4 Simple Mowing Tips that can take your Lawn from “oh no” to “Whoa!”
Mowing my grass down super short means it takes longer for it to annoy my neighbors – and I have to mow less often! It’s a good plan…right?
It may not be! Grasses have their quirks and preferences just like any other plant in your landscape. Taking the time to ID your turf will help you to determine what its ideal growing conditions are so you can create an efficient, effective mowing plan for managing your grass to keep your lawn looking it’s best all year long.
Cool Season vs. Warm Season Grasses
Turf grasses tend to fall into one of 2 broad categories, which loosely group different grasses based on the temperatures they perform best under. The first, warm season grasses, thrive in mid summer’s heat with optimal growth occurring between 80F-95F. Homeowners with established lawns of warm season grasses will do most of their mowing during the hottest days of summer. The second, cool season grasses, perform best during the cooler spring and late fall temperatures (60F-75F). Homeowners with established lawns of cool season grasses will find themselves mowing more often during spring and late fall, and may see their lawns go dormant during the mid-summer heat. Dormancy is a normal response to extreme heat, during which it’s common to see browning occurring throughout the lawn. Southern Illinois and southern Missouri are both blessed and cursed to live in a transitional zone – with summers too hot for cool weather grasses but springs too cool for their warm season alternatives, homeowners often find themselves working with a blend of the two to keep lawns green all year long.
Best Mowing Practices for a Healthy Lawn
Taking the time now to determine what type of grass you have, and then mowing regularly to maintain it at its ideal height can save you time, money, and frustration later on by preventing (most) problems before they start. Here’s a few easy tips to get you started!
- To avoid shocking or stressing out your lawn, try not to remove more than 1/3 of the height at a time. In the Midwest, that typically means you’ll mow most in spring and late summer if you have a cool season grass (like Fescue), as lawns tend to go dormant during hot midsummer temps. Conversely, warm season grasses are dormant during spring and fall but grow rapidly in the heat of summer.
- Dull blades do make a difference. Instead of creating a clean cut, dull blades tear the turf instead, creating a ragged appearance and an opportunity for excessive water loss – meaning you’ll water more in your efforts to keep it green.
- Avoid mowing when grass is wet. Mowers running over wet ground tend to leave unsightly ruts that may develop into ankle-twisting opportunities. Wet grass also tends to clump and clog up the mower deck.
- Alternate your mowing path to prevent wear patterns forming in the lawn.
I love the buzz cut look! Why is that such a problem?
The buzz cut may be a functional fact of life in the Marines, but it’s anything but when it comes to your lawn. Here’s 3 big reasons to rethink the buzz:
- Weed Suppression. In a healthy lawn that’s kept at the right height, the thick density of grass blades and roots act as a natural barrier that prevents most weeds from taking root and thriving in your lawn. Simply put, they can’t compete! When homeowners buzz cut their turf they lose that barrier both above and below ground. Above ground, the lack of grass blades allows more sunlight and weed seeds to reach the soil surface, creating ideal conditions for weeds to germinate. Below ground, turf roots stop growing and spreading as they focus on re-growing the blades of grass, resulting in less competition for weed roots.
- Turf Stress. Another side effect of too short grass is that it’s more prone to environmental damage from extreme heat or drought. In a healthy lawn, these stressors would trigger the grass to go dormant, sending all available energy into the root system to keep the grass alive (even as the leaf blades look dead!) until better weather returns. Stressed turf has fewer energy reserves to rely on – and you’ll see the difference.
- Prone to Diseases. In the same way that people who are run down and exhausted have a higher chance of getting sick, grass that is stressed from being mown too short is more prone to developing diseases that may leave it unattractive, sparse, or dead without expensive intervention. To learn more about turf diseases, visit the University of Missouri’s Extension page: Identification and Management of Turfgrass Diseases.
If you really love the buzz cut, you may want to consider seeding your lawn with the warm season Bermudagrass as it’s ideal height is an inch or less, even during the hottest days of summer.
At the end of the day, grass is a plant – just like the trees, flowers, and rose bushes growing in your garden, and it needs the same thoughtful treatment you’d provide any of the others to keep it looking and performing its best!