Are you tired of faddish lawn care advice that over-promises but under-delivers that amazing, professional-looking lawn?
In this article, we’re getting back to basics with time-tested, easy-to-follow mowing advice. These tips may not make your lawn look like 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue overnight, but they’ve been used by generations of homeowners to help their lawns become stronger one season at a time.
Start with a sharp blade
Chefs say that a sharp knife is safer than a dull one, and the same is true for your lawn mower blade. A sharp mower blade will cut, but a dull blade will tear or rip. One blade of ripped grass may not make much of a difference in your lawn, but multiply that times the thousands of grass blades in your lawn, and a sharp mowing blade becomes an important part of your lawn care.
A torn or ripped grass blade can make your grass susceptible to fungal disease in wet weather and excessive transpiration (water loss through the leaves) in dry, hot weather. During the warmer months, the grass blade tips dry out more quickly and can turn whitish or hay-colored due to the amount of dried, torn surface area. In addition, your lawn will be less able to withstand drought stress during the hot months.
Certain grass varieties like Zoysia will wear down a home mower blade in as little as one month. Check your grass blades after each mow. If they start to look ragged, it’s time to sharpen your blade.
Pro Tip: One more reason to keep your mower blades sharp is that you can mow at a slightly faster pace while still maintaining a high-quality cut.
Time your mowing
For most homeowners, the best time of day is whenever they have the time. A few general rules can help you make the most of the time you have:
- Mow when it’s dry.
- Don’t mow during the hottest hours of the day (you and the mower will suffer).
Mid-morning, as long as the grass is dry, and late afternoon or early evening, after the hottest part of the day is over, are the best times.
Change your mowing pattern
Variety is the spice of life, right? Well, your lawn loves it, too. In short, changing your mowing pattern is one of those “best practices” for your lawn.
Mowing in different directions won’t create the dramatic stripes you see on baseball fields; that requires a roller kit to push the grass in the direction you mow.
Alternating your mowing pattern will prevent soil compaction (from mowing in the same direction) and prevent the grass blades from leaning over in a particular direction. (This is called “grain” in the lawn care industry.)
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
Mowing in a different direction each week is a simple mowing practice that encourages stronger growth, less soil compaction, and a healthier lawn.
Mow when it’s dry
Think of it this way, if you had a choice, would you rather mow when it’s wet or dry? We bet you said “dry.” 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 looks 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
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.
Leave your clippings
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, but the most important reason is that it will give you a healthier lawn over the long haul.
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:
✓ Mulched grass clippings provide the equivalent of one free fertilizer treatment per year.
✓ Saves you time as you mow (no emptying the mower bag)
✓ Saves you money (no disposal fees)
✓ Better for the environment (grass clippings don’t end up in the landfill)
✓ Reduces erosion (soil stays in the same place)
There are a few instances when it’s better to bag:
- Fungus: If you have a fungus on the lawn, bag the clippings to avoid spreading the fungus 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.
Before you think about how tall your grass should be cut, remember the One-Third Rule of Mowing. This rule states that you should never remove more than one-third of the grass blade per mow. Taking off more than this puts undue stress on the grass. Simple, right?
Now let’s talk about height. Mowing at the proper height is very important. Every grass has a particular height at which it prefers to be cut. Recommended cutting heights are based on shoot density, internode length, and blade width.
Here are height recommendations for warm-season and cool-season grasses:
|Grass Name||Grass Type||Best Height |
|Fine fescues*||Cool Season||2.5-3 inches|
|Kentucky bluegrass||Cool Season||2.5-3.5 inches|
|Perennial ryegrass||Cool Season||1.5-2.5 inches|
|Tall Fescue||Cool Season||3-4 inches|
|Bahia||Warm Season||3-4 inches|
|Common bermudagrass||Warm Season||1-2 inches|
|Centipede||Warm Season||1-2 inches|
|Hybrid bermuda||Warm Season||1-1 ½ inches|
|St. Augustine||Warm Season||2-3 inches|
|Zoysia||Warm Season||1-2 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.
