The Yard FAQ

Pretty much any time I post a picture of my yard, I get the same several questions in the comment thread from folks who are apparently new around here. After most of a decade, I’m now officially bored with answering the same questions (sorry guys, it’s not you, it’s me), so I’m creating The Yard FAQ to refer people to in the future.

So, questions, in the order they come to my brain:

1. Damn, that’s a lot of lawn. How big is your yard, anyway?

Our property is five acres, and with the exception of the house, driveway and shed, it is entirely lawn. The dimensions of the property, as I understand it, are almost exactly those of a Manhattan city block.

2. How do you mow and how long does it take?

We have a lawn tractor with a 48″ blade, with an outboard attachment that adds an additional 60″ of mowing blades, which means (for those of you who don’t wish to do with math) that we can cut a swath of grass nine feet wide with each pass. The entire yard at that rate takes about four hours.

3. Do you mow your own lawn?

No. I did it off and on for the first couple years and then developed a righteous grass allergy. Krissy usually does it. My father-in-law did it for a spell, but he passed away. We may get our daughter to start doing it now. She might be surprised to hear that.

4. How do you water and tend your yard?

Water is provided by the sky; i.e., the grass gets watered when it rains. We don’t have sprinklers or any other such thing. If it doesn’t rain, the grass goes brown (as it did earlier in the summer). Beyond that, we contract with TruGreen a local gardening firm to have their folks come by every now and then for weed control and aeration, which keeps the yard dandelion free and otherwise generally healthy. We don’t devote a huge amount of time to the yard aside from mowing; it’s grass, it knows what to do.

5. Instead of just having all the grass, you guys should really [insert favorite ecological/esthetic/whatever things for us to do with our yard].

Tell you what, if you want to come over and devote the time/energy/money to do that thing you think I should do with my yard, then we can talk. Otherwise, it’s very likely to remain in its current, yard-like state.

6. What do you do with all that yard?

The dog, child and cats play around in it, we use a small part of it as a garden, and personally speaking every once in a while I go stand in the middle of it and say to myself, Good lord, this is a lot of lawn. That’s pretty much it.

7. Why did you get such a large lawn?

When my wife first told me she wanted to move to Ohio, I was not for it — not because I disliked her family (they’re lovely, actually), but because as a native southern Californian then currently living outside of Washington DC, I didn’t want to move to Ohio. So I thought I would be clever and told her we could move if she found a place with five acres of land, under the reasoning that I could never afford that much acreage. I forgot that Ohio land values are not southern California or suburban DC land values. She found five acres that we could afford pretty easily. This is the five acres (and house) she liked the most. And here we are. With a big damn yard.

8. Do you like your big damn yard?

Yup, especially since I don’t have to mow it. More seriously it’s nice to have a lot of space for Athena to play in, and to be able to let the pets out without worrying about them wandering where they shouldn’t, and to have space between me and my (very nice to be sure) neighbors. I’m not in any real rush to move, and having a nice big yard is part of that.

Those are the basic questions and answers; if you have any more questions drop them in the comments and maybe I’ll provide answers there.

106 Comments on “The Yard FAQ”

  1. That’s a fantastic yard for a kid to grow up playing in – you should be thankful that Krissy outsmarted you (or you outsmarted yourself… or both :-)).

  2. Dude, I don’t know if you noticed, because they’re being kind of stealthy about it, but those trees … dude, they have you surrounded! Run! Run for your very lives!

  3. Dang. I thought growing up on 2.5 acres was big. That me about 3 hours to mow (about an acre of our property was gardens/orchards).

    Word of advice on kids and riding mowers: Be sure to tell Athena to go in straight lines. And expect to have to redo it a few times before she gets it right. First time I got on the riding mower, I was doing donuts at high speed while laughing like a maniac.

  4. So it takes 4 hours to mow. But how often do you have to mow? And during what months do you need to mow?

    (My perspective on this is skewed by living in Florida, where mowing is done during the rainy season and it has to be done at least once a week or else The Grass Takes Over.)

  5. Heather: From April through September, about once a week. March and October we mow when needed. November through February the grass is usually dormant.

