Are you tired of faddish lawn care advice that over-promises but under-delivers that amazing, professional-looking lawn?
Well, these 8 lawn mowing tips and tricks may not make your lawn look like 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue overnight, but these time-tested, easy-to-follow methods have helped homeowners keep their lawns looking great season after season.
8 lawn mowing tips and tricks
Whether you’re a novice landscaper or a DIY pro when it comes to your lawn, these lawn-mowing tips and tricks will help you in the long run. Consider it a guide to come back to time and again.
1. Choose the right lawn mower
A perfect lawn starts with the mower you use to cut it. When choosing a mower, consider factors such as the size of your lawn, how much manual labor you want to do, and your budget. Each type of mower has its advantages and is suited to different lawn care needs. Check out these three popular types:
These mowers require the user to manually push them across the lawn, which is why they’re ideal for smaller lawns where the manual effort is manageable. Push mowers are easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and lightweight, and come in electric, manual, and gas-powered options. Plus, you can choose a self-propelled model that reduces the physical effort required to operate the mower.
This variety is designed for the user to sit on and ride while cutting the grass. Ride-on mowers are used on larger lawns where using a push power would be impractical. They’re comfortable to sit on, provide a faster mow time, and generally come with various attachments and accessories such as mulching kits, tow-behind carts, and baggers. This versatility makes them a favorite among DIY homeowners taking on various lawn care tasks.
As the name suggests, these mowers operate autonomously, using sensors and programming to navigate and mow the lawn without direct human involvement. Depending on the model, robotic mowers can handle small- to medium-sized lawns and come with helpful features, including programmable schedules, sensors to avoid obstacles, and automatic recharging.
If you’re considering a robotic mower for your yard, you can expect minimal effort on your part, a quiet machine, and consistent mowing for a healthy, manicured lawn.
2. Maintain your lawn mower
Chefs say that a sharp knife is safer than a dull one, and the same is true for your lawn mower blades. Sharp blades cut grass cleanly, promoting a healthier lawn. Dull blades tear grass, leading to a ragged appearance and increased susceptibility to diseases.
How to maintain your lawn mower blades:
- Regularly inspect the mower blades for wear, dullness, or damage.
- If the blades are dull, use a file or a bench grinder to sharpen them. Follow the blade’s original angle and maintain a balanced edge. You also may consider taking it in for professional servicing.
- Consider replacing if the blades are severely damaged, bent, or have extensive wear.
Clean the mower deck
When grass clippings, debris, and dirt build up on the bottom of the mower deck, corrosion and decreased cutting efficiency may occur. To keep your mower in excellent condition, don’t skip maintenance.
How to maintain your mower deck:
- Post-mowing, turn off the mower and disconnect the spark plug for safety.
- Use a scraper, putty knife, or something similar to remove accumulated grass clippings and debris from the mower deck.
- Rinse the mower deck with a garden hose or pressure washer.
- Once in a while, inspect the deck for signs of rust or damage and fix any issues immediately.
Change the oil
Oil lubricates engine components, preventing friction and reducing wear. Over time, the oil in your mower can become contaminated, at which point it will no longer be effective. When this happens,you must replace the oil.
How to change the oil:
- Warm up the engine to make the oil easier to drain.
- Disconnect the spark plug, and then drain the old oil into a pan.
- Fill the engine with the appropriate amount and type of oil the manufacturer recommends (always refer to your mower’s owner’s manual for instructions).
- While you’re at it, replace the oil filter if your mower has one.
Replace the spark plugs
Spark plugs are essential in the combustion process. Worn mower spark plugs can lead to poor engine performance, starting issues, and increased fuel consumption.
How to change the spark plugs:
- As for the oil change, check the owner’s manual for recommended spark plug replacement intervals.
- Once you locate the spark plug, remove it using a socket and clean any built-up debris in the area.
- Replace it with a new one, ensuring that it’s properly gapped (though spark plugs come gapped, it doesn’t hurt to double-check).
- Reconnect the mower spark plug wire and make sure it’s secure, tightening it with the socket.
