#26- Lawn Mowing Tips for a Healthy Lawn

How high should I set my mower blades? How often should I mow? What do I need to do to maintain my mower so I don't injure my grass? What are the benefits of mowing my grass higher instead of keeping it low? Can my mower spread fungus to other parts of the lawn?

In this episode we discuss what role having  proper mowing practices play into having a healthy lawn.  


Hey, hey, what is up everyone? This is Ete with another episode of Eco Lawn Science. Today's content and the discussion will be based on a question that we just got from a potential client. So, someone who's not a current client of my service company, but they've been looking in and they had questions and that's some of my favorite ways to get these topics because I'm trying to make something helpful for everyone. So, the question was, they were asking really about mowing and about mulching and what kind of mower do I get and how often should I mow and how high should I mow and all these things and I know this is like a basic topic, but there's some science to it and also as basic as it is, lawn mowing it's often done wrong in a lot of ways and you see it all the time.

So, hopefully today we'll dig into a little bit of that and talk about what are some of the ideal practices for having a healthy lawn? So, as you know, mowing is a crucial part of having a great lawn and great lawn care and health. In my episode expectations, I talk about the triangle. There's three corners that all work together. The first one is mowing, the second one is feeding and fertilization, and third one is irrigation. The three main components. So, I do talk about this and that as well, but this one is specifically for the mowing side. When you come to mowing, you see every guy or girl when they're 12 or 13 or 14. It's always one of the first jobs you have is you go out, you mow the grass, and then your neighbor says, "Hey, come mow mine. I'll give you 25 bucks." And you do that one. And next thing you know you're mowing four lawns a week.

A lot of people have that story and some follow it and they build out huge businesses and some it's just a good little summer job to make a few bucks to go have some fun in the summer. So, again, it's kind of a basic thing. It's something that everyone does, but we don't ever talk about it. When you Google it, there's so many different opinions and thoughts on mowing. I mean, it's obviously an entire huge industry, billions of dollar industry in America. Everything from high tech robots down to young kids, teenagers out to make a buck and everything in between. So, let's talk a little bit about some good and some bad practices.

So, the first thing I really want to push on is the length. I think one of the key ingredients to having that healthy lawn is truly the length. Often people mow very, very short, like golf course short, like a putting green. In putting greens, they use a specific type of grass and they have an insane amount of maintenance and a full staff maintaining it because to have that short grass, you have to maintain it a whole different way. So, that doesn't usually work in a homeowner situation. What can often happen is what they call scalping. So, let's say you're mowing and maybe there's a little bit of a drop-off or a little bit of a slope somewhere. So, because of the unevenness of the ground and how low you have your blade set, you can literally hit an area where you almost hit the dirt and you just really scalp it and you just damage it.

You'll know because that area will be yellowish for a bit. It'll leave stress because when you scalp that lawn, you're causing it a lot of stress and it's really negative effects long term on the grass. It can grow back and it usually does, but you pay a price for it. So, a lot of people like to mow very low and either the way it looks or just then they don't have to mow it again, but the truth is, the higher the grass, and I don't mean a foot long, but when you get to that three, three and a half inch mark, there's a lot of benefits of it. So, I recommend going there. I recommend anywhere from three to four inches. Four being on the high side. Three and a half is awesome.

I mean, first of all, I love the way it looks. You get to see more of the grass. It's a little more of a natural feel, but it's not so tall that it's bending over and it looks unkept. You can maintain a three and a half inch lawn that looks good, but you have to maintain it. Some of the benefits of having that three and a half plus inch lawn are these. Actually, believe it or not, it helps with weed reduction. It helps with crabgrass reduction. It helps with less insect issues and the reason for those are when you have taller grass, like three and a half inches, it actually provides a little bit of shade for the soil and below the soil in the seed bank is where weed seeds are sitting, waiting for that perfect opportunity to emerge and to come up.

A lot of what inspires that is heat. There's a lot of heat below the surface, a lot of soil temperature. The hotter it gets, that's when your crab grasses start to really want to germinate. And these seeds just go, "All right, it's go time." They're just getting excited. So, when you have that grass, it actually provides a little bit of shade for the soil, therefore cooling it down just a little bit and in some cases it makes a difference between a ton of weeds and just a little bit. So, that's one benefit. That's for weeds and crabgrass. So, another thing is for insects, because when you allow your grass to grow up a little taller, it can actually flourish a little bit and it's going to have a healthier root mass below.