Seasonal differences also apply. For example, the University of Georgia (see Lawn Calendars) recommends that you increase the cutting height ½ inch in hot weather.
Taller mowing heights help strengthen the grass during times of heat stress. Here are a few ways taller mowing heights benefit your lawn in the warmer months:
- Taller blades shade the grass crowns
- More leaf area, which means it can produce food for itself at a faster rate
- 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
In areas with cold winters, cut the lawn at the lowest mower setting before you put the mower away for the winter. This will prevent the grass from folding over and trapping moisture — prime conditions for fungal growth. (Note: If the lawn is too tall, take down the height over several mowings: Remember, no more than ⅓ of the blade per mow.)
Remember, cutting at the right height 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. A lawn cut too low also can leave the grass unable to deal with common stresses like heat, foot traffic, and drought, not to mention greater weed pressure.
Repeat as needed
How often should you mow? When your grass increases by ⅓ of its height. Here’s a handy chart to help you based on the type of grass in your lawn.
|Grass Name||Best Height |
|Mow Grass |
At This Height
|Fine fescues||2.5-3 inches||3.25-4 inches|
|Kentucky bluegrass||2.5-3.5 inches||3.25-4.5 inches|
|Perennial ryegrass||1.5-2.5 inches||2-3.25 inches|
|Tall Fescue||3-4 inches||4-5.25 inches|
|Bahia||3-4 inches||4-5.25 inches|
|Common bermuda grass||1-2 inches||1.25-2.5 inches|
|Centipede||1-2 inches||1.25-2.5 inches|
|Hybrid bermuda||1-1 ½ inches||1.25-2 inches|
|St. Augustine||2-3 inches||2.5-4 inches|
|Zoysia||1-2 inches||1.25-2.5 inches|
If you’re unsure whether you should mow on the tall or short side of the range, err on the side of longer grass. There is a direct relationship between blade length and root system depth: Taller mowing (within range) increases the root depth; shorter mowing reduces the root depth.
Raise the mower height by ½ inch during the hottest time of the growing season, and increase by ½ to 1 inch if you are mowing in the shade.
Finish with a flourish
No mowing session is complete without edging the lawn. To get a straight edge on the lawn takes practice, but here are a few tips to achieve a professional finish:
✓ 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 counter-clockwise. This will prevent excess drag on the machine.
✓ If you already have an established edge between a paved surface and the lawn, a string trimmer works fine. If you need to establish an edge, use an edger to cut through the tough grass.
Don’t forget to bring out the blower to blow the clippings back into the lawn when you’re done.
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. (Most say to wait at least three weeks.) Grass doesn’t grow by calendar dates, though, so before you get out the mower, test for root development:
—Tug test: Pull up on several sections of the sod after two weeks. If the sod pulls up easily, you don’t have good root development yet. If the sod feels rooted to the ground, root development is coming along.
Let the new sod grow one-third higher than the mowing height before you mow. In other words, once the roots are established, you can treat it as you would an established lawn. If you prefer to mow on the lower side, let the grass grow to the high side of its range before the first mow. Then bring it down gradually.
A seeded lawn will take much longer before your first mow, up to two months. (Sod, sprigs, and plugs won’t take quite as long — three to six weeks.) Treat it as you would an established lawn: Mow when it reaches one-third higher than the recommended mowing height.
Follow the other lawn tips like not mowing when it’s wet and using a sharp mower blade. This will ensure you don’t pull the new grass roots from the soil but give them a nice clean cut.
As early in the day as possible. You can start the sprinklers before the sun comes up but finish watering no later than 10 a.m. This gives the lawn ample time to dry out and prevents evaporation.
Effective weed control requires a multi-pronged approach, but mowing can reduce or weaken some weeds. Lower-growing weeds aren’t tall enough, but taller weeds can be taken down with your weekly mow. Mowing taller weeds also will prevent seed heads from developing and seeding new generations in your lawn.
If you’re new to the world of lawn care, contact one of our lawn care professionals. They know how to implement time-tested, basic tips and tricks to get your lawn on the road to a healthier, greener future.
Main Photo Credit: Photo Mix | Pixabay