  6. I know point 5 and all, but a handful of fruit trees covering the family’s favorite varieties wouldn’t be a bad idea. They tend to be low maintenance, making jam is really easy and doesn’t take that much time, and hey, pie!

  7. The question on “how do you water the lawn” made me laugh. It is obvious you have west coast friends. I never understood this question until I spent some time in California and Texas, where Grass Does Not Grow. Its one of those things that either coast doesn’t get – the East Coasters don’t understand the idea that Grass Doesn’t Grow – grass grows! This is what the stuff does! You must beat it back to keep it from becoming a jungle! On the West Coast, grass does not grow. To a Eastern USA guy, someone having to install sprinklers makes no sense! I mean, who needs SPRINKLERS? Who wants the grass to grow EVEN FASTER and require MORE MOWING?

  8. @hugh57:

    You did see the Clash of the Geeks cover, right?

    I really do like the rural Midwestern property values. I love having my Chicago condo-dwelling sister-in-law over just so I can show of my little half acre yard.

  9. Bruce @16 – that’s not grass here in Seattle, that’s moss. Sometimes it’s moss-covered snails. That ‘crunch’ you sometimes hear when you don’t watch where you’re walking? Yeah, that ain’t gravel. :)

  10. I could never have a yard like that. It would probably look like the Serengeti before I could motivate myself to mow it. I hate mowing the “yard” I have now and it’s not even as big as your porch.

  11. When I was growing up, we had a moderate sized front yard (half acre or so). We played in it a lot –tramped out base paths for kickball, put up tents, build leaf fires, etc. One of the neighbors said something to my dad about kids ruining the fescue, or something. Dad said, “I’m raising kids, not grass”.

    “First time I got on the riding mower, I was doing donuts at high speed while laughing like a maniac.”

    EVERY time I got on the riding mower, I was doing donuts at high speed while laughing like a maniac.

  12. @Bruce

    I’m with you on that Bruce. Maybe he can apply some subjectivism on my Portland yard and make it go back down as I missed the last little bit (lazy) before rainy season kicked in and now I’m not sure when I’m going to get to it…

  13. Is the whole thing hilly or sloped, or is any significant part of it flat?

    (My mentality is that when I see a large grassy area, generally unobstructed by trees, I think “potential athletic playing field”).

  14. Clearly you Americans have a decidely different definition of “yard” to us Brits. After seeing your picture, my initial reaction was “no way is that a yard…”

    When I say “yard” I mean a fairly small paved or concrete area close to a building – most commonly a “back yard” in city houses too close together for a back garden. Not very much like your five-acre field…

  15. Wonderful yard! So, have you thought about “Goat Management”? You know, finding the yokels who use goats to keep the yard looking nice. I mean, you could have a removable horn and wings to dress them up in when they come over. Just think of the possibilities!

  16. My brother in law lives on five acres, but they bought it as woodland and only cleared the middle acre to build their house. They have a pretty nice lawn, but it’s dwarfed by yours. Very nice FAQ, thanks.

  17. Good lord, who with any power of independent thought waters grass? That’s only encouraging the stuff. When rain doesn’t come and the grass browns up, that doesn’t mean it’s dead. It’s just not growing at the moment, which means less mowing. This is a good thing. When rain comes, the grass will green right up. It isn’t going to die unless there is some serious drought, in which case there are way more important things for that water to be used for. If you live somewhere that grass doesn’t grow without having to be babied, try growing something else.

    Americans have yards. Lawns are those things that English stately homes have, maintained by a staff of gardeners.

  18. RE: blainesgirl’s comment.

    Growing up in Austin, TX, we had some oil/gas companies with tank farms in town (BIG oil storage tanks on lots of acres). They hired a fellow who brought his sheep out periodically to graze, which prevented them having to mow.

    Seems like a good, “green” idea…

  19. @Tumbleweed I wouldn’t worry about those trees. We all know that Scalzi has nothing to fear until Burnham Wood comes to Dunsinane.

  20. That is a lot of lawn. I grew up on a property of 2 acres, and that seemed damn big. I can’t imagine 5 acres. As for lawn mowing time, the 2 acres I had to mow using a riding lawn mower took approx. 2 hours, not counting trimming.

