Mowing... your lawn's most important activity!

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Most people fall into two categories when it comes to lawn mowing: 

1.     You mow because you want to have the best lawn possible, or

2.     You mow only because you have to

Unfortunately, there are too many who view mowing as a necessary evil.  If they only realized, how you mow your lawn is more important than the fertilizer you use, the weed control applications that are made, and the amount of water used, they would take mowing more seriously.

Getting mowing right comes down to three critical practices: mowing height, mowing frequency, and managing the clippings.  Let’s take a quick look at these three practices.

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Mowing Height

Grasses adapt well to various mowing heights, but there is a direct relationship between mowing height and a healthy turf.  As the height of the grass increases, the root system increases.  As the height is lowered, the root system decreases.  A taller turf yields a healthier root system and a lawn that will withstand more stress.  As the height and density increase, there is less room available for weeds to germinate and grow. 

Optimal cutting heights vary based on type of grass and the time of year.  All turf grass should start the season low and gradually increase in height over the course of the summer. The goal is to have your lawn at its thickest and tallest height during the heat of summer. 

Fescue is at its best when it is cut between 2.5” to 3.5”. 

Bermuda is best maintained between 1.5” to 2.5”, but Tiff type Bermuda should be maintained shorter, .5” to 1.5”.

If you overseed your Bermuda lawn with Rye in the fall, maintain the rye at 2” to 3” in the fall and spring.

Areas of shade need to be mowed at the maximum height.  The increase in leaf space will allow the plant the best possible chance to survive in the lower light.

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Mowing Frequency

Probably the biggest hindrance to having a great lawn is mowing on a schedule, not on need.  Most people mow their lawns once a week during the growing season. We all understand why.  We are busy and our only opportunity to mow is on our day off.  Or, you may have a landscape management company that mows the lawn once per week. 

But, for the absolute best lawn, mow based on the 1/3 rule rather than a set schedule.  For example:  If you desire to maintain your fescue at 3”, you should never let your lawn grow over 4.5”.  If you want to keep your Bermuda lawn at 1”, then you need to mow before it exceeds 1.5”, not just because it’s Saturday and you always mow on Saturday.

Whenever you remove more than 1/3 of the grass in a single mowing, you are cutting below the plant leaf and into the stem.  If you are seeing yellow or brown areas after you mow, you are cutting more than 1/3. Turf grass research shows when you cut into the stems the plant responds by using nutrients stored in the root system to regenerate leaves.  This reduces the strength, health and density of the roof system and results in a weaker turf.

What should you do when your lawn becomes too tall and you need to cut off 50% or more to get back to the desired height?  Cut 1/3 off, wait a couple of days and then cut another 1/3 off.  Repeat until you reclaim the height you desire.

There is no doubt that frequent mowing at a uniform height, whether short or tall, is the most important aspect of having a great lawn.

Managing the Clippings

When you are able to mow frequently using the 1/3 rule, I recommend not catching the clippings.  Turf grass leaves are 80-90% water and nitrogen.  Leaves decompose very quickly and add nutrients back to the turf. 

Not bagging your clippings is a major step in improving your lawn’s quality.

When you bag your clippings, you are throwing a little of your fertilizer away every time you cut the lawn. 

Most years, I bag my fescue lawn a couple of times per year, the first time each spring and in the fall when fall leaves cover the turf.  This year I have bagged a few more times because the rain has interrupted my 1/3 rule.

A common belief is that when you don’t bag your clippings you are increasing thatch buildup.  As long as you are only cutting the leaves and not the stems, thatch will not become a problem. 

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Two Important Bonus Practices:

  1. Mower blades should always be kept sharp.  Dull blades bruise the leaf resulting in frayed leaves and a duller lawn appearance. 

  2. Vary your mowing pattern throughout the season to reduce soil compaction.  Changing your mowing pattern will also improve turf appearance.  I recommend rotating through at least three different mowing patterns.  For example:  mow parallel to the street, the next time mow at a 45 degree angle, followed by mowing perpendicular to the street or at the opposite 45 degree angle. 

Lawn mowing is the most time consuming landscape practice.  It has to be performed more frequently than fertilizing, weed control, bed weeding, shrub trimming, and flower planting. It is easy to allow mowing to become just another task that has to be done.  But, a well properly maintained lawn is well worth the time and effort. 

Nothing adds more curb appeal to your home than a well-groomed lawn.

Lorne Hall

Hall | Stewart Lawn + Landscape