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Issue Date: June 2007 Issue

The Neighborhood Lawn Care Kid is dead

Eric Broder
Whatever happened to that neighborhood kid who’d mow your lawn for $10 a pop? These days, you never see little Jimmy from down the block lugging his Toro from yard to yard, earning a little extra cash for the summer.

Back when I was a boy (when giants roamed the earth), I mowed the neighbors’ lawns and paid them for the privilege! Kids today ... they’re handed everything, never do any chores, are totally zombified from playing video games (grumble, grumble).
Actually, it’s probably the lawyers’ fault or the insurance industry. Who isn’t petrified about getting sued should a rock ricochet off Jimmy’s head while he’s mowing the lawn, right? Not so, says Betsy Warner, a State Farm insurance agent in Cleveland Heights. “It’s just that there’s too much going on. All the kids are at soccer and ballet practice,” she says. “I have a hard time getting my own daughter to mow the lawn.”

In addition, the number of dependable landscaping companies has exploded over the past 20 to 30 years, so they’re extremely easy to find and hire, theorizes landscaper Kevin O’Brien.

Yet when Tania Sauro of Brooklyn was about to hire a lawn-care service, her 9-year-old nephew, Massimo, flipped out. He claimed he could do a better job — and for $20 a session (must be inflation). He does, says Sauro.

How can I get a greener lawn?

I was rotten as a professional landscaper. I couldn’t mow straight (my mind wandered), and I didn’t properly dispose of all the grass clippings after I edged lawns. What good is edging if you leave little snips of grass scattered on the sidewalk? Anyway, I was eventually asked for my resignation. That’s why there are pros like Kevin O’Brien of Grafton’s Lifestyle Landscaping who can keep your lawn green, bountiful and the envy of all who gaze upon its magnificence.

First cut is the deepest. Cut your lawn a bit short the first time out — to a height of 1 1/2-2 inches — to remove winter debris, advises O’Brien. As summer progresses keep the height of the taller grass to 3 to 3 1/2 inches to shade the soil: the taller the grass, the deeper the roots. As fall approaches, cut it shorter. (And don’t forget to sharpen the mower’s blades before that first cut.)

Watering. One inch per week, and do it during the day. Watering at night in summer may result in fungal problems stemming from standing water and high humidity.

Seeds of renovation. There’s been new developments in grass varieties with better heat tolerance, color and growth capacity. Go for a combination of bluegrass, red fescue and rye grass. “Great grass seed is half the battle,” says O’Brien. Because crabgrass and weeds are more active in spring, fall is the best time for lawn renovation. In early September pressure from weeds is gone, the soil is warmer and rainfall is more predictable. “Timing is everything.”

Fertilization. Get your big bags of Scott’s (or whatever) fertilizer and start laying it down in early spring — mid to late March, as soil temperature rises. And read the instructions.

Who cares for your lawn?
1.5% a neighbor’s child.
9.2% I do it myself.
24.8% a landscaping company.
14.5% a company fertilizes, but I do the rest myself.

What’s the earliest your neighbor could mow his lawn on the weekend without upsetting you?
14.5% 9 a.m.
14.2% anytime.

Start your own lawn-care business.
Here are a few tips from Chris Ricca, a customer service professional with COSE who used to make money mowing neighborhood lawns as a young guy himself.
Network. Make up a flyer to let your neighbors know that you’re available to cut their grass or do other odd jobs, and take it door to door. Or put a notice in your neighborhood association’s newsletter. “You’re never too young to start networking,” says Ricca.
Be competitive. If you see that your neighbors use lawn services, offer them a better price.
Keep it small. With one mower, there’s only so much you can do. Don’t put too many flyers out there.
Go the extra yard. Word of mouth is the key. Mow straight and true. Do the extras (trim, cleanup, etc.). You’ll be working and earning all summer long. — EB

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