The Miser's Guide to a Better Planet

By Darryl McMahon

Line Trimmers and More Lawn Care Tips

That lawnmower we discussed previously does not get up close to fences. Enter the line-trimmer. This device spins a short length of fishing line or short blades at high speed near the ground, allowing you to cut down grass and weeds in close quarters the lawnmower cannot approach. The people-powered version of this tool is the long-handled grass-shears. (Prices for this column are based on prices in two advertising flyers received April 1999 at my house, and visits to 2 local stores. All prices quoted are for new items, quantity 1, no taxes included, rounded to the nearest dollar. No allowance is made for interest charges. Naturally, a good miser may find a better buy on a used item.)

Long-handled grass-shears cost about $24. Use no fuel or electricity. Need to be sharpened periodically. We'll assume you already have a file for the lawnmower. If we assume the shears will last 12 years, that's $2 per year.

The gasoline-powered line trimmer costs from $99 to $178, with a popular mid-range model costing $124. It consumes gasoline and oil and fishing line. Gasoline and oil consumption are pretty low, let's say $3 total for both per year. We will also assume that one spool of line will be used, but because any self-respecting miser will rewind their own spools, this is only about $2. Let's assume you already have the gas can for the lawnmower. Let's assume this unit will last 6 years before a mechanical problem occurs. That's a total of $26 per year.

The electric trimmer costs from $28 to $119, with a popular medium-duty model costing $46. There are cordless versions available, one of which costs $158. Electrical demand is light, let's say a dollar a year. A fresh spool of line (you will rewind it yourself, right?) is $2. Let's assume you already have the power cord for the lawnmower, and this unit will last 8 years without a major mechanical failure. Average annual cost: about $9.

If you can manage with the grass shears, they are the clear winner, low-cost and no emissions. My back hurts just thinking about doing my 125 meters of edging with the shears I have long since relegated to the cottage. If you want to use a powered device, then the (corded) electric comes out ahead by about $17 a year in your pocket, and way ahead for the environment. No emissions where you are, quiet, no gasoline or oil handling. Starts at the flick of a switch, no pull cords or balky starting. Those tiny buzzing engines are more than annoying, they do environmental damage totally out of proportion with their small size. Don't need ear protection either with the grass shears or electric trimmer either.

You don't need to water it. Grass evolved without lawn sprinklers, it doesn't really need them now. If you are laying new sod or seed, by all means soak it until it takes hold. Once it has taken, ignore it as much as possible. Grass that is not pampered will develop longer roots and tolerate dry spells reasonably well. Most mowers allow you to set the height of the blades. Set them high. Longer grass will shade the soil better, retaining moisture from rainfall or dew better than shorter grass can.

If you can, weed by hand instead of using herbicides. In addition to saving you a few (or a lot of) dollars, most herbicides are pretty nasty stuff, which is why they have all those warning labels on the packages, and commercial operations that apply them have to put those temporary signs on the lawns warning you to stay off. Read Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring" as a primer on herbicides and pesticides.