    Of course, that was when things went well and I didn’t crash the John Deere into our giant weeping willow tree after battling those darn “weeping” branches. If you must know, the tree was fine. Not a scratch. The lawn mower though, a wisp of smoke from a cracked engine block.

    There were other exciting lawn mowing adventures, like when I put the mower into the wrong gear. Damn thing went a wee bit too fast at that setting for making turns at each end of the yard. So I might have “mowed” a bit into the neighbor’s yard on that particular day. It also made it harder to not drive the mower into the creek bordering the other side of the yard.

    Fun times.

  21. In your vegetable garden, you have to try the Romanesco broccoli. It’s also known as “fractal” broccoli. It’s beautiful and it’s delicious. We tried planting some this year and we’ve had a steady supply of beautiful broccoli all summer long!

  22. I hate the damn sprinkler thing here in Southern California. I hadn’t even heard of that before moving here. I have lawn envy.

  23. I remember getting paid $20 to mow the neighbor’s 4+ acres. I did use a riding mower (parents’), then followed up with a hand mower around the scattering of trees too close to guide the riding mower between, then a pair of shears for the fiddly bits. $20 went a lot farther then, but it still took 2-3 hours.

  24. Lawn use #1:
    “Build a roller coaster and they will come”. While not sure who “they” are one can’t help but wonder. A large initial drop, say 90 feet or so, should suffice.

    Lawn use #2:
    High altitude lawn art. Fertilize perplexing patterns so as to confuse and/or entertain bored airline pilots.

  25. Bill@23: “Dad said, ‘I’m raising kids, not grass'”

    That quote would make a great novelty yard plaque. My neighbors might disagree, but that’s how life goes in the trailer park.

  26. Righteous!
    It’s a lovely yard. I, standing here on my .15 acres (enough room for me) salute you.

  27. Knowing that each ping flamingo needs about 1 sq feet to avoid the flamingo fights, since 5 acres = 217,800 square feet, if you assume about 3200 sq feet for the house and gardens, You could hold 214,600 pink flamingos in that yard. Add another flamingo, and watch the territorial fights commence.

  28. Scalzi: “Our property is five acres, and with the exception of the house, driveway and shed, it is entirely lawn.”

    The picture makes it look like you have a decidedly un-lawny forest behind your house. So either your house sits right on your property line, or a good junk of your 5 acres is not lawn at all. I mean, that isn’t a few cute trees – that looks like impenetrable old growth, with your lovely home snuggled right in the edge of it all.

  29. Matthew in Austin:

    Appearances are deceiving.

    Allen Kellogg:

    If we didn’t mow, there’s a good chance it’d look like a hay field in a couple of months.

  30. Matthew@44:
    To put on my pedantic natural resource manager pants, that looks more like a windbreak than a forest, and it is decidedly not old growth. I may be thrown off by the differences from my native ecosystem, but I’d be surprised if any of those trees were more than 70 years old.

    Still, no matter the specifics, it clearly isn’t “lawn”, and could well indicate a property boundary.

  31. So… if I’m understanding you correctly, John, you’re telling us that you have a big back yard?

    You definitely need to get a dog named Towser, then. It’s practically a moral imperative.

  32. I called it old growth just because it was tall. Many of the trees appeared taller than the roof on John’s 2 story house. That is pretty tall compared to the live oaks we have out here in the Texas hill country.

    But, I just tossed that phrase “old growth” out there to make my comment sound more colorful and hoped no one would call me on it since I really can’t tell old growth from peat moss.

  33. The in-laws have a pack of goats and two cows to keep the growth down in the less-cultivated section of their 20 acres in Central Florida. They do a good job, but it requires a system of gates and fences to keep them on the property but out of the household landscaping. But they sure save mowing time around all those trees! (it was a former Christmas tree farm)

  34. Seem to be a lot of people here who don’t get the SoCal grass thing. You see, Southern California is desert that has been watered into livable land. If you want any green space here, you have to put some water on it or it dies, and in only a few weeks you have that vacant lot look that’s so popular.

