Biggest Lawn-Care Mistake Is Cutting Grass Too Short
Kelly Burke is a professional turf manager who is accredited in organic land care and a licensed pesticide applicator.
A quick drive through almost any neighborhood where the lawns are planted with cool-season turfgrasses quickly reveals the biggest lawn care mistake known to man—mowing the grass too short! When you understand the effects of this kind of mowing, you’ll never look at lawns the same way again.
One reason that people cut their lawns so short is a misguided effort to reduce chores. By giving the lawn a crew-cut each time you mow, you might think you can mow every 10 days (for example) rather than every week.
When a Rival Dad Tries to Mow First
In reality, though, you’ll really only buy a few extra days between mowings with this strategy; in the long run, your lawn will pay a heavy price for your extra hour of free time, as you’ll see.
Another reason for the turfgrass crewcuts is an owner’s desire to make the lawn look like a manicured baseball field or golf green. Who doesn’t want a beautiful green lawn that is striped just like Fenway Park? Or a soft velvety lawn that looks like the 18th green at Augusta National golf course? In reality, these highly artificial lawns are achieved with specialized reel mowers and protected from stress with a dizzying array of chemical fungicides, herbicides, fertilizers, and other products rarely seen by homeowners. And they are kept green with a computerized irrigation system overseen by a caretaker and staff of turf professionals with college degrees.
Cutting your lawn grass short really won’t save you much on lawn chore time, and it’s not realistic to think that you’re going to achieve the picture-perfect lawn you dream of. In fact, you may well end up with an uglier, more labor-intensive lawn than if you cut the lawn to a proper length from the start.
The Effects of Cutting the Lawn Too Short
A lawn of dense turf grass shorn to a uniform one to two inches is a beautiful thing to behold—for a little while, anyway. The problem is that this kind of mowing puts an enormous amount of stress on the turf. Each blade of grass is a leaf, and with less leaf area, each grass plant has less surface area to provide the photosynthesis that fuels leaf and root development.
When the lawn is mowed very low, the actual crowns of the grass plants themselves can be injured by the lawnmower blade, and this opens up a host of cascading problems. As the plant puts all its energy into recovering from the crown damage, it opens up a weakness in the lawn, increasing the pressure from weeds, insects, and diseases. Once a lawn suffers widespread crown damage, it may struggle against weed invasions and grub infestations for the entire growing season. Even if the plant crowns aren’t physically damaged, the short grass offers little shade to the sensitive plant crowns, making the lawn susceptible to summer heat stress.
These conditions favor the never-ending cycle of using chemical herbicides and pesticides to deal with problems that occur season after season. The multi-billion-dollar lawn care industry is only too happy to play along with the notion that insecticides and herbicides must be applied religiously every season.
The solution is very easy. Mow the lawn as high as possible—as high as you can comfortably tolerate.
Most homeowners find that three to three-and-a-half inches is a good height, though it may take some time to become acclimated to a length that feels a little shaggy at first. Mowing the lawn to this height once a week (or less during heat and drought stress) will ease the stress to the plants and result in an overall healthier lawn. Using a mulching lawnmower is even better; returning the clippings to the lawn saves work and provides another source of organic matter to the lawn.
A longer lawn means more leaf blade, and this provides several benefits. leaf blade means more photosynthesis, which results in stronger, more prolific root and shoots growth. This, in turn, means the plant is better able to withstand stresses such as drought, insect infestation, and heat. Healthier individual turf plants lead to a denser lawn that will crowd out weeds. Longer grass also has the effect of hiding whatever patchy, thin areas do exist in the lawn.
Longer Grass Means Fewer Chemicals
All too many homeowners react to the presence of weeds assuming it’s necessary to get out the chemicals. This is a myth that lawn care services and chemical manufacturers are all too ready to perpetuate.
In reality, though, the reason for the weeds is very often a lawn that has been stressed by mowing it too short. The solution may be ingeniously simple: let the grass grow to a longer height and keep it there.
Once you have recognized that a longer lawn is healthier than a crew-cut lawn, be careful not to go to extremes by letting the grass grow to six or eight inches or more between mowings. Most lawn care experts recommend cutting no more than one-third of the total length of the grass blades each time you mow; trimming a smaller amount is even better. Very long grass is hard to mow effectively—the grass blades tend to tear rather than be sliced off cleanly by the lawnmower blade. Too many clippings can form a matt on your lawn that blocks sunlight from reaching the grass blades and mars the appearance of your lawn. And as anyone who has done it knows, mowing very long grass with a push mower takes a lot of effort.
