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Johnson County

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Johnson County
11811 S. Sunset Drive
Suite 1500
Olathe, KS 66061

(913) 715-7000
(913) 715-7005 fax
jo@listserv.ksu.edu

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Mowing the Lawn

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For some it is a chore. For others it is a few minutes to escape from the rat race of life. I'm talking about the art of mowing your lawn. Most may not give mowing much more than a passing thought, but for the lawn, it is the most important cultural practice.

Proper mowing technique
How we mow has a greater influence on the health of the lawn than

  • watering,
  • fertilizing, or
  • weed and pest control.

In fact, improper mowing can lead to a number of ongoing problems. Proper mowing is the cultural practice most under our control.

Mowing height
The first consideration is mowing height. Mowing too short places the greatest stress on the turf. Mowing too low causes the lawn to thin out and suffer more during summer with heat and drought stress. Mowing too tall reduces the visual quality of the grass. Tall fescue and bluegrass are best mowed at 3 inches in the average home lawn throughout the season.

This higher height increases the amount of grass blades on the plants. The blades are important as they collect sunlight to make food for the plants. The extra height helps to shade the soil, keeping it cooler during the hot summer thereby helping to conserve moisture and promote root development. Overall, the effects of summer drought are lessened when mowed at the recommended height. This also helps to conserve water.

Mowing frequency
The second important consideration is the frequency of mowing. Research recommends following the one-third rule. That rule is to remove only one-third of the leaf blade at any one mowing. For instance, when mowing at 3 inches, the lawn should be mowed when it reaches 4½ inches.How often we mow should be based on the turf growth rate, not a calendar. In our hectic lives it is hard to do, but it should be a goal. During times of rapid growth in spring and fall, the lawn may need mowing two to three times a week. Summer heat may stop mowing altogether depending on moisture. Mowing does injure the grass and the one-third mowing rule minimizes the damage for quick recovery.

Grass clippings: let 'em lie
The most important advantage of this rule is clippings. By removing no more than one third of the blades, grass clippings will never need to be removed. In fact, in most cases clippings should be left on the lawn. Grass clippings return about one-fourth of nutrients applied to the lawn, recycling valuable nitrogen. Grass clippings filter down to the soil level where they compost. Without bagging, most people can reduce the mowing time by about a third. Letting the clippings fall also solves the problem of disposal and filling up valuable landfill space.

Keep the blades sharp
Lastly, keep the blade sharp. A dull blade rips the grass blades, greatly increasing injury to the turf and escalating the likelihood of drought, stress and disease. Sharpen or replace the blades as needed.

If you are one of those that take mowing for granted, maybe it is time to learn a little more about this important practice.

K-State Research and Extension Johnson County Master Gardener logo

Have questions? The Garden Hotline is staffed by trained EMG volunteers and Extension staff who will assist you with questions.

Phone: (913) 715-7050

Email: garden.help@jocogov.org