Clean or replace the air filter
The air filter in your mower prevents dirt and debris from entering the engine and creating combustion problems. When it’s dirty or clogged, it can damage your mower beyond use. To keep this from happening, stay on top of maintenance.
How to replace the air filter:
- Inspect the air filter regularly, especially after extended use or if used in a dusty environment.
- If it’s a foam filter, clean it with specialized soap; in the case of yellowing, replace it with a new one.
- A paper filter also should be replaced if it’s hard to see through it.
- Ensure the mower air filter is dry before reinstalling it. You’re done!
Check cables and belts
Belts drive the mower blades, while cables control the throttle and engagement of the cutting blades. If your mower’s belts and cables are worn or damaged, the tool’s performance will suffer – and so will your grass.
How to maintain cables and belts:
- Inspect the belts for cracks, fraying, or signs of wear and replace them if necessary.
- Check the cables for proper tension and smooth operation. Lubricate or replace them as needed to get the most out of your mower. Some lubricant options include:
- Silicone-based lubricant that resists water and moisture and protects against corrosion.
- Dry Teflon lubricant that reduces friction, resists moisture, and repels debris and dirt. It’s typically available in spray or liquid forms.
- Graphite lubricant that prevents cables from sticking. You can choose between sprays, powders, or liquids.
Inspect the fuel system
While it’s not an absolute requirement to replace lawn mower fuel at the beginning of every season, it’s a good practice for several reasons. Stale or contaminated fuel can affect engine performance and damage your mower. Inspecting the fuel system helps prevent potential fuel-related issues.
- Fuel that has been sitting in your mower’s tank for an extended period, such as over the winter months, can degrade and develop impurities that may negatively impact the lawn mower’s engine performance. Drain the old fuel and replace it with fresh, high-quality gasoline to prevent varnish buildup in the carburetor. Stick to the type recommended by the manufacturer. If possible, avoid using fuel that contains ethanol to prevent engine damage and expensive repairs.
- Inspect fuel lines for cracks or leaks every once in a while. If you notice damage to the lines, replace them.
- Clean or replace the fuel filter if your mower has one.
3. Time your mowing precisely
Weather conditions can significantly impact the well-being of your grass, and adjusting your mowing schedule accordingly can prevent stress and promote optimal growth. Here’s how you should time your next mow:
Avoid mowing in extreme heat
Mowing during the hottest parts of the day, especially in extreme heat, can stress the grass. This stress may lead to brown patches, increased susceptibility to diseases, and overall reduced resilience.
Optimal mowing times during hot weather are early morning or late afternoon when temperatures are cooler. Mowing during these times minimizes the risk of heat stress on the grass.
Avoid mowing in the cold
While cool-season grasses thrive in cooler temperatures, mowing too early or late in the day during colder seasons can expose the grass to potential frost or dew, increasing the risk of diseases.
It’s best to mow when the grass is dry and the temperature is above freezing. Late morning or early afternoon is generally suitable during colder seasons, allowing the grass to recover before the cooler evening temperatures.
Avoid mowing in wet conditions
Mowing wet grass can lead to clumping, uneven cuts, and potential lawn and lawn mower damage. It also can lead to soil compaction, as the mower’s weight may compress the soil particles. The soil won’t be able to absorb necessary nutrients and moisture, affecting grassroots and overall health.
If the grass is wet, it’s advisable to wait until it dries before mowing.
Adapt to any seasonal changes
Adjust your mowing schedule based on the changing daylight hours. During the longer summer days, you may have more flexibility in your mowing schedule. In regions where warm-season grasses go dormant in winter, mowing frequency may decrease, and you should avoid stressing the dormant grass excessively.
4. Alternate mowing patterns
Variety is the spice of life, right? Well, this applies to your lawn, too. Alternating your mowing pattern is a fundamental lawn care practice that goes beyond simply creating an aesthetically pleasing lawn. Changing the mowing pattern has several benefits for the health and vitality of your lawn.
To begin with, it prevents soil compaction (from mowing in the same direction) and keeps the grass blades from leaning in a particular direction (called “grain” in the lawn care industry). Besides that, it reduces tire tracks and wear patterns that become noticeable over time and creates a more uniform appearance.
Not to mention, it allows you to create attractive patterns on the lawn, such as stripes or a checkerboard effect.
