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Mowing is a solid twofer: It coaxes your lawn to grow more and keeps it looking fine. But hey, there's a right way and a wrong way to mow your lawn—and you can trace more than a handful of lawn problems back to poor mowing practices. We're talking mowing too short, not bothering to sharpen the blades, doing the whole procrastination thing, going all buzz cut when you do mow—we could go on. But we won't. We're nice like that.
Want to be on the cutting edge of mowing your lawn properly? (Yeah, we went there.) 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. True, this might mean you have to mow again after several days, but hear us out—it's worth it. 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. Scalping the lawn forces grass plants to focus their energy on regrowing their blades, not deepening their roots, plus it makes it more likely that weeds can muscle in. Taller grass blades shade the soil and keep it cooler, helping prevent weed seeds from sprouting. Plus, let's be honest: Taller grass is way softer to walk on and helps cushion touch-football tackles better than short grass.
Of course, there's an exception here to prove the rule: While most grass types respond best to having the mower set to the one of the highest settings, zoysia grass and centipedegrass prefer a middle mower setting, and even pickier bermuda grass and creeping bentgrass thrive on the lowest mower settings.
2. Mow a Dry Lawn
A big slice of pie isn't the only thing that should come after dinner. 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, of course, you. If you wait until the early evening, the lawn is usually dry (unless it has rained during the day, of course), the sun is less intense, and the lawn will have plenty of 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, go ahead and procrastinate for a bit. Cutting wet grass can result in an uneven trim, so you've gotta wait until it's dry. 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. Nice, right? (Not.)
3. Vary Your Mowing Pattern
Repetition is boring, right? So mix things up a bit. Each time you mow, do it in a different direction. If you always cut your lawn using the same pattern, not only will you end up sending your brain straight to snoozeville, but your grass will start to lean in the direction you mow and you may even end up with ruts in the lawn. Need another reason to vary your mowing pattern? Grass will stand up nice and tall since it will be mowed from all different directions.
4. Don't Mow on a Schedule
You wouldn't take out the garbage just because it's a Tuesday, right? You wait until it's full. Treat mowing the same way. Mow as often as needed for your grass type, growing conditions, growth pattern, and season. If you tie yourself to some arbitrary schedule, you won't be mowing when your lawn actually needs it. When grass is actively growing in the spring, for example, you'll need to mow more frequently (maybe even 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 (score!). Of course, if you're just not into having extra free time, you can go ahead and mow whenever you want, as long as the grass isn't too short and the mower blade isn't set too low. The lawn just doesn't need it.
5. Wait Before Mowing a New Lawn
Calm those itchy mower fingers, pal. After spreading grass seed, you've gotta 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, though, curb that enthusiasm and limit yourself to cutting just the top ⅓ of the grass blades (or less). A dramatic cutting can shock and stress new grass plants, slowing down the growth of your new lawn—total opposite of what you're going for.
Here’s how tall your grass should be before you mow for the first time:
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—no, seriously, we mean 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. Also, be very careful while you mow so you don’t pull up any sod. But no need to freak out if you do. If a section gets moved around, just put it back in place.
Not sure what type of grass you have? You're not alone, not by a long shot. 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. No, hear us out on this one. Grass clippings break down quickly and return beneficial nutrients to the soil. Just be sure to mow often enough that you're not removing too much at once and the clippings are small. Shaving off too much of the grass blade shocks the grass and leaves piles of long clippings on the lawn that don't break down quickly and can smother growing grass. Not cool.
If you do end up bagging your clippings, do the earth a favor and 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
Just like you wouldn't shave with a dull blade, you've got to sharpen mower blades at the first sign of wear. Dull blades tear up grass, causing ragged, brown edges. That's not the worst of it, though. Using a dull mower blade over and over 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 is a win-win-win: Your mower will start easier, make cleaner cuts, and slice your clippings without bogging down the mower blades. One more thing: Remember to wash your mower after each use, to help prevent any blockages within the mower itself.
8. Helpful Lawn Care Reminders (aka Other Good Stuff You Can Do for Your Lawn)
When using a push mower, mow forward whenever possible.
Yes, we know you practically live in your flip-flops in the summertime. Give 'em a rest when you mow, though—you need closed-toed shoes unless you want to lose some toes.
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. Slipping happens. Don't let it.