KC Gardens

Mowing season has begun, so follow these tips to do it right for a lush lawn

Don’t rely on your mower setting to determine height. Worn wheels and other factors influence height. Mow a short stretch of grass and measure the cutting height with a ruler.
Don’t rely on your mower setting to determine height. Worn wheels and other factors influence height. Mow a short stretch of grass and measure the cutting height with a ruler. Johnson County K-State Research and Extension

Before waking the lawn mowers from their winter’s rest, here are a few mowing tips to start the season off right.

Remember: How you mow affects the overall quality of your lawn — more than watering, fertilizing or pest control. It’s the most important cultural practice for a healthy lawn.

Avoid scalping

Avoid the temptation to mow low to remove winter debris. It can result in a quicker green look, but it sets the lawn back.

Scalping stresses the turf as it can damage the crowns or grass growing points. Low mowing also removes debris that shades the soil.

Once sunlight reaches bare soil, dormant weeds such as crabgrass germinate, spreading through the lawn. Drop the mowing height no more than one notch for the first mow of the season.

Sharpen the blade

Would you shave with a dull blade? Mowing your lawn is just like shaving.

A clean, smooth cut is best. A dull mower blade rips the grass, shredding the tips. This results in a whitish, off-color appearance.

Sharpen the blade after every 10 hours of cutting time. The best approach may be to keep two blades — one on the mower and a sharp backup.

Mowing height

Kansas City lawns are a mix of cool season bluegrass and tall fescue. These grasses have an upright growth habit.

Home lawns are best mowed around 3 inches. This height is essential for providing the ample green, leafy tissue needed to produce energy for driving growth. This higher grass height also shades the lawn, cooling the soil in summer and increasing root growth.

Proper mowing height increases heat and drought tolerances as well. Mowing short stresses the grass when temperatures rise, sending it into dormancy or requiring more water.

Don’t rely on your mower setting to determine height. Worn wheels and other factors influence height. Mow a short stretch of grass and measure the cutting height with a ruler. You may be surprised. I know I was.

Mow frequently

Warm temperatures, ample water and spring fertilization results in rapid growth. Mowing frequency should not be based on the calendar but on your lawn’s growth rate.

The goal is to remove no more than one-third of the leaf blade. That means when cutting at 3 inches, mow the lawn when it reaches 4 1/2 inches.

The goal is to mow frequently, thus eliminating the need to catch clippings. Once dry, lawn clippings will filter into the canopy and break down. Letting the clippings fall not only saves times but naturally returns nutrients to the lawn. Clippings don’t spread disease or insects.

Be kind to water

Please don’t blow clippings into the street. Grass clippings on hard surfaces wash into storm sewers and drain to the closest body of water. There they release phosphorus and nitrogen as they decompose. The result is algae growth that looks unsightly and is costly to treat. Blow or sweep all clippings back into the lawn for a healthy water supply.

How you mow is under your control. Proper mowing is the first step to a lawn that is the envy of the neighborhood.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.

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