Here’s an easy step-by-step way to start:
- Week 1: Mow horizontally (left to right or vice versa)
- Week 2: Mow diagonally, starting from one corner of the yard
- Week 3: Mow vertically
- Week 4: Mow diagonally in the direction opposite week 2
Keeping things fresh and changing your mowing routine contributes to your lawn’s overall health, resilience, and visual appeal. This simple practice can make a significant, long-term difference to your turf’s health.
5. Mow when the grass is dry
Think of it this way, if you had a choice, would you rather mow in the rain or when it’s dry? We bet you said “dry.” The good news: Your lawn agrees.
Here are a few reasons why your lawn prefers to be mowed when it’s dry:
- No clumps of grass on the lawn (which can harm existing grass and look unsightly)
- Grass cuts more easily, giving you a better-quality, even cut
- Grass won’t clump on the underside of the mowing deck or clog your mower
- Less risk of compacting the soil as you mow
- Mowing wet grass reduces the effectiveness of a mulching mower
- No ruts in the lawn
- Reduced risk of slipping and falling during mowing
- No spreading of diseases, as mowing wet grass can transfer fungal spores from one area to another
There are times when the rain won’t let up, and you may have to mow a wet lawn. If so, don’t mow early in the morning, and have a sharp blade on the mower to avoid tearing the grass.
6. Leave your clippings on the lawn
To bag or not to bag? That is the question. The easy answer here is: not to bag. There are many reasons to leave your clippings on the lawn (also known as grasscycling), but the main one is that it will give you a healthier lawn in the long run.
Mulching mowers do this best because they chop up the clippings multiple times before they land on the lawn. This allows them to break down more quickly and provide slow-release nutrients to your lawn.
Reasons to leave mulched grass clippings on your lawn:
- You get the equivalent of one free fertilizer treatment per year. Grass clippings are rich in nitrogen, a macronutrient necessary for grass growth.
- Saves you time as you mow, as you don’t need to empty the mower bag. It also saves you money since there are no disposal fees.
- Clippings add organics to the soil as they decompose, enhancing its texture, water retention capacity, and overall fertility.
- Decomposing grass clippings stimulate microbial activity in the soil. Microbes help break down organic matter, releasing nutrients and creating a healthier environment for beneficial soil organisms.
- Grass clippings form a natural mulch layer on the soil surface, helping to conserve moisture. This can be beneficial during hot and dry periods, reducing the need for frequent irrigation.
- The mulch created by grass clippings helps smother weed seeds, preventing germination and establishment in the soil. In turn, this reduces the need for herbicides and manual weeding. Grass clippings also contribute to a denser turf, leaving no room for weeds to push through.
- Leaving your clippings aligns with sustainable lawn care practices. It reduces the amount of green waste sent to landfills and contributes to a closed-loop system in your own backyard.
- Ideal for soil erosion control. Grass clippings cover bare patches of soil and reduce its exposure to erosive external forces such as Mother Nature.
There are a few instances when it’s better to bag your grass clippings:
- Taller blades shade the grass crowns.
- There’s more leaf area, which means your grass can produce food for itself at a faster rate.
- Grass forms deeper roots, which strengthen the plant and help it reach water deeper in the soil.
- If your grass is tall enough, it shades the soil and prevents crabgrass seeds from sprouting
- Fungus – If you have a fungus problem, bag the clippings to prevent spreading the disease to other areas.
- Leaves – If the leaves cover over 50% of the lawn, bag the leaves and grass clippings and add them to your compost pile or as a light mulch in your ornamental beds.
- Weeds – If the weeds in your lawn have gone to seed, you don’t want those seeds going back into the lawn.
- Jungle lawn – If your lawn looks like the Amazon rainforest, bag the clippings and toss them in the compost pile to break down.
- Aesthetic reasons – If you have an outdoor event, gathering, or special occasion planned and want your lawn to have a manicured and pristine appearance, bag the clippings.
- Local disposal laws – Some municipalities may have regulations on the disposal of grass clippings, especially if they’re used for composting or disposed of in public areas. In such cases, you may have no choice but to bag your clippings.
