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How To Mow A Lawn: Tips & Tricks

Posted by Bridget Bellocq on April 16, 2020
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Learn how to properly mow your lawn for great results.

Step 1 – Set Your Mower High
Step 2 – Mow a Dry Lawn
Step 3 – Vary Your Mowing Pattern
Step 4 – Don’t Mow on a Schedule
Step 5 – Wait Before Mowing a New Lawn
Step 6 – Leave Grass Clippings on Your Lawn
Step 7 – Keep Your Mower Blade Sharp
Step 8 – Heed These Helpful Lawn Care Reminders

Mowing is an effective way to promote growth and keep your lawn looking great. It’s important, though, to make sure you’re mowing properly, as it can either help or hurt your lawn depending on how it is done. Many problems with lawns are caused, simply, by poor mowing practices — mowing too short, mowing with dull blades, mowing infrequently, or cutting too much at once.

Want to be on the cutting edge of mowing your lawn properly? Follow these simple rules to get it right.

1. Set Your Mower High

Set your mower at the highest preferred setting for your grass type and only cut the top 1/3 of the grass blades at any one time, even if this means you have to mow again after several days. This is because longer grass blades can grow and support more roots and develop a deeper root system that is better able to find water and nutrients in the soil. Cutting t aggressively, also called “scalping the lawn,” forces grass plants to focus their energy on regrowing their blades, not deepening their roots. Scalping the lawn also makes your lawn more prone to weeds. Taller grass blades shade the soil and keep it cooler, helping prevent weed seeds from sprouting. Plus, there are lifestyle benefits: Taller grass is softer to walk on and helps cushion falls better than short grass.

It’s worth noting, however, that while most grass types respond best to having the mower set to the one of the highest settings, Zoysiagrass and Centipedegrass prefer a middle mower setting, while Bermudagrass and creeping bentgrass thrive a one of the lowest mower settings.

2. Mow A Dry Lawn

The best time of day to mow a lawn is in the early evening. Mowing at the peak of day, when temperatures are highest, stresses both the lawn and the mower. If you wait until the early evening, the lawn is usually dry (unless it has rained during the day), the sun is not as intense, and the lawn will have ample time to recover before the next afternoon’s heat arrives. Even if it hasn’t rained, lawns are usually wet in the morning because of moisture from dew or fog. If it does rain, wait for your lawn to dry before mowing, as cutting wet grass can result in an uneven trim. Wet clippings can also clog your mower and cause it to dump clumps of grass on your lawn; if they aren’t raked up, they can smother the growing grass and result in brown spots.

3. Vary Your Mowing Pattern

Each time you mow, do it in a different direction. If you always cut your lawn using the same pattern, your grass learns which direction it’s being cut from and begins to lean in the direction you mow. By varying the mowing pattern, you help avoid forming ruts in the lawn. Plus, grass will stand up nice and tall since it will be mowed from all different directions.

4. Don’t Mow On A Schedule

Mow as often as needed for your grass type, growing conditions, growth pattern, and season. Sticking to a schedule, like every Saturday, doesn’t allow your lawn to be mowed when it actually needs it. When grass is actively growing in the spring, for example, it needs to be mowed more frequently (perhaps as much as twice a week), but when growth slows during the heat of summer or at the end of the growing season, your lawn may only need to be mowed once every week or two. Of course, as long as the grass isn’t too tall or the mower blade isn’t set too low, your lawn can be mowed as many times as you want — the lawn just doesn’t need it.

5. Wait Before Mowing A New Lawn

After spreading grass seed, it’s best to wait for your new grass to get off to a great start before mowing. New grass seedlings can be cut for the first time when they’ve reached mowing height, which varies by grass type. No matter what type of grass you have, do not cut more than the top ⅓ of the grass blades. A dramatic cutting can shock and stress new grass plants, slowing down the growth of your new lawn.

Here’s how tall your grass should be before you mow for the first time:

Bahia: 2-2 ½ inches
Bermuda: 1½-2 inches
Bluegrass: 2-2½ inches
Centipede: 1½-2 inches
Fescue: 2-3 inches
Perennial Ryegrass: 2-3 inches
Zoysia: 1-2 inches

When mowing a new lawn from sod, not seed, wait 2 to 3 weeks before mowing to give the sod a chance to root into the soil. To test if it’s ready to mow, back off on watering and walk on the turf; if it’s firm enough to walk on, it’s good to mow. (You can also gently pull up on the sod to check whether or not it has rooted.) Don’t cut the grass shorter than 2 inches for the first few times. Be very careful while you mow so you don’t pull up any sod (if a section gets moved around, just put it back in place).

If you’re not sure what type of grass you have, check out our Grass Type Identifier article, which will help you identify your grass based on ZIP code and region.

6. Leave Grass Clippings On Your Lawn

When mowing, leave the clippings on the lawn. Grass clippings break down quickly and return beneficial nutrients to the soil. Mow often enough so too much isn’t removed at once and clippings are small. Removing too much of the grass blade shocks the grass and leaves piles of long clippings on the lawn that do not break down quickly and can smother growing grass.

Hint: If you do bag clippings, toss them in the garden as mulch or compost them, but only if you haven’t used any lawn weed control products.

7. Keep Your Mower Blade Sharp

For the cleanest cut, sharpen mower blades at the first sign of wear. Dull blades tear up grass, causing ragged, brown edges. Continually using a dull mower blade can also cause your grass to weaken over time, making it more susceptible to disease, insect damage, and other stresses (like heat and drought). A mower tune-up and blade sharpening once a year helps in many ways: Your mower will start easier, make cleaner cuts, and slice your clippings without bogging down the mower blades. Also, remember to wash your mower after each use, to help prevent any blockages within the mower itself.

8. Heed These Helpful Lawn Care Reminders

  • When using a push mower, always push in a forward direction.
  • Be sure to wear closed-toe shoes, not sandals or flip-flops.
  • Keep an eye out for pets and children, especially if you have a loud mower.
  • Wear sunglasses or some other eye-covering to protect your eyes from any debris that might shoot up while you mow.
  • When mowing on a slope, move side to side instead of up and down the slope to reduce the risk of injury from slipping.

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