Lawn Mowing Tips

How to Get Started Cutting Grass: Help for Beginners

This Remington mower (image) runs on a battery. Stihl has come out with a better product.
Practicing sound safety policy and keeping your mower in good shape are two musts in lawn mowing. David Beaulieu

If you do not know how to mow a lawn, there is no need to be discouraged: it is never too late to learn. Lawn mowing does not take a lot of strength or expertise, and it is nice knowing you do not have to rely on someone else to do the job for you. You just need a good mower, some patience and a basic understanding of best practices.

How to Mow Your Lawn

  1. Buy or borrow equipment for lawn mowing: If the lawn is less than 500 square feet, consider a reel lawnmower. This still-relevant relic is less noisy than gas mowers and simpler to use than electric mowers (the cord is a nuisance when using the latter). For larger areas that need to be mown, a powered mower is faster, and its mulching options or grass catchers save time on clean up. Do not bother with a riding mower unless you have got at least an acre of lawn to care for. But I do advise looking into battery-powered units as an alternative to the typical mower. The battery-powered mower I review here is the best lawn mower that I have ever owned.
  1. Make sure the mower is in good condition: Before you begin lawn mowing, look for obstructions in the blade area, particularly if the mower was just purchased. Add a little oil to the moving parts if they feel tight. If the mower is over a year old, the blades may need to be sharpened, or your lawn will look ragged after you have mowed it. Ask your local hardware store or garden center to recommend a company that sharpens lawn mower blades if you are not comfortable trying it yourself. But it is easy to learn how to sharpen mower blades.
  2. Adjust wheel height: Generally, warm-season grasses, such as zoysia, are cut to a height of 1/2 inch to 1 inch, 2 inches at most. Cool-season grasses such as bluegrass and fescue thrive at a height of about 3 inches to 3 1/2 inches. So, as you can see, it is important to know what type of grass you grow. Cutting height can usually be adjusted by raising or lowering a mower's wheels. Look on the side of your lawn mower to find latches or switches that allow you to adjust the height of the wheels. For further tips (including how much of a grass blade to remove), see "What Is the Ideal Grass Mowing Height?
  1. For safety, clear objects and mark obstacles: It may seem to have little to do with learning how to mow a lawn, but this can actually be one of the most important tips to take away from this article. Before you begin lawn mowing, use a rake to pick up branches, loose stones, dog bones, small toys, bottles, cans, or other such objects. Why? Because anything that might get caught in the mower blades or fly out of the discharge chute is a hazard: such an object would be flying at up to 200 mph and could easily hurt you or someone else. While you are at it, mark surface pipes and half-buried rocks, so you will not run into them accidentally.
  1. Mow the lawn in a pattern: Proceed back and forth — not around and around in a spiral. See below under "Is There a Right and Wrong Way to Mow a Lawn?" where I expand upon this tip. Move at a brisk walking pace; if you go too slowly, grass will catch and clog the blades. Consider lawn mowing to be sort of a workout. Use a similar back-and-forth pattern if you are using a riding mower, proceeding in neat, even rows. To mow around a flower bed or tree, do two laps around the obstacle, first in one direction, then the other.
  2. Use the half-pass trick: Every pass, overlap the area you have already mowed by half the width of your mower. While this may seem like more work, it takes less time and energy, because the lawn-mowing movement is smoother (less grass to cut in each pass) and you will cut anything missed the first time. You will not have to go back later to trim up any rough or shaggy patches.
  3. Tidy up after lawn mowing: When you are finished, use a lawn rake to gather grass clippings (unless you own a mulching mower, in which case you should let the clippings work their way down through the grass and eventually act like a fertilizer). Clean the mower blades with water and squirt a little oil on the moving parts to prevent rust.
  1. Mow early and often: For the best possible lawn, mow early (in the morning, after dew has dried on grass) and as often as your grass requires. If you are looking for a schedule, owners of healthy (that is, vigorously growing) grass should expect to mow once a week on average (every two weeks will do, though, if you are busy). It is really better, however, to be guided by grass height (see above) than by a set schedule. 
  2. Mow "high": Like other perennial plants, grasses stay healthy when only a third of new growth is removed at any given time. So mow "high": that is, do not scalp your grass.

Is There a Right and Wrong Way to Mow a Lawn?

It may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, but there actually is, in fact, a right way and a wrong way to mow your lawn. You should alternate the direction in which you mow the lawn each mowing session.

By mowing the wrong way (in this regard), your grass will "get into a rut" (literally). That is, if your mower wheels pass over the same area in the same direction each time you mow, they will form small ruts over time.

Mowing the lawn the right way and switching mowing patterns also wisely avoids having the mower blade beating at the grass in the same direction every session, which discourages your grass from standing up straight (it is always being pressured to lean in one particular direction).

More Safety, Maintenance, and Lawn Mowing Tips

  1. Installing a mower strip around the perimeter of the lawn makes lawn mowing go much more smoothly. Learn how in my tutorial on how to install lawn edging.
  2. Consider tuning up your mower every spring.
  3. Safety first is lesson #1 in learning how to mow a lawn. Never allow children to play near you when you are lawn mowing: something might fly out of the discharge chute and strike someone. Nor should you take kids "along for the ride" on a riding mower.
  4. When lawn mowing a sloping area, always mow across the slope, not up and down, to prevent accidents. The exception to this is when you are using a riding lawnmower -– then you can mow up and down the slope (indeed, mowing straight across a hill with a riding lawnmower can result in its tipping over).
  5. Lawn mowing should be done when the grass is dry. You might slip on wet grass, and soggy clippings will clump and clog. Cutting damp grass also leaves it vulnerable to fungal diseases.
  6. If grass clogs the blades or discharge chute of a power mower and the engine starts to sputter, turn off the engine and make sure the blades have stopped rotating before carefully raising the mower to remove the debris.

Is "Better safe than sorry" your policy? It should be, regardless of the landscaping job that you are undertaking. You wouldn't want to get hurt needlessly (or harm someone else), would you? Then be smart and read more yard safety tips here.