podcasts while I mow the grass without the sound of the mower drowning out my earbuds. It’s a REVELATION. And, like, stunningly cool if you’re used to a gas mower.

It’s so light. This is not a self-propelled mower, but it’s so easy to push that I don’t feel like it’s necessary. But they make one of those now, too!

It’s compact! I mean, in use, it’s the size of a regular lawnmower, but it can kind of fold up and hang on the wall the rest of the time. Admittedly I have no clear wall in my garage to hang it on, but it’s nice to know this is an option for the future when I tame the hoard.

The height adjustment! IT’S JUST A LEVER! On my old mower, you literally had to remove the wheels and reinstall them to change the mower height. As such, I put it on the lowest setting when I assembled it and then never changed it.

WHICH BRINGS US BACK TO MY GRASS. I used to think mowing on anything other than the lowest setting was the dumbest thing ever. Why would you do that to yourself? Imagine you’re getting your hair cut, and the barber proposes just cutting it just a little bit every week instead of a couple of inches that’ll last you a few months. Who has time to go to the barber every week?*

*some people do, and it frightens me.

The thing I didn’t understand is that unlike hair, grass needs a little length to maintain its overall health! If you cut it as short as you can go every time, you’re shooting yourself in the foot because the grass can’t properly develop and thicken, and then you invite weeds which grow faster than the grass, so you need to mow more, and your grass still looks like garbage. I’ve learned this the hard way so you don’t have to. Also, sometimes it pays to even just do the smallest amount of reading about stuff.

ANYWAY. In this case, I’m overseeding existing grass, and that’s a special kind of a process. For overseeding, you DO actually want the lowest setting to give new grass seed the best chance at success. Also—typically I allow my grass clippings to just mulch out the side of the mower, but for this you want to use the bag attachment and collect the clippings. The point is to expose soil!

After blowing the leaves and mowing, this gives you an idea of what’s left. That poor grass—it’s really trying! And the weeds are also trying! But it’s just a patchy thin state of affairs.

At this stage, you have a couple options: thatching or aerating. No lie—growing up, we had a landscaping company come and deal with our grass so actually knowing about this stuff is rather new to me. I remember when they’d aerate every year—essentially, breaking up the soil and adding fertilizer—but I don’t remember ever hearing about thatch. Thatch is the layer of stuff created by dead grass, clippings, and dead roots. Most of the time it’s an OK thing, but not really when you’re trying to get new grass seed to take. Sometimes thatch gets so thick that it actually causes the grass to thin out, so thatching isn’t exclusively for overseeding—some sources say to do it about once a year!

Learning. So. Much.

So anyway. I decided to thatch. With a manual thatcher—which is good for something like this, but I can imagine it being EXHAUSTING for a whole lawn. There are motorized versions, though, and they’re pretty affordable.

I kinda want one? That also feels like a new territory of lawn obsession I’m not sure I’m ready for.

Time for seed! I picked up this Scotts Turf Builder seed spreader a few years ago for my first attempt at seeding the backyard, and this bag of Scotts Sun & Shade Mix over the weekend to overseed this front strip. I compared a bunch of different grasses and seeds to land on this one—it’s a mix of medium and fine-bladed grass (I personally don’t like larger blade grasses), and the idea is basically that the characteristics of each different type compliment the others—so if one type isn’t doing well because of too much foot traffic, or too little water, or too little sun, or too much sun, another will take over that affected area and thrive.

Also, it’s blue! The seeds are coated in fertilizer and stuff to retain moisture and other science things, so you just spread it and water it. No hay, no additional fertilizer steps—couldn’t be easier. If you forget any of the steps or aren’t sure what setting to use on the spreader, not to fear. It’s all on the bag! I gotta hand it to the Scotts packaging and product designers—they do a great job of walking you through it all.

Here is me, candidly watering my new grass seed in my sexy DIY clothes as though someone isn’t standing the street waiting for cars to pass to snap photos of me. Totally normal, not weird at all.

I finished off by walking up and down and edging both sides of the curb strip and sweeping up errant grass seed and any other debris. It’s a small thing but I love when the bluestone sidewalk and curb are all neat and tidy! I may have one BILLION things to do to restore the front of this house, but until then—this is the kind of thing that makes a house look well-loved and cared for. So excited to see how this grass develops—I can see you now, perfect green carpet!

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