The Fine Art Of Mowing A Lawn

Date: 18 Jun 2024

Mowing is arguably the most underrated and overlooked aspect of good lawn care. Although the grass might be shorter when you’re done, there's more to it than that. How you mow, when you mow, and even what you do with the clippings can significantly impact your lawn’s performance.

Here are four common mowing mistakes to avoid:

  1. Cutting Too Short

Many lawn owners scalp their lawns, aiming for the look of a golf putting green or cutting it short to reduce the frequency of mowing.

Why That's Bad: Scalping increases the lawn's moisture and nutritional demands as the grass tries to recover from near decapitation. Shorter blades mean less chlorophyll, which grass needs to rebuild. Additionally, short grass allows the soil to dry out faster, which is problematic during droughts, and weeds can germinate more easily without taller grass blades obstructing them.

A Better Idea: Cut cool-season grasses to about 7.5 cm high, or at least higher than what you’ve been doing. You might find that evenness, not short height, makes a mown lawn look good. The belief that cutting short lengthens the time between cuts doesn’t hold up, as grass actually grows faster after being cut short to return to its genetic norm.

Two exceptions to the cut-high rule are before overseeding a lawn and towards the end of the season, when a shorter cut helps prevent moisture-related winter fungal problems.

  1. Not Cutting Often Enough

This often happens when people go away or try to cut down on mowing by letting the grass grow long, then cutting it way back.

Why That's Bad: Radical cuts are more stressful on grass than lighter cuts and require more energy for the grass to heal. Clumps of cut grass, if not removed, can smother the living grass underneath.

A Better Idea: Mow often enough so you’re never removing more than one-third of the blade length at a time. This may mean mowing twice a week or every four or five days during the rapid growth of mid-spring.

  1. Bagging the Clippings

Bagging mowers collect the clippings, which some people prefer for a “neat” appearance or because they think it prevents thatch.

Why That's Bad: Grass clippings don’t cause thatch buildups. More importantly, grass clippings are rich in nitrogen, minerals, and important trace nutrients. Letting them decay returns these nutrients to the soil instead of sending them into the waste stream.

A Better Idea: If you mow often enough, you’ll get small clippings that quickly disappear into the lawn, especially with a mulching mower. Researchers estimate that letting clippings decay can supply one-quarter to one-third of a lawn’s total nitrogen needs for the season, potentially saving you one fertilizer treatment a year. Decaying clippings also add organic matter to the soil.

  1. Cutting with Dull Blades

Few people keep their mower blades sharp. Some never sharpen them.

Why That's Bad: Dull blades make rough, ragged cuts that don’t heal as well as clean, sharp cuts, increasing the odds of disease. Ragged cuts result in bigger tip openings that turn brown and stand out more than sharp cuts, and those bigger openings cause the grass to lose more moisture, increasing drought stress in hot weather.

A Better Idea: Follow the user manuals for almost every mower, and sharpen your mower blades once every 25 mowing hours—or more. Aim for sharpening two or three times a season. Some people keep two mower blades so they always have one ready while the other is being sharpened. A bench grinder and/or a metal file can help you sharpen at home.

Six More Tips to Become an Accomplished Mower:

  1. Catching Up After a Break: If you fall behind in mowing, such as after a vacation or rainy spell, get back to the desired height by removing one-third of the blade height in two cuttings a few days apart rather than taking it all the way down in one go.

  2. Limit Raking: If you’re getting noticeable clumps, mow around the perimeter of the yard, always shooting the clippings inward. You’ll end up raking only one or two channels in the middle.

  3. Avoid Wet Grass: Don’t mow when the grass is wet. Clippings are more likely to mat and/or clog your mower, and it’s harder to make an even cut when mower wheels flatten wet grass blades. Also, you’re likely to compact the soil by walking or riding over it when it’s wet.

  4. Avoid Mowing Dormant Lawns: Don’t mow when the lawn is brown and dormant in a drought, even if you’re mainly mowing to get rid of weeds. Grass crowns become brittle in drought, and if you smash them with your feet or mower wheels, they may not recover.

  5. Vary the Route: You’ll get more even results by ensuring no particular areas keep getting pushed down while others are always cut off if you go the same route every time. You can even create ornamental patterns like sports fields by using a roller or cutting in a patterned direction. The color of the grass will look different depending on the direction it’s been mowed.

  6. Easier Turns: If you have to stop and turn a lot, even out those areas by cutting your beds at broader, gentler curves. Also, reduce mowing around or bumping into trees by creating wide mulched or planted beds around them and joining several trees together in one larger, gently curving bed.

For expert lawn care services, consider Lawn Rite, your local New Zealand professionals dedicated to maintaining beautiful lawns year-round.

The Fine Art Of Mowing A Lawn