If you have settled on a three-inch mowing height, for example, don’t let the grass get longer than four or four-and-a-half inches between mowings. Trimming frequently with a mulching mower to keep your lawn turf in the three-to-four-inch length range is a great prescription for a beautiful, healthy lawn.
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- What Is Photosynthesis. Smithsonian Science Education Center, 2017.
- Mowing Practices For Healthy Lawns. Extension.Umn.Edu, 2018, https://extension.umn.edu/lawncare/mowing-practices-healthy-lawns.
- Lawn Insect Management GuidelinesPests In Gardens And Landscapes. Ipm.Ucanr.Edu, 2014, http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7476.html.
The first grass cut: when should I mow?
You’ll never forget your first mow. That’s what they say – if you don’t do it properly!
When should I mow is a common question we often hear
You should allow your lawn to grow to a specific height before your first grass cut of the season. By doing so, you won’t damage it, and you won’t stunt its growth.
Allowing your grass seed to grow to the ideal height before mowing is essential to aid its future growth. Why? Because if you mow it too short, you might damage it, and it might take a long time to grow back properly.
For this reason, it’s crucial to know when your first grass cut of the year should be!
Everything else will be easier if you know your grass mixture’s first mowing height and its recommended cutting height. Mowing and grass-cutting are easy but remember not to mow your lawn if frost is forecast in the colder months and feeding your lawn with fertiliser will also boost its growth all year round.
What height should your lawns first grass cut be?
We recommend that the ideal height of your grass should be around 5 – 7cm before you cut it, and this goes for all our grass seed mixtures. This is simply because if the grass has reached this height, it is viable, growing well and can be cut. If it isn’t reaching this height, it either isn’t established, or something is stunting its growth.
5-7cm is the perfect height for your garden’s first mow
If your new lawn or overseeded lawn has reached the golden heights of 5-7cm then it’s time to give it its first mow. Set your lawn mower to the highest setting. The aim is to give the grass a trim and not cut too far down the grass blades.
Tidy up after cutting to enhance growth
Ensure to remove all the clippings after you have mown your lawn. If you leave them on a newly seeded lawn, you could contribute to thatch which would undo all your hard work. In addition, dead grass sitting dormant on top of your lawn stops much-needed sunlight from getting to your new grass.
Most grass types have different tolerances for mowing height
Now, going forward, your recommended mowing height will change. Different types of grass seeds have varying tolerances for how close they can be mowed.
For example, the fescues in our STATEMENT: Front Lawn mix will tolerate close mowing because they are of a finer-leafed variety, and close mowing helps to achieve the ornamental look that fescues are known for. The recommended mowing height for STATEMENT: Front Lawn is 10-20mm.
The recommended mowing height is 20-40mm for our ever-popular SUPERSTAR: Back Lawn. This height is double the recommended mowing height for STATEMENT: Front Lawn. Whilst this doesn’t entirely mean that the mix won’t withstand closer mowing, it shows that it is not intended for an ornamental lawn. But likewise, it will perform well at a slightly higher height.
We have recommended mowing heights for all our grass seed mixes which can be easily found in the ‘Usage guide’ tab of each of our products (see the example below). And if you haven’t got a ruler handy, each of our grass seed mixtures comes with an instructional card that already has a ruler on it!
The links to the guides on this usage guide page can be found below for your convenience:
So contrary to popular belief, the first grass cut isn’t the deepest; it might just be the easiest!
However, if you have any questions on this, or maybe even a query relating to your garden. please drop us an email, and we will be happy to help.
What to Consider When Purchasing a Lawn Mower
Whether you need to purchase your first lawn care equipment or are looking to upgrade, choosing the right mower for your yard and circumstances can be a daunting task, especially when there are so many on the market. The best option for you and your yard can make lawn care easier and faster; the wrong choice can make it a chore. How do you decide which lawn mower to buy when you need one?
Start by familiarizing yourself with the types of lawn mowers on the market. Then, consider the size of your lawn, its terrain and the type of grass you have. Certain lawn mowers are best for larger yards while others are designed to handle heartier grasses. And, who wants to push an old-fashioned reel mower up and down hills?
