The greatest amount of time you will invest in the maintenance of your lawn will be spent mowing. Whether it's just another chore or a way to spend a pleasurable, sunny afternoon, mowing your lawn at the right height will result in an appealing look for your home and will help keep your grass growing at peak performance.
How often to mow depends on several factors. These include rainfall amounts, soil type, grass type, fertilization, and also how much time you have available for the task. Here are some general guidelines to help you establish the optimum mowing schedule for your lawn.
Types of Turf
Grasses are green living plants often grouped together as one entity called turf, which makes up a lawn. Turf may grow at different rates depending on grass type, climate and amount of shade. Some varieties grow better when cut higher while others prefer to remain a little closer to the soil. Knowing when your turf is actively growing will help you determine how often you need to mow to maintain the best height for a uniform lawn. Ideal height for some common types of grass grown in the United States are as follows:
|Ideal Mowing Height for Common Grasses|
|Bluegrass||2-2 1/2 inches|
|Bermuda grass||1-1 1/2 inches|
|Zoysia||3/4 - 1 inch|
|Buffalo grass||1-2 inches|
Cool season grasses
Fescues, bluegrass and ryegrasses are all cool season grasses that grow vigorously during the spring and fall and will need to be cut more often when rainfall amounts are usually higher. Mowing on the high side of the optimum height for your grass type during spring months can help to choke out broadleaf weeds. During the hottest months of summer, growth will slow and mowing will be needed less frequently.
Warm season grasses
Warm season grasses are found more often in southern and southwestern states with hot summers and mild winters. Zoysia, St. Augustine, Bermuda and Buffalo grasses grow most during the heat of summer but don't overwinter as well as cool season grasses. These types of grasses will require more frequent mowing when rainfall is often a daily occurrence.
Most grasses do best with lots of sun exposure. which makes it difficult to grow grass in heavy shade. Special mixes for shade are available at most outlets that sell grass seed, however germination is light dependent which makes it tough to keep a shade lawn looking good. As a general rule, cool season grasses fare better in these conditions. It may help to mow on the high side and less frequently in these areas. You might also consider planting a perennial flower bed or opting for a moss lawn under your tree canopy.
New lawn should be mowed just as you would an established lawn once it is actively growing. Mowing too soon can damage the new tender leaves, however it is perfectly fine to begin cutting new grass once it has exceeded the optimum height for its type.
The 1/3 Rule
When grass begins actively growing, the stems are located near the soil surface which protects them from the mower blades. Mowing your grass too low at this time can damage the stems and cause the grass to die.
Several months into the growth cycle, the blades will flower. The stem extends to accommodate new leaves that are starting to grow and roots begin to spread. At this point, you need to raise your mower cutting height to remove no more than one third to one-half of the new leaves. This will help you avoid a common lawn care mistake; mowing your turf too closely. Cutting the grass below optimum height restricts root development which can lead to weed infestation, disease, heat and drought damage and traffic injury.
If the grass grows too tall above recommended height, you should mow more often, taking only 1/3 of the new growth at a time. It may take several passes, with a few days rest period in between to allow the turf to recover, before you are able to return it to ideal growing height.
For example, let's say your lawn is made up of tall fescue, which should be kept to a height of 2 to 3 inches. If the grass is 5 inches tall and you want it to be 2 inches tall, raise the mower height to take off just 2 inches of top growth. Your lawn is now 3 inches tall. Wait several days, then set your mower back to a 2-inch mowing height to remove the extra inch. Your lawn is now back to its desired 2-inch height. You can set your mower for that height and resume regular cutting based on seasonal growth rate and climate.
How to Manage Grass Clippings
During peak growth, mowing can leave behind unsightly windrows or piles of wet clippings on your lawn surface. Mowing more frequently will help avoid this problem. You should trim your lawn when the grass has grown to about 30 percent to 50 percent above the height to which it was previously mowed. If your turf is maintained at a 2 inch height, mow again when the it reaches 3 inches. If the turf has grown to 5 inches in height, you will need to repeat mowing a couple of times, taking just a portion of the growth at each cutting. Taking off too much at once will only create more clippings which can shade the remaining grass and weaken it by removing too many active leaves. Short clippings will filter down between the remaining leaves and quickly decompose.