In the year since my pandemic divorce, I have learned how to take apart (and put back together) a clogged vacuum, fix a garbage disposal and a shorted refrigerator light bulb, clean a furnace filter and install a hot tub pump. 

I have taken my son to his after-school activities with a sick German Shepherd in tow and made it to the vet and back within the hour. I have learned from YouTube videos how to make homemade shepherd’s pie and fry plantains.

But I had never mowed a lawn.

Hear me out: For the first half of my life, I lived in apartments, where containers of lush flowers magically appeared, tended by maintenance teams I never saw. I never even thought about it. For the second half of my life, I had a partner who mowed the lawn, planted the garden and hung the tree lights. I never really thought about it. 

Living on my own, I finally started to think about it. I had to. It was my house. My yard. There was no one to do these things for me. And while, yes, I could have hired someone, we are now living in a new era of DIY self-sufficiency inspired by the pandemic. I was also propelled by newfound independence, and the freedom of nearing 50 and being generally out of you-know-whats. I’d stayed home for two years throughout a global pandemic. I could do anything. 

But it did scare me. I was never taught how to mow a lawn by my parents — or by my partners. It’s astonishing that the task should still be relegated to outdated, sexist notions of “men’s work,” but it seems that stereotype quietly prevailed past its cultural expiration date. 

My son’s birthday was coming, however, and with it, an outdoor celebration. It was time. 


I stared down the neon Ryobi 13-inch electric mower that came with the house. I read the entire guide cover to cover. I became convinced I would lose a toe. 

But I did it. I mowed the lawn. It happened the way most things do — I just took a deep breath and began.

Eco-friendly and low-maintenance electric mowers, like this model by Toro, are quieter than their gas counterparts, and they don’t emit noxious fumes. (Courtesy of Toro)
What to consider when shopping for an electric lawn mower

I quickly learned that I need two extension cords to reach the street, and that long vertical rows worked better than short horizontal ones. Thanks to a kind neighbor, I also learned that I don’t have to drag the mower along the borders of the driveway — that’s what edgers are for. It turns out I already had one of those in the shed; I just didn’t really know what it was. 

I pushed my mower out in the noonday sun right alongside the men — and one woman — in my neighborhood. I felt the salty satisfaction of physical labor. It emboldened me to take on more.

Like the hedges. I saw another neighbor shave his down in no time with a yellow tool that looked familiar. I had one of those! So that’s what it was for. I asked if I could watch him work. He said yes, and then talked me through trying it on my own. It was easy! I crossed that off my list, too.


I am by no means any kind of lawn expert. I am just getting by. But I am doing it, and I have learned a few things along the way.

Ask a dad, even if you don’t have one 

You really can learn anything on YouTube. There is one channel I have turned to repeatedly as I learn how to go it alone. “Dad, How Do I?” by Rob Kenney, a Kent resident (and father of two adult children), offers “dadvice” in friendly, conversational how-to videos. Via YouTube, he’s taught me how to fix a running toilet, plant grass seed in the rainy season and replace weed-eater string so it goes in the right direction. “Dad, How Do I?” started as a pandemic project in April 2020, went viral almost immediately and has amassed almost 4 million subscribers in two years. Kenney released a book last year by the same name. 

“It started as something I could have used, because my dad left when I was young. I wanted to leave a legacy of stuff I learned the hard way,” says Kenney. 

His videos cover how to change a tire and tie a tie. But despite the channel’s name, it doesn’t just serve young people, he says: “It’s for everyone who needs help. I have 80-year-olds calling me ‘Dad.’ ” His audience on Instagram is mostly women, ages 25–35. “I hear all the time from single women, single moms and widows,” he says.

There actually is an app for that

Hardware stores such as The Home Depot offer DIY videos on how to mulch your yard, grow grass and build a raised garden bed. True Value has DIY project how-tos at Take a picture of a plant or flower and the app Picture This will identify it and show you additional photos, facts, growing conditions and tips from garden coaches.

Ask a neighbor 

Sometimes there’s no substitute for a fellow human. Your neighbors have houses and yards, too. Talk to them. Ask for recommendations and advice on services. 


Or join a Facebook group, such as Seattle Organic Backyard Gardeners. That’s what Michelle Goodman did when she bought a new home in South Seattle last December. “If somebody’s owned a home for a few years, there’s a good chance they’ve had to repair or replace what you’re trying to do,” she says. “Ask a homeowner’s group online or a Facebook neighborhood group.” Your real estate agent is another good resource.

Outsource for a head start 

Goodman hires out spring yardwork to get her lawn into shape for the season. “I would like to do my own trimming and mowing, but just to get things going, it’s worth it to me to have somebody to start things,” she says. That’s exactly the approach recommended by David Gherkin, garden manager of True Value Junction Hardware in West Seattle. 

Gherkin says, “Have a lawn care company come do the first big mow and edge of the spring, then you just keep it up all summer with a push mower or even an electric one.” He says it’s worth the $70 or $80 to have them start the process for you — especially because if the lawn is thick and wet, it can destroy your mower.

Don’t forget to fertilize

If you fertilize your lawn — and you should, Gherkin says — it will grow quickly and you should mow every week. He recommends fertilizer from Hendrikus Organics, based in Issaquah. It runs about $40 a bag. You can fertilize any time of year, so go ahead and do it if you haven’t already. Gherkin says, ideally, you should fertilize your lawn three times a year, in the spring, summer and fall. 

He also cautions not to exceed the recommended amount. “More is not better,” Gherkin says. “That goes for fertilizer, weed killers, bark and compost. The main thing people do wrong is think more is better and kill it with kindness. Nothing can absorb it all, so it just goes into the watershed.”

Use the right tool for the job

You can get a push mower for less than $200. In the midrange of about $300, Gherkin recommends the Earthwise battery-powered mower for smaller Seattle lawns. Its rechargeable battery runs up to 40 minutes on low. Black+Decker is a solid midrange choice for a corded plug-in model. If you’re able to splurge, go for a Stihl battery-operated mower, which will cost about $500. It makes less noise and has a convenient holding slot for a second battery.


Just do it

There’s no wrong way to get started. “Baby steps are huge as far as doing anything,” Kenney says. “When we were babies and started walking, we fell down all the time and didn’t overthink it. We just kept trying. As adults, give it a real shot before you give up on something.” 

Take a deep breath and begin.

Lawn tips from “Dad, How Do I?” 

Kenney’s tips for a healthy lawn: 

• A weed eater (aka weed whacker) and a lawn mower are good tools to start with. They can tame a lawn pretty well.

• Walk the lawn to make sure it’s clear of anything damaging you could mow over, like a coat hanger or kids toys.

• Weed-eat the perimeter first, in the right direction to send the grass onto your lawn and not your pathway.

• Mow in circles instead of rows, from the outside in. This sends the grass towards the center so you don’t have to rake so much if you don’t have a bag.

• Keep to a pattern to avoid bald spots.

• Buy a second battery for a cordless electric mower so you don’t get stuck in the middle of the job waiting for it to recharge.

• Enjoy the walk!

See a video of Kenney mowing his lawn and find more tips at