While lawn size, terrain and grass type will help you narrow it down, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As you shop for a new lawn mower, keep these seven factors in mind.
Types of lawn mowers
You can’t make an informed decision on which lawn mower to buy without understanding what’s on the market. At the most basic level, all lawn mowers consist of the same parts: an engine, a blade, wheels and usually a casing to enclose the blades. Power supply, performance and options differentiate most lawn mowers from each other. Here are the lawn mower types you should know before you go shopping.
Push: This lawn mower is probably the first that comes to mind when you think maintaining your yard. Although it has an engine to power the blade, a push lawn mower requires you to use your muscles to push it through the grass. They tend to be smaller and less powerful but also less expensive. Push lawn mowers generally cost between 100 and 400 dollars.
Self-propelled: While a self-propelled lawn mower may look similar to the push version, it has a major advantage—in addition to powering the blade, the engine also turns the wheels. As a result, you won’t need to exert as much physical energy to mow your yard. Because self-propelled lawn mowers have a larger engine, they typically cost more. Expect to spend between 300 and 1,200.
Riding: These large lawn mowers make cutting large yards quicker and easier, but they’re also the most expensive option. Riding lawn mowers start at 1,500 and climb to nearly 10,000, depending on options. Several types of lawn mowers fall under this category, including lawn tractors that can cultivate gardens and plow snow in addition to mowing the lawn and zero-turn radius mowers that can maneuver easily around trees and landscaping.
Reel: Because these manual mowers require you to push forward to move the blade, they aren’t practical unless you have a small, flat yard. Typically, a reel lawn mower costs less than 100 although it can cost up to 150 with a grass catcher attachment.
Robotic: Similar to a Roomba vacuum cleaner, grasses, like Bermuda, are more difficult to cut than finer ones like fescues. If you have a heartier grass in your yard, consider purchasing a mower with power.
Trees, play sets and landscape elements like fountains add challenge because you have to navigate around them. Take stock of your yard before you purchase a lawn mower, and if it has a lot of obstacles, consider purchasing a zero-turn radius lawn mower.
Don’t have a large enough yard or a budget to justify a zero-turn radius lawn mower? Purchase a self-propelled model instead.
Gas vs. electric
You have two options when it comes to powering your lawn mower: gas or electric. Gas engines tend to offer more power and, as a result, are more efficient. On the other hand, electric lawn mowers are usually quieter and smokeless. Range is another consideration. While gas lawn mowers with a full tank can run for hours, their electric counterparts generally only last 45 to 60 minutes before needing a charge.
If you have a typical subdivision yard that is relatively flat, an electric lawn mower will probably handle your lawn on one charge without a problem. And, you don’t have to worry about your neighbors reporting you for noise ordinance violations. However, if you’re concerned about having enough time to mow the entire yard before needing to recharge or having enough power to tackle hills, you might want to go with the gas-powered option instead.
Known as the deck, the area under your lawn mower matters because this is where your blades are. The larger the deck, typically the larger the blades on your mower will be. And, in this case, size definitely matters. Wider decks can cut wider paths across your lawn, meaning you’ll spend less time cutting the grass.
Decks can range from 20” to more than 70”, but for most homeowners with up to an acre to mow, 42” to 48” is a good size. Keep in mind that a smaller deck size will be easier to maneuver, though. Homeowners with a lot of trees may want to go as low as 30”.
Lawn mowers come with a lot of features today, some of which can make mowing the lawn much easier. Consider these options before purchasing a new lawn mower.
- Bag: Most lawn mowers have a removable bag that catches grass clippings. A bag typically adds 50 to 100 to the price of a lawn mower but saves you from raking after you mow.
- Electric start: Pulling a starter rope can be a hassle. An electric start allows you to get the engine going with just the bush of a button. Expect this feature to add 100 to the price tag.
- Stop without restarting: Need to stop to pick up sticks or empty the bag? This feature, which costs 100 or more, allows you to stop the blade but leave the engine running.
- Bumper: If you decide to purchase a lawn tractor, choose a model with a bumper to protect it while you mow, garden or clear the driveway of snow.
Whether you need help packing or you’re looking for full-service mover, we can help. To find the best moving company to pack and move your belongings, check our extensive network of reputable and reliable movers. All relocation companies in our network are licensed and insured, so you can rest assured that your move will be in good hands.
