Sometimes, You Just Have to Mow . . .
It was my goal this year to set a personal record for lawn apathy. Last year, I mowed my lawn six times from May to November. In an effort to keep my carbon footprint at an absolute minimum, I was hoping for five this season.
After plenty of rain and a ridiculously early and warm spring, even I had to admit that it was time to cut the lawn on Mother’s Day. When the grass and some of the garden dandelions — no exaggeration — were taller than my daughters, I figured we risked losing children if I didn’t take action.
My mowing, mind you, isn’t like my neighbor’s technique. He has a crew come with three of those ride-on yellow Walker mowers. They move around his property in formation like fighter pilots and, when they’re done, the lawn looks as if it just received a military haircut. Not a single blade is left taller than an inch and a half and all the dismembered grass is vacuumed and discarded. Out of sight out of mind.
My neighbor will also water his lawn all summer, have three or four applications of weed ‘n feed applied, an wine like hell when the crabgrass seems to appear out of nowhere in late summer. “What did I do wrong?” he’ll ask, year after year.
Acknowledging that mowing is an essential part of keeping a decent lawn, it’s time to dust off the Do’s and Don’ts for proper grass cutting. Here are a few points to consider.
Blade Height — Lawns should be cut no lower than 3 inches in height until the onset of autumn. The only exceptions to this would be lawns containing a predominance of one of three species of grass: bentgrass, Bermudagrass or seashore paspalum. These three species can be mowed as low as one inch high. Allowing the grass to stay tall now will keep many weed seeds from germinating — especially those crabgrass seeds; keeping the lawn tall throughout the summer will keep the surface of the soil from drying out and reduce the need for watering.
Following the Rule of Thirds — No more than one-third of the grass plant should be cut at any one time. In other words, if the grass grows to an average height of 6 inches, it should be cut to no lower than 4 inches on its next mowing. After a 48-hour recovery period, the lawn can then be mowed again down to 3 inches.
If Your Lawn Gets Away From You — The top mowing height on most mowers is no higher than 4 inches, so what do you do if the lawn grows taller than 6 inches? I make sure no children are around and push down on the handlebar of the mower so the front tires lift into the air. This will generally allow the grass to remain at about 6 to 8 inches tall after the first pass of the mower. I also use a scythe on the areas of my lawn that I only mow once or twice a year. That’s one of the oldest — and most satisfying — grass-cutting tools on the planet.
Avoid Mowing When Wet — All precautions should be made to avoid mowing lawns during or just after rain, or when heavy dew is present.
Don’t Mow When No Rain is Predicted — If the long-range forecast calls for no appreciable rain and you do not have an irrigation system installed and in regular use, the lawn should not be mowed again until the day before substantial rain is predicted.
Blade Sharpening — Blades must be kept sharp at all times prior to mowing lawns. Sharpening every 8-12 hours of use is recommended.
Recycle Clippings (Three Bagging Exceptions) — In general, grass clippings should be “mulched” or recycled back onto the lawn to restore nutrients to the lawn. As such, mowers should be equipped with mulching blades. Any areas of heavy clumping of grass clippings should be spread out with a rake and, in some extreme cases, the grass clippings should be removed to a compost pile. Bagging attachments are recommended in three circumstances: 1) in spring, if leaves and other debris remain heavily distributed across the lawn; 2) in late spring when dandelions set seed; 3) in fall, when leaves are heavily distributed across the lawn. In all circumstances, materials gathered in mower bags should be recycled and composted.
Turf Tires — Any large mowing machines should be equipped with turf tires designed to spread the weight of the mower across a wide area.
Striping and Overlapping — For most attractive appearance, lawns are to be mowed in straight line patterns, with overlapping by an average of the tire width in each direction. Mowing one course around the perimeter of a lawn area prior to commencing the striping pattern. The direction of the striping should be changed on subsequent mowing, either in a perpendicular or diagonal direction. Clippings should not be “blown” into surrounding planting beds.
Proper Use of Line Trimmers — Learn the proper use of line trimmers to: 1) avoid harming trees and shrubs; 2) avoid harming fence posts, siding and other stationary items; 3) avoid scalping the lawn to lower than 3 inches.
Observe the Lawn for Changes — If you see noticeable changes occur such as weeds, discoloration, insect infestations or dying patches of grass, do your best to diagnose the problem — or consult an organic lawn care professional. The problem, mind you, may not be not enough fertilizer or water.