Ask a Master Gardener: Proper mowing improves lawn’s appearance

Set your mower higher for a healthier, better looking lawn, and make sure to sharpen the mower blades each spring.

(Posted April 1, 2021)

Proper mowing practices are a critical part of a healthy lawn. The length at which grass is mowed is the most important part of mowing. When a lawn is mowed too short, the grass thins out, and during the dry days of summer, it will quickly brown out with decreased chances of recovery.

Current best practice is to set your mower for a minimum of three inches in height. Three-and-a-half or four inches is even better. By doing this, you will need to mow less frequently. Oftentimes, with a very short lawn, it is not the grass but the invasive weeds that grow faster and need mowing sooner.

By mowing the grass as high as possible, the increase in surface area for each grass blade promotes increased photosynthesis. This provides energy to the roots which enlarge and, in turn, can then provide more nutrients to the green blade. It is a very nearly perfect cycle rudely interrupted by the occasional mowing and the subsequent decrease in surface area.

A lovely plus to the higher grass is the resulting reduction in weed growth. Because the lawn is taller and thicker, the weed seeds are now more effectively shaded and less inclined to sprout. Also, the thicker, healthier tangle of roots under the surface will prevent some of the seeds that do sprout from gaining a foothold. Your lawn will look greener and healthier, and have fewer weeds, just by mowing higher.

In addition to allowing the grass to grow longer, it is also very important to sharpen the cutting edges of your mower blades. Dull blades will leave a ragged, frayed edge on the grass. The grass will have a lot of work to do sealing off those open surfaces and injuries. The increased surface area of a ragged cut also will provide more opportunity for bacteria, fungi or viral agents to invade and cause disease in your lawn. A sharp blade will provide a cleaner cut so the grass can more easily repair the injury and get back to normal function more quickly.

Sharpen the mower blades in the spring before that first mowing event. It’s a DYI job if you’re handy and, if not, garden shops can do it for you. If you have extensive lawns, those mower blades will need sharpening again mid-season.

Improved mowing practices are such an easy way to help your yard look better. Your lawn will reward you for your efforts.

This column is written by the Madison County Master Gardeners. Watch for details about their new Ask A Master Gardener Help Line, coming soon.

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