Author: Teresa Bitler
Teresa Bitler has been covering moving, real estate, home improvement and home decor for more than 15 years. She enjoys writing articles about moving to specific cities, like Denver or Nashville, and what to expect when you get there. She also likes to write about home improvement and getting your home ready for a move. As a real estate investor, she wrote extensively for Personal Real Estate Investor. She has also written for Su Casa, US News World Report and local publications about home improvement topics. Bitler currently lives in Phoenix, and although she’s moved too many times to count, she plans on staying put—at least for a while.View all posts by Teresa Bitler
When should I start mowing my lawn in spring? Expert tips on getting the timing right
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You might be able to feel the warmth of the sun and hear the birds singing, but does that mean it’s now time to start mowing the lawn in spring? If you’re not sure whether you should be firing up the mower just yet, help is at hand.
Although you might be up to speed with how often to mow a lawn, knowing when to begin mowing at the start of the growing season can seem more problematic. Too late and you could be faced with pushing the mower through long, unruly grass causing untold damage; too early and there are fears of it never recovering.
According to the lawn experts, however, there’s no set date in spring when you should be giving your lawn the first cut of the year, but it turns out there a few key signs to look out for. So to help take the stress out of the all-important decision making about mowing the lawn for the first time in spring, we’ve consulted leading lawn care specialists and here is what they advise.
When to start mowing the lawn in spring
‘There is no specific date at which to begin mowing your lawn in the spring,’ says Eric DeBoer, agronomist at Simple Lawn Solutions. ‘If soil temperatures have risen north of 50˚F your grass is probably initiating some sort of growth.
‘It can be good to get out there pretty early on, as sort of hitting the reset button prior to beginning the year. Just don’t wait too long, where you will be scalping really long grass; this can be counterproductive.’
Key signs it’s time to start mowing in spring
The exact date you should start cutting the lawn after winter really depends on a few different factors, such as your location, the current climate and the condition of the lawn.
‘In general, you should wait until the grass has started to grow actively and is at least 3 inches tall before you begin mowing,’ says Stacie Krljanovic, head groundkeeper in Houston, TX and an advisor for Patio Productions. ‘In many areas, the spring season brings a period of Rapid grass growth, and you may need to mow your lawn as often as once a week to keep it looking neat and healthy.’
Lina Cowley, Senior Editor at TrimmedRoots.com agrees: ‘The best time to start mowing your lawn in spring is when the grass is around 3 inches tall. This will allow the grass to fill out evenly and help prevent scalping.’
This stage of growth often occurs around mid to late March in cooler and temperate regions, but it’s well worth monitoring the growth rate for a few of weeks before deciding to dust the mower off.
Besides temperature and climate, there are few other factors that can influence your lawn’s growth rate and when you’ll need to get your lawn mower out for the first cut of the season.
‘If your lawn is in good condition and has been properly cared for throughout the fall and winter, it should be ready for mowing by late March or early April,’ says Stacie Krljanovic. ‘However, if your lawn is in poor condition, it may need some extra care and attention before you start mowing. This might include dethatching, aerating, fertilizing a lawn, and overseeding, all of which can help to promote healthy grass growth and prepare the lawn for the growing season.
‘In any case, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the condition of your lawn and adjust your mowing schedule as needed to ensure that the grass is growing healthily and looking its best.’
Getting the best mower height for a spring lawn is also a good idea to ensure you’re cutting it properly early in the season.
What month should you start mowing?
This date really does depend on where you live, the local climate and the state of your existing lawn. As a rule, wait until mid to late March, when the grass has reached around 3 inches tall and look to reduce the height by a third. Taking off any more will stress the grass and slow future growth, possibly weakening the lawn.
When should you avoid cutting the grass in spring?
If you’ve recently planted grass seed, cutting a newly sown lawn too early can halt its development resulting in a sparse and patchy lawn. Make sure you wait until the grass blades have grown to at least 2 inches before mowing for the first time. Set mower blades high to avoid stressing the plants and allow a rest period of 5-7 days before repeating.
Cutting the grass too early or too late in the day can also cause problems. Mowing too early when dew is still on the ground can cause the mower blades to clog up and grass to be pulled rather than cut. A cut in late afternoon or evening can lead to fungal spores taking hold and developing overnight.
When To MOW, WATER, FERTILIZE New Lawns // FIRST MOW on Tall Fescue
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