Soon our lawn mowers will be waking up from their winter slumber. The coming of spring means consistently warmer temperatures and the greening of the grass. Neighborhoods will be filled with the sounds of roaring engines. But before you make that first cut, here are a few pointers to help get the season started off on the right foot.
Mowing the lawn short at the start of the season seems like a really good idea. Mowing low will cut away the winter dead and pick up all the leaves, leading to a spring green. But is mowing short really a good practice?
Mowing low in the very early spring or late winter does remove the winter layer of debris. Mowing low also removes much of the debris that is shading the soil.
You may ask what’s wrong with that. The problem is low mowing exposes the soil to more sunlight, which will result in more weed seed germination. Simply put, low mowing or scalping the turf results in more summer weeds.
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Not sold yet on why you should not mow low in the spring? Here’s another reason: It damages the crowns of the plants, resulting in slowed recovery and poor spring growth.
The crown, or growing point of the grass, needs some protection and new spring growth to help conduct photosynthesis. This ability to produce new growth creates the green up for the entire summer, not just in spring.
Exposing the crowns by scalping the lawn creates another potential problem. If we get a harsh cold spell, the grass has lost its blanket of protection, leading to crown injury and slow recovery.
So what do you do? Extension recommends simply dropping the mowing height one notch. Last fall the lawn should have been mowed at about 3 inches. So drop it a notch, around 2 1/2 inches.
Even this slightly lower cut will remove the dead brown grass, suck up leaves and prepare the lawn for spring. What it also does is leave a thin layer of thatch, decreasing the amount of sunlight that reaches the soil. Less sunlight is the best method for preventing weed growth, and mowing at the correct height and frequency is the first and best step to a healthy lawn.
Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with the Kansas State University Research and Extension. To get your gardening questions answered on The Star's KC Gardens blog by university extension experts, go to KCGardens.KansasCity.com.