    Those “golden hills” of California? Dead weeds and grass on the hillsides, plus a few live oak trees and some native scrub. Eucalyptus? Imported. Grass, roses, flowers, hedges, all imported. None of it grows without good old water, which comes from the sky only a couple months a year (watch the news for the mud slides) and then only about 12 inches annually. So yeah we water.

  35. @Matthew in Austin, I figure our live oaks here in Austin can only grow as tall as their roots can handle… given the god-dang limestone crust 1.5 inches below the dirt, it’s pretty impressive when one of those oaks makes it to 15 feet. The roots wiggle around the cracks, and a yard “full” of live oaks is usually actually a yard full of live _oak_… it just keeps putting new tentacles… er… trunks… up toward the sun.

  36. It occurs to me that, had I a lawnmower like yours, I could park it in the center of the front lawn, turn it on for a few seconds and be done.

  37. I think appearances are deceiving in that picture, in part because there seems to be a good deal of fish-eye distortion going on due to the wide-angle lens on John’s camera. To those who made comments about sledding in the winter, I suggest that the Scalzi lawn probably isn’t as hilly as it looks. I’ve never been to Bradford, but I know that that part of Ohio is generally flat as a table.

  38. I covet your yard. Living close to San Francisco, a yard here is a patch of grass, usually a square, 6 feet each side. But I wouldn’t want to move to rural Ohio, if that is what it takes to get an affordable 5 acres. So I’ll just covet, but be grateful I live here.

  39. Have you ever been tempted to spell out messages for passing airplanes in your yard, and if so, what would you say?

  40. Grass season in Seattle is about April through July, and then October and November. Not much need to mow in August and September.

    I’d say plant fruit trees, but they’re a real pain to mow around with a tractor mower, let alone one towing an extra mower attachment. My largish grassy areas keep getting interrupted by gardens and trees and stuff, but it’s still important to mow, otherwise that blackberries would invade.

  41. Hugh57:

    “To those who made comments about sledding in the winter, I suggest that the Scalzi lawn probably isn’t as hilly as it looks.”

    Actually, we do go sledding, although usually in the back yard, which has a steeper incline. But the driveway makes a fine sled chute when it’s icy.

  42. Is the whole thing fenced?

    Could you have horses if you wanted them?

    Could you then hire me to ride a horse around the perimeter, checking and mending the fences, and sleeping in the bunkhouse?

    I live in a little apartment in Northern California – no yard, but across the street is a hillside leading up to a condominium complex, and all around the hillside are scrub trees, invasive non-native French broom, and whatnot. So now and then the owner hires a battalion of the cutest wee goats, with a caretaker, an Australian shepherd, and portable fences. I love watching them. It’s better than TV.

  43. I’ll see your 5 and raise you 11 and 3/4.

    But significantly less of mine is lawn. About 2 acres is mowed grass and the rest is prairie grass, woods and wetland.

    When I get the chance to stroll around our place I almost always have the thought cross my mind that I am so absolutely lucky to live in such a place.

    You always have very nice pictures of your place, thanks for sharing.

  44. “Old growth” in some parts of Ohio is anything that’s been fallow for 20 years. My college had a forestry department that discovered clearcutting. (Ugh. But the maples come back pretty quickly.)

    John, two questions: 1) Are there any buckeye trees back there? 2) Do you want some?

  45. @52 ugh yes, the Texas hill country has that rocky “caliche” just under the soil that prevents you from even driving in a freaking tent stake. Fertile Ohio, on the other hand, well, “very good pig country” as Monty Python would say.

  46. missing Q&A Is your yard underwear friendly? (e.g. Can you walk out the back door in your drawers and not offend the neighbors…preferably because they would not see you vs. because they like watching you in your drawers).

    It has always been my desire to own underwear friendly property.

  47. Well, my in-laws have more acres, but most of it’s under cultivation rather than lawn, so it’s not really the same.

    They sometimes get people passing by during the appropriate season asking if they can hunt on their property. Do you ever get folks coming by during the season asking if they can play golf on yours?

  48. When I was in my early teens we had a house with 2+ acres of lawn. We did not have a ride-on mower. We had a push mower. “That’s what teenagers are for”, my father would say.

