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Time To Mow

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

The annual passage of winter to spring finally has begun. This last week has seen a big green change in the neighborhoods, and the smell of fresh-cut grass is in the air. There are a few easy guidelines to having a better-looking lawn without much more work.

A longer grass blade means deeper roots, and more tillers and rhizomes to keep our lawn thick and competitive against weeds. So, when you set up your mower for the summer, try raising the deck just one notch from your normal setting. That simple change will make a big difference in how well the lawn will handle stresses, such as a brief dry period. This also will make the lawn look better if your yard is uneven.


While you get ready to mow for the first time this season, be sure the mower blade is sharp. Rotary mower engines turn at very high rates and the blade will get dull very quickly. A dull blade does not cut the grass, but tears it off, leaving a ragged edge, which is prone to drying down and then browning. This gives your lawn a look you do not want. Consider a second mower blade that can be sharpened at your leisure or taken to sharpening service. This leaves you with a blade on the mower and one in the ready when the one in use gets dull. Start out with a sharp blade and change it in July. If you really want to have some bragging rights on the street, sharpen or swap blades once a month. The lawn will look very well groomed.

Many gardeners do not like to collect clippings, but they do not like them piled up or in clumps in the lawn either. Our cool season grasses naturally have two flushes of growth a year, spring and fall, with more grass blade growth in the spring. If you can mow often enough to take off no more than one-third of the grass blade at each mowing, those small clippings will sift right into the lawn and no bagging or raking will be needed. This means mowing about every 4 to 5 days to keep up with the growth and that one-third rule for a few weeks. This has an additional benefit to you, as the lawn will not be shocked and can remain strong against weeds and diseases.

Another grooming tip is to mow in a different direction or pattern once a month. Homeowners quickly figure out the pattern that takes the least amount of time to mow and routinely use that strategy. By changing up the pattern, the mower will catch that grass that may be lying down from the regular mowing pattern. Doing this, along with a higher, sharper blade, your lawn will look a better all season and the neighbors will be asking for your secrets.

Richard Hentschel is a Horticulture Extension Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. He also hosts Green Side Up radio show on WDCB and podcasts from the show can be found at The 2014 Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk is now open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 630-553-5823.

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