Practical Pointers on Grass Mowing

Anyone knows how to cut grass, right? Well, there's actually a lot more to it than just lopping the tops off the grass plants. Choosing the right time and the right equipment has a lot to do with how your lawn will look. For instance, using a dull mower blade will give your lawn a brown appearance. Read on to find out why.

The object of mowing is to keep the lawn neat without cutting away too much vital green grass leaf, the 'factory' that converts nutrients into energy. But it is the evenness of cut, not height, that is important for appearance. In fact, a low-clipped lawn may look shaggy quickly because of conspicuous weeds. Like most plants, most lawn grasses "tiller" or spread out shoots from the bottom when they are topped (mowed), resulting in a thicker and more luxurious lawn.

The proper height to cut depends mostly on the kind of grass. Bluegrass-fescue lawns are best cut at 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches, bentgrasses 1/2 to 1 inch. Some portion of green leaf should be left; brown stubble should not show after the lawn is cut. If you mow too close, especially with upright grasses such as bluegrass, your weed problems will increase. The more grass, the fewer weeds. The more shade on the ground the happier the grass roots will be, and you'll make it more difficult for the weed seeds to sprout.

Here on the north coast you will need to mow year-round. If you are located where cooler temperatures prevail, you should start mowing in spring as soon as the grass begins growing and continue as long as it makes significant growth in autumn. The time to mow is any time the grass has grown enough so that it has added about 50% to its usual mowing height. It is a mistake to let it get very tall and then scalp it; this "shocks" the lawn and disrupts its growth. Opportunistic weeds quickly move in to get the advantage. With bluegrass you might mow about every 4 or 5 days during the peak growing season in spring; then only every 10 or 12 days during summer - or not mow at all during drought.

Removing or Leaving Lawn Clippings

Should you pick up clippings?  Maybe. Clippings left to decay on the lawn return some fertility to the soil. With grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescue, which grow in an open manner, clippings can settle into the sod - and the easiest thing to do is to leave them. Trailing grasses such as bents and bermudas weave a dense layer of stems that can prevent clippings from reaching the ground, where decay occurs. With them it might be better to collect and remove clippings. If you think clippings look unsightly, collect or sweep them. The fertility lost can easily be replaced by a single feeding. Some people think clippings left on the lawn encourage disease. Others think that leaving them on improves the organic content of the soil. Since grass roots are constantly dying off and being replaced, they probably do a better job; that's why the Midwest prairie soil was so rich.

Leaving the grass clippings behind does not contribute to thatch problems. Thatch is caused by dead and decomposing grass roots and stems. Clippings break down quickly and are not generally a problem here on the coast.

Lawn Mowing Machines

Get a mower that is big enough for the job. Do not buy an insubstantial machine for economy. So much time is spent mowing the lawn that it is not a luxury to want good equipment. A mower that breaks down all the time, or is hard to start, or that will not adjust easily to the proper cutting height, can take all the fun out of your lawn life. Riding mowers are fun but more expensive.

Rotary mowers (that cut by a horizontally whirling blade) are generally a little more economical and more versatile; they are good for lawns that are mowed above 1 1/2 inches high. But they are more dangerous. Reel mowers (that cut with a "squirrel-cage" of blades brushing against a bed knife) do the neatest job on low-cut grasses such as bentgrass.

But no matter what kind of mower you use, maintain it properly and keep the blades sharp! A dull blade tears the grass, giving it a brown appearance when the torn cells die.