    Now I have a tiny patch of lawn that is so small I don’t even have a powered mower. I have a push mower that uses the power of Gears and Levers(tm) to spin some blades. It makes a wonderful whirring noise as it frappes the lawn. It also takes about ten minutes (it would take five, but it’s just fun to play with).

  49. @42 So… if some hypothetical people showed up with a semi trailer full of pink plastic flamingos in the dead of night and started installing them in his yard at a ratio of one pink flamingo per square foot…

    how many flamingoes would we get installed before Mrs. Scalzi came after us with the baseball bat?

  50. Sometime in the next five to ten years, my wife and I will be moving out to her family farm. I was fond of commenting on how much I was looking forward to having 180 acres of farmland and grass for to hike out into and run with the dog and raise sheep.

    Then my father-in-law had me start doing the hay.

    I don’t say such things anymore.

  51. On the subject of rider mowers, (as we call them here in Aus.), my brother once famously mowed his name in 30′ letters across my fathers prized front yard.
    We were on a 100acre prop with about 3 as lawn/garden – the rest was a dairy farm.
    Hell of a place to grow up, beaten up old cars to drive, our own abandoned railway bridge, a creek to fall in!
    Lots of work to do on a daily basis as well, but I don’t think that training did us any harm when we got to the real world either.

  52. Lawn use #3: Mega Lawn Darts. Invite local rocketry clubs to remove chutes and tip their models with ground penetrating paraphernalia and shoot for a bullseye. Hardhats recommended.

  53. My 9-year-old’s soccer team had the pinkest uniforms EVAR this year. I was coaching. We purchased a brace of wing-flapping-in-the-wind pink plastic flamingos to set up around the team area. Two are missing wings and all three are less than attached to their poles thanks to the subtleties of soccer ball – flamingo interactions.

    Maybe they should fly to John’s lawn for the winter.

  54. MVS@70, we had some neighbors that pretty much did just that, but they went by the name “US Army” and the nickname for where they played lawn darts was the “artillery range”.

  55. We had half a soccer field in our back yard. The neighborhood kids would come over and ask if my dad could “play” and be referee so they could use the field, lol.

  56. John Mark Ockerbloom wrote:

    [My in-laws] sometimes get people passing by during the appropriate season asking if they can hunt on their property.

    “You certainly may … I lost a wedding ring turquoise pendant last week, somewhere over on the south side. Twenty bucks to you if you find and return it.”

    Do you ever get folks coming by during the season asking if they can play golf on yours?

    If so, you know you’ve been mowing too often.

  57. “John Scalzi’s yard” does sort of ring like “Max Yasger’s farm,” doesn’t it?

    It’s obvious that this property is owned by the father of a soon-to-be-teenaged girl; why else the careful attention to fields of fire for dealing with potential boyfriends? Besides, the boyfriends will get awfully darned tired lugging ladders in from the road… and that makes them better targets, anyway. The pink flamingoes would make interesting trip hazards, though.

  58. Five acres? Sweet, I have the same. It’s a nice size to live on.
    Though mine is not so flat or grassy, and what ‘grass’ it has is never that green. Plus it has a dam and a giant gum tree. I only have to mow a few bits, to make sure we don’t get snakes lurking around the house (never seen one myself). Fortunately the ‘roos do a pretty good job of keeping the growth down.

  59. This post encapsulates the reason I come to this site everyday. Laugh out loud moments are appreciated. Stress evaporates.

  60. 76: ‘Roos are good foragers, yes? But if you have ‘roos and gum trees, and snakes (even if you don’t see ’em), doesn’t that mean you live in the land of eleventy-seven thousand deadly spiders, some of which species are known to actually go out and hunt humans? I am afraid of your land, although I know that it is beautiful and special and all.

  61. It’s like a Voight-Kampff test for spotting covert Midwesterners. Ask these questions in a sincere, inquisitive voice and see who falls over laughing.

    You know what else people in Ohio have that barely exists on the West Coast? BASEMENTS.

  62. Well, if you should ever come up short on cash, I suggest letting the place out to various Historical Re-Creationists. Always someone looking for a nice grassy hill to charge up, isn’t it?

