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

Mowing an Important Lawn "Chore"

May 27, 1999

With significant rainfall this spring, we've been spending significant time mowing lawns. While it does not seem significant, mowing actually has a major influence on both the appearance and health of lawns. There are a few key guidelines to consider.

First, lawns need to be mowed based on the rate of grass growth. As you've probably noticed lately, once a week may not be often enough! Remember the rule of one-third; which says do not remove more than one-third of the grass leaf in any one cutting.

Follow the rule of one-third and clippings should readily filter back down into the lawn after mowing. 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 needs to be applied to lawns when clippings are returned.

The other very important guideline is mowing height. Mow higher, as the common mistake is cutting lawns too short. Consider a mowing height of about 2-1/2 to 3 inches. 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. Mowing lawns around three inches or even slightly higher for the summer is a great way to help avoid the crabgrass invasions we saw in 1998.

What type of mower is best? Reel type mowers give an excellent quality of cut, but are expensive and difficult to maintain. For small lawns, push-type (no engine) reel mowers may be an option. 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.

It may seem like a chore, but mowing actually is a very important component of home lawn care.


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