The Biggest Lawn Care Mistake

It's widespread and the solution is a simple mower adjustment.

photo © flickr user jemsweb84

A quick drive through almost any neighborhood with cool season lawn grasses quickly reveals the biggest lawn care mistake known to man - you are mowing too short! Do you drive home from work and constantly check out people’s lawns, critiquing and taking mental notes on every lawn you see? Who is responsible for those lawns that are mowed too short and scalped to the point of turf damage? Unfortunately, it is the stressed, scalped lawns that you see a lot more of.

Why Grass Gets Cut Too Short

How goes it get to the point that the majority of the lawns in any given neighborhood are being mowed incorrectly? It's the culmination of several factors both in the lawn care industry and among homeowners. Mowing the lawn has always been seen as a necessary evil, often seen as punishment towards a teenager or at the very least a symbol of hard work when there is something better one could be doing. This attitude leads to the logic that mowing the grass extra short will somehow avoid or delay the inevitable task of mowing the lawn again. At the most, you can go an extra few days without mowing but the cost to the grass is significant and not worth the avoidance of sticking to a lawn care routine.

People see highly manicured turf on TV and justifiably want it for their lawn. It's only grass, after all, mow it short, keep it green and stripe it like Fenway Park right?

Well not really. Highly manicured turf is mowed with specialized reel mowers and protected from stress with a dizzying array of chemical fungicides, herbicides, fertilizers and other products rarely seen by homeowners. Not to mention a computerized irrigation system and a caretaker and staff with more college degrees than one would believe.

To be frank, many homeowners have unrealistic expectations when it comes to how their lawns should look.

Why Is It Bad to Cut the Grass Too Short?

I understand why the short look is desirable. It is very aesthetically pleasing to see a dense turf mowed to around two inches or less, it truly looks like a golf course or other fine turf. The trouble is in the stress these heights put on the turf. A shorter lawn means less leaf blade on the plant, the less leaf blade, the less photosynthesis that can occur which means less shoot and root growth.

When the lawn is mowed so low that the turf is scalped and the crown of the plant is injured, it opens itself up for a host of problems. As the plant puts all it's energy into recovering from the crown damage, it opens up a weakness in the lawn, increasing the pressure from weeds, insects, and diseases. It is not uncommon for these short lawns to be struggling against weed invasions and grub infestations for an entire season. These conditions favor the never ending cycle of relying on herbicides and other pesticides to deal with problems that occur season after season. The multibillion-dollar lawn care industry is only too happy to play along with the notion that insecticides and herbicides must be applied religiously every season.

Mowing Solutions

Mow the lawn as high as possible. It's that simple. Set the wheels as high as you are willing to go, 3-3 1/2 inches is a great height. Mowing the lawn at this height, once a week (or less during heat and drought stress), will ease the stress to the plant and result in an overall healthier lawn. Using a mulching lawn mower is even better. Returning the clippings to the lawn saves work and provides another source of organic matter to the lawn.

A longer lawn means more leaf blade, this provides numerous benefits. More leaf blade means more photosynthesis which results in stronger, more prolific root and shoot growth, meaning the plant can greater withstand stresses like drought, insect infestation, and heat. It also creates a denser turf, able to crowd out weeds and providing a lawn that is arguably as attractive as a cropped, yet unhealthy, lawn.

A lawn can be patchy, thin, and relatively uncared for, but when mowed high, looks just fine out the window or from the road.

The Weed-n-Feed connection

Weeds are a messenger and their presence should not mean "get out the chemicals" like weed-n-feed. Addressing the underlying problem is the key to controlling weeds and in many cases, it is as simple as mowing the lawn a little higher. Try it.