The Human Powered Yard :: How to Replace Your Trimmer with 3 Simple Tools

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My goal to go emissions-free in my yard was put on hold this summer when I decided not to purchase that reel mower I had my eye on. I did, however, go through with my plans to seek an alternative to my loud, gas-fueled weed eater. It’s now August, so I’m calling it – my trimmer has been replaced!

Don’t get me wrong…I LOVED using the trimmer. That dirty little engine had some power, and it made easy work of fuzzy garden edges and unlucky volunteer plants. But I knew if I experimented a bit, I could find a solution using simple, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly tools. After fine tuning the process all Summer, I’m getting great results with only a slight increase in work and time. It’s also a solution that is quiet, sustainable, and low impact.

Here’s how I did it…

The Human Powered Lawn has always been an interest of mine, probably stemming from my Amish roots. Or, it might be the annoying gas-powered cacophony of leaf blowers, edgers, mowers, and trimmers I hear every weekend on my otherwise quiet street. When did we become so dependent on these machines for basic yard work? How lazy are we?

So, I’ve set out to eliminate all four of these machines from my landscaping process. I’ve never used a leaf-blower (my broom works just fine) or an edger (I’ve always used a flat shovel + a trimmer), so I was already halfway there at the start of the Summer. I decided to eliminate my trimmer next, a tool I have been using since the dawn of my Junior High lawn mowing business days.

After a few months of practicing and refining, I have the replacement tools down to three: 1) A flat shovel, 2) flat hand held garden shears, and 3) that weed removal poker thing. That’s it. These simple tools replaced a gas-powered, factory-assembled, carbon-emitting non-necessity. Nice!

Here are some tips on using these tools around your yard:

  • Edging driveways and other straight lines – Use the flat shovel to cut away an inch of soil and grass along each edge, and the weed removal poker thing to pop it out. This creates a nice, deep edge that will last all summer. Then, for edge maintenance, use the flat shears like scissors to cut back the grass. Just cut along the line you made with the shovel.
  • Trees, poles, and fences – The shears work fine for all of these things, and only adds a little time. Switch hands to avoid fatigue, and do it before you mow so you can mulch in the trimmings.
  • Weeds in beds – Sometimes I would use the trimmer in our large pine straw bed to remove weeds and volunteer trees. I now use the flat shovel for this, and just walk along forcing the blade into the crown of each plant. This pops them right out.
  • Garden bed edges – Use the flat shovel to carve out a trench between your mulched garden and your yard. This will give you a nice border, and prevent grass from crawling into the bed (and make it easier to remove once it does).

Those are the basics – it’s not that complicated. Yes, this is slightly more labor intensive, but actually takes about the same amount of time when you get good at it. The results are similar too, with the only real difference being the edges around my driveway looking more natural, less manicured (but still clean and tidy).

I know the Human Powered Yard isn’t for everyone, and I’ve certainly had a couple of neighbors ask if I wanted to borrow their trimmer (they assumed mine must be broken), but I really think re-imagining how we do simple things can make a difference. I would rather be xeriscaping, and I know these tools are all made in a factory and shipped to Lowe’s, but replacing the machines with muscles has been a positive experience for me, and it might be for you too.

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