University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Don't Overlook the Importance of
Proper Mowing

May 8, 1997

Mowing the lawn is considered such a simple process that its influence on lawn health is often overlooked. There are just a few points to keep in mind that in fact have a huge impact on lawns.

For example, mowing height is very important. Many people tend to mow lawns too short. Lawn grasses in the McHenry County area should be mowed between 2 to 3 inches, with the upper range best for summer. Lawns mowed at higher heights of cut tend to have deeper roots, less weed problems, and look much better. Mowing lawn grasses too short tends to stunt root systems and invites problems such as crabgrass and some diseases. Proper frequency of mowing is also critical. Lawns should be mowed according to the rate of grass growth, not the calendar. Mowing once a week may not be practical. Follow the rule of one-third--which means do not remove more than one-third of the grass leaf in any one cutting.

Assuming the lawn is mowed on a regular basis and the clippings readily filter back down into the lawn, there is no need to pick-up clippings. Returned in this manner, clippings readily decompose and do not cause thatch. In fact, clippings recycle nutrients, in particular nitrogen, so less fertilizer is needs to be applied to lawns when clippings are allowed to be returned after mowing.

One final decision is the type of mower to use. Selection involves a number of factors, many being personal preference. Reel type mowers give an excellent quality of cut, but are expensive and difficult to maintain. Rotary mowers with bag attachments and mulching mowers are readily available for homeowners. A University of Illinois study showed mulching mowers did not provide any additional benefit over conventional rotary mowers returning clippings assuming proper mowing frequency and lawn fertilizing was followed.

Regardless of the type of mower, blades need to be kept sharp. Also make sure the machine is maintained properly and safety precautions are followed both when mowing and when handling the mower.


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