Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Plague of Locusts

I have several neighbors - you probably do, too - who can’t go a week without mowing the lawn. One in particular has a lawn service that comes every Tuesday morning.

As the summer heat has continued it has taken the lawn service less and less time to cut what must now be 1/100th of an inch of new growth each week.

What is it about the suburban man and lawn care? Another neighbor goes out with a small mower to do edges, then an edger to go around trees, then his big riding mower to get everything else. Each week he puts out two to five buckets of what I would use as compost for my pile for someone else to pick up, leaving behind stinking garbage cans.

I don’t see the point of watering to make grass grow and then mowing to make it so short the summer sun makes it go dormant - not dead - and brown.

Most of the rest of us on the street, whether we do the lawn ourselves or hire a service, have not been so fanatical. For instance, we do not go out every week but let the grass grow so it can protect its own roots from the summer heat.

There are a few of us with underground sprinklers, and you can tell who uses them even during a drought - especially during a drought - because their grass is thick and green while the rest of us have grass in various stages of brown crispiness.

This neighbor with the lawn service has a mainly brown lawn, too, with one significant exception.

A small forest of green locust trees.

The locust seedlings are the brighter green plants on this lawn.

Whoever thought the black locust would be a wonderful shade tree for my street 30+ years ago doesn’t have the misfortune of having a female tree, the one that grows the long seed pods that liberally litter the lawn nearly every year.

I have one such female tree. My neighbor does not. Even so, he has been agitating to have the two male locust trees cut down for years. Within the last year the town finally took them down. My neighbor was quick to seed the uprooted space and create a lawn. He even went out to water it.

Normally my town would’ve put in two replacement trees of a type whose roots don’t push up the pavement. It has not done so in this case, either because there were no funds or because at some point a sidewalk may go in and the trees would have to be uprooted anyway.

Or maybe my neighbor just paid a “fine” and made the problem go away.

Locust trees, however, are as tenacious as weeds. The town periodically goes through and trims back branches and within a year you can see little branches growing back. With the trees gone and the grass cut to within a millimeter of its life in summer, there are perfect conditions for tenacious things other than grass to spring up.

So now his lawn is covered with locust trees saplings.

The lawn service cuts them back but I don’t see my neighbor out with a spade to dig them up, as I do when I find one or two growing.

I expect there will be a point when he will have the lawn dug up and sod put down, likely over a sprinkler system that can keep the grass thick and green and surviving until the weekly decapitation by the lawn service. If he has the money to throw around on this, more power to him.

I, however, think it is a waste of time, energy and resources, and the only one who benefits is the lawn company.

Certainly not the lawn.