  63. Seeing your yard makes me a little bit homesick for my parents’ yard, which wasn’t quite as big but was just as wonderful as yours. If it weren’t for the 50 minute drive to the city each way, I’d probably be finding a way to live out there right now!

  64. I second the idea of adding to the menagerie for land uses. You could easily cut down on the need to mow with an effective goat/sheep/alpaca. The new dog might want a friend to play with.

  65. I have one of those yard suggestions, and yes, I would be willing to devote the time/energy/money to it, but I would think that you probably don’t need me to. It is this:

    Teach the dog to play frisbee. Five acres is enough to put some pretty good air under a frisbee, the nylabone kind you get at a decent pet store are almost dog-proof, and both you and the dog will enjoy the exercise and quality Dog time.

    After a couple hours of typing, a dog will come to me and start smashing me in the knees with some kind of toy. This is a sign that it is time to get up for a few minutes, stretch my legs, and throw some frisbee. Not only does it make the both of us happier, but it makes the dog TIRED, so I can go do another couple hours of typing without getting smashed in the knees with a toy again.

  66. This reminds me of the time when one of the local boys went to see the hometown Dr. to seehow much it would cost to get a physical so he could play football. Doc told him the price but said “If you can’t come up with the money you can mow my lawn instead”. The boy then asked how big the yard was. Doc replied, “About 50 meters by 50 meters”. The kid just scratches his head and says, “I’ll just have to come up with the money ’cause I ain’t mowing around all them meters”.

  67. @77 # Sean Eric Fagan: 5 acres is pretty standard zoning for some of the more rural areas of Ohio. My parents spent the last 20 years in an 1825 Shaker farm house on 5 acres in Turtlecreek Township, which is maybe an hour down the road from where I would guess Scalzi lives. There were a few other 5 acre lots on the road, but most of it was corn, soybeans, wheat, or clover depending on the year. I loved the clover years. They were beyond beautiful.

    Luckily for the dogs, the farmers were friends, and had various roads though the fields that helped when doggies went rabbit/rat AWOL. Let’s not talk about the beagle on the other side who taught 2 mini schnauzers how to howl.

  68. Maybe another one for the FAQ:
    Is it fenced? If so, what with?

    For Dutch standards we have quite a big garden (well, long anyway, at 62 meters) but I calculated that it is 1/8th of an acre.

  69. TBR:

    If someone else wants to fund the lawnbots, that I would be happy to try them.


    Not fenced.

    Kristi Wachter:

    The house is about 15 years old.

  70. So you play your music really LOUD then? Or maybe you take a karaoke amp onto your lawn and serenade the neighbors, if they can actually hear you? I know I would.

  71. Every time you refer back to this post, I click over and then go to the place in my head that sticks in bee-hives, nut trees, fruit trees and shrubs, a large chicken coop and run, two goats, and geese and ducks. Possibly a small vineyard/large arbor.

    This is partly because a large portion of my family are, in fact, farmer-types, and my brain just *goes there*, and partly because I currently live in a very pricey part of the US, with what is a *huge* yard here, but very tiny in comparison to yours, and I very much want all of the above.

    I don’t know that this comment is interesting, but I keep thinking these thoughts, so I am hoping that spattering them on the internet will exorcise them, and I’ll be able to move on from my weird, personal judgmental–>envious Kinsey scale. Although, I think, perhaps, that judgmental=envious*denial. Deep thought of the day?

    Anyway, it’s your time, money, and labor, spend it how you will, and more power to you. I appreciate your pragmatism.

  72. Thanks for this! Whenever I tell somebody, that I plan to leave California to move to rural East Coast – so that I too can have 5 acres, or so – I hear: and you want to give up all this? It is encouraging to read about you and your yard!

  73. Consider Wildflowers. Specifically those native to Ohio.
    Maybe huckleberry bushes.
    Seriously, just throw down the wildflower seeds and stop mowing. Maybe dump some native tree seeds around, too. 5 acres of forest? Wouldn’t that be awesome?

    I’m jealous and just posting what I would do with it. But enjoy what you love. Although if you have a grass allergy, maybe it shouldn’t be covered in grass?

    And yes, I would love to come out and spread wild flower seeds all over. Maybe plant a bush or tree or several. That would be fun! You make the lemonade!

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