How To Efficiently Mow Your Lawn
Having a healthy lawn requires proper irrigation and fertilization. After you have those two bases covered, mowing is the critical third component of owning a healthy and beautiful yard. Properly mowing your lawn will result in a more weed and disease resistant turf that makes efficient use of your precious irrigation and fertilizer applications. Let's cut to the chase.
What happens to the grass when you mow?
While it is a necessary and important chore in lawn maintenance, mowing temporarily compromises the health of your grass. Mowing briefly halts growth and stresses your yard while simultaneously stimulating dense growth below the cut which aids in building a thicker carpet of turf. Due to the stress mowing places on your lawn it is important to understand how often and how low you should mow.
Different grass species and varieties have varied ideal mowing heights. Most cool-season lawns contain some mixture of Kentucky Bluegrass, Ryegrass, and/or Fescue. These perform best between 2.5 and 3 inches. How much should you cut in a single mowing? Never cut off more than the top 1/3 of the grass blade otherwise you will cause unnecessary stress to the plants and stunt their development. If your lawn is at 3", set your mower deck to cut no lower than 2" and your lawn will rebound successfully and quickly.
Our advice is to stay on the higher end of the suggested range for your grass type as it provides better heat tolerance and helps crowd out unwanted weeds. This is especially true during summer when the additional shade of a taller turf canopy will slow down daytime evaporation of moisture and make more efficient use of your irrigation.
How often should you mow?
Mowing, like irrigation, is not something you can just set a hard and fast schedule for. Cool-season lawns grow at different rates over the course of the growing season so you need to pay attention to a few keys before you fire up your mower. During the spring and fall your grass will grow faster so you'll need to mow more often than in the summer (plus the weather is nicer). Wait until your grass gets above the ideal height (typically ~3") and then set your mower deck to remove the top 1/3 of the grass blades. If your lawn gets away from you and shoots up well past the ideal height, raise your deck and follow the 1/3 rule then come back a few days after your initial cut with a lower deck to work the height back into the ideal range.
What if you cut too low?
Say you forget to adjust your mower deck and give your lawn a good buzz cut. A consistent irrigation and quality fertilization schedule will provide your lawn with the proper nutrition to bounce back from the stress of a too-low cut. If you happen to go too low, water deeply the next morning and slightly increase your irrigation over the next week or two and your lawn will recover healthy and strong.
Mulch or bag?
You might be surprised at the passions this age old question evokes in lawn aficionados. There's plenty of room for personal preference here, many people would rather have the clippings removed or choose to use them as garden mulch. The official Sward Yard™ position on the question of mulching vs. bagging is to mulch the clippings and leave them on the lawn. This allows the nutrients from the cut grass to return to the soil and provides a supplemental feeding for your lawn. Over the course of a season this can result in as much as a 25% increase in nitrogen which makes more efficient use of your fertilizer applications. The clippings provide additional shade over the soil which will enable your yard to retain more moisture.
Make sure you don't leave large clumps that smother your grass and prevents sunlight from reaching the grass blades. It may be necessary to make a couple of additional passes with the mower to chop and disperse the clippings.
Mowing quick tips:
Keep a sharp blade - this ensures a clean cut that slices rather than tears the grass blades. Your grass will have a sharper look to it and it reduces pathways for disease and pests.
Mow when grass is dry. Mowing wet grass results in clumps on your lawn and your mower blade which causes an uneven cut. Plus anyone that has mowed a wet lawn knows it is a lot more work and much more taxing on your mower.
Change up your mowing direction from one cut to the next. This prevents ruts from forming and keeps the grass growing straight up. If you repeat the same direction for a full season your grass will adapt and start to lean over.
The best time of day to mow is in the evening, especially in summer. Your lawn will be dealing with stress from the daytime heat and can still have moisture from overnight dew if you try to mow in the mornings. During hot spells morning might be your ideal mowing time as it will be dry enough to mow, especially if it is still too hot in the evenings.