- Newly seeded lawn – It may be that you recently overseeded an existing lawn or established a new one, in which case bagging should be done to avoid smothering seedling. Wait for the new grass to grow and then leave the clippings.
7. Mow according to the recommended height
The one-third rule of mowing states that you should never remove more than one-third of the grass blade per mow. Every grass has a particular height at which it prefers to be cut, and this leads to a healthy lawn.
Cutting too high can encourage matting and disease. Cutting too low reduces the plant’s leaf area, which means it may not be able to make enough food. It can leave the grass unable to deal with common stresses like heat, foot traffic, drought, and weeds.
Here are height recommendations for warm-season and cool-season grasses:
|Mow at this height
|1-1 ½ inches
*Since fine fescues are often planted in shady areas, you may be able to mow up to 1 inch higher. A taller leaf blade allows the grass to produce more food for itself.
During times of heat stress, taller mowing heights help strengthen the grass. But that’s not all. Here are a few more reasons you should follow this lawn-mowing rule when it’s hot outside:
Raise the mower height by ½ inch during the hottest time of the growing season, and increase by ½ to 1 inch if you’re mowing in the shade. Don’t forget that a regular mowing schedule, especially during the growing season, will prevent shock to the grass and promote a healthier lawn.
8. Edge your lawn like a pro
No mowing session is complete without edging the lawn. Getting a straight edge on the lawn takes practice, but you can achieve it with some patience and care.
Tools you need to edge your lawn
- Edging tool (manual or powered): Choose one that suits your preference and lawn size
- Gloves: To protect your hands while using the edging tool
- Safety glasses: Especially important when using a powered edger
- String or garden hose: Use as a guide to create a straight and even edge
- Garden shovel: For refining the edge and removing excess soil
Steps to edge your lawn
- Flip the string trimmer upside down. Make sure the line is at a 90-degree angle to the ground.
- Walk left to right if the line spins clockwise. Walk right to left if it spins counterclockwise. This will prevent excess drag on the machine.
- A string trimmer works fine with an established edge between paved surfaces and the lawn. Use an edger to cut through the tough grass if you need to establish an edge.
- After the initial edging, further refine the edge with a garden shovel. Remove any excess soil and create a smooth transition between the lawn and the adjacent surface.
- Collect and dispose of the debris produced during edging, adding it to your compost pile or disposing of it according to local regulations.
- Incorporate edging into your regular lawn maintenance routine. Depending on the growth rate of your grass, edging may be needed every few weeks.
- Consider installing a physical barrier like metal or plastic landscape edging (sheeting). This can help prevent grass from creeping onto walkways, driveways, or garden beds and minimize the need for trimming or edging.
FAQ about lawn mowing
When can I mow a newly planted lawn?
As with any living thing, the amount of time will differ depending on the type of grass, germination rate, weather conditions, and so on.
A sodded lawn can be mowed much sooner than a seeded lawn, even as soon as two to three weeks after planting. Test for root development before you take your mower out of storage. Pull on several sections of the sod after two weeks. If the sod pulls up easily, you don’t have good root development yet. If it feels rooted to the ground, root development is coming along nicely.
A seeded lawn will take much longer before your first mow, up to two months. Treat it like an established lawn: Mow when it reaches one-third higher than the recommended mowing height.
Follow the other lawn care tips, like not mowing when it’s wet and using a sharp mower blade. This will ensure you don’t pull the new grassroots from the soil but give them a nice clean cut.
When should I water my lawn?
The best time to water your lawn is as early in the day as possible. You can start the sprinklers before sunrise but finish watering at 10 a.m. This gives the lawn ample time to dry out and prevents evaporation.
Will mowing reduce weeds?
Effective weed control requires a multi-pronged approach, but mowing can reduce or weaken some weeds. Taller weeds can be taken down with your weekly mow. Mowing tall weeds also prevents seed heads from developing and seeding new generations in your lawn.
Skilled help at your beck and call
If you’re ready for a perfectly manicured lawn without the hassle, a local lawn care expert may be the answer. Let them inspect your lawn, make recommendations, and bring your dream to life by mowing your grass to perfection. Let them transform your backyard into an oasis.