So, when you have that healthy root mass, you're going to have less insect fungal issues because there's going to be more biodiversity in the soil. There's going to be more living organisms and things working well. So, when those negative or damaging insects or fungi come in, you have the beneficials to offset it. So, just right there, those are some great reasons. You'll obviously save in costs and you'll save in environmental impact because you won't have to use that GrubEx. Or you may not have to use it as much. Or you may not have to use as much weed control. So, just a lot of great reasons. Again, one of the ones that I've mentioned is just that shade that it provides. So, as you get into those hot drought seasons July, August, and it's just hot and dry and soil temperatures are really starting to pay a price and warm up, which often leads to browning out and drought spots. That higher grass can again shade it and help to cool down the temperatures of your soil.

So, good benefits there. One of the best recommendations that I like and I've seen is they call it the one third rule. That means basically don't ever mow off over a third at a time because if you're mowing consistently and regularly and just a little bit at a time, you can actually let that drop back into the soil and recycle. You're utilizing already existing fertilizer, natural nutrients that are in that grass. Let's say you have a four-inch lawn and you say, "I'm going to cut it down to two." Well, that's two inches. You can't do that because if you were to cut two inches and leave it there and not bag it, actually that's too much that'll turn into thatch and build up and it'll be too much grass and that will become a problem.

It'll be a breeding ground for insects as opposed to a beneficial fertilizer or help assistant to what's happening. So, you want to cut regularly and in about one third. You don't want to cut off more than a third. Sometimes you have to. You go away for two weeks, you come back, and it's a disaster. Okay. You grew two inches, you're cutting off three inches, you're going to want to bag it at that point. But again, you're losing all those valuable nutrients. So, the best thing is to mow often, frequently, and do the one third rule. So, cut off a third of the blade at the time and just let it keep growing.

Another thought on that is ... so picture your grass. Picture a four inch tall blade and sometimes in the summer you're looking at it and the tops are green and lush and then you look, but you can see below it's a little yellowish. What's happening is that top is the greenest part and all the energy's going up there and so when you cut that off in thirds, you're actually helping to get rid of the yellow because what's going to help is it's going to allow it to use some of that energy and that storage down to the lower part of that blade, the first inch, the first inch and a half, and start greening that up as well. Where if you use a nitrogen fertilizer, it's really going to go to that top part. So, you can actually really help the color and the overall balance of your lawn by doing that.

One of the biggest things, make sure your blades are sharp. People don't pay attention to this. They change your blades every three years. You're going to start ripping the tops of the grass blades and you'll see it. If you look closely, pull some grass out, you'll see how jagged and rough it looks and that can cause issues and stress as well. I mean, picture going to get a haircut and they're using just scissors that are like five years old and instead of just a nice clean cut and it's dropping off, it's jagged and it's pulling, it's ripping your hair. It doesn't feel good and that's what's happening to your grass. The soil, you're disrupting it. Keep your blades sharp.

The last important thing is to keep the blades clean. People do not clean their blades often. What happens is, let's say you run over a pathogen or some type of fungus and you go to your neighbors and you're cutting your neighbors or let's say it's in your front yard and then you go to backyard and then a month later you see spots everywhere. Well, a lot of times these can attach themselves to your blades. Think about it. Think under the mower for a second. It goes over, cuts the grass, and it spins around up top and hits some things and then it shoots out. In that, you could be spreading those spores. You could be spreading a fungus to other parts of your lawn. So, just make sure that you're regularly cleaning them so that you don't spread anything that's bad. Especially if you see something that looks like maybe a fungal issue on the front yard, don't spread that to the back.

So, anyway, those are just a few basic tips. Oh, the last one is on mulching and I already have said it, but that was the initial question is make sure when you mulch to have sharp blades and get a mower that .. there's different types of mowers. If you're going to mulch and recycle, get one that can really mulch well. Find them on the best ability to mulch. Again, if you do this and you follow the one third rule, you shouldn't run into too many problems further down the line. If you're cutting off two inches at a time and you're leaving it and it's going to fall in the soil, it's going to create an issue. So, if you're going to not bag, you have to cut regularly. And that's going to mean something different for everyone. Sometimes, like in Utah I go, "That's actually every four days." In the spring, if I go a week because of the rain in the spring, my grass is like two inches taller. I mean, it gets way high.

So, you're going to cut every four days. But, again, the advantages are you're recycling nutrients and so you're saving time and work and even money as far as the bagging and your time. But you are out there more often. So, it's whatever you want to do. But, if you are going to mulch, just do it right. And the same thing goes for leaf mulching. I've talked about this in episode four. If you're saying "I want to utilize the nutrients in these leaves" you better have a great mower that can really grind things up and shoot it out. But don't let it shoot out too thick of a layer or it will suffocate and kill off the roots of the grass. A little bit at a time is awesome. And that's why I like the robot mowers, what they're doing, because they're cutting every day. They're always running around the property. Cut a tiny bit at a time so that can easily be recycled without causing future thatch build up, future insect problems, et cetera. Anyway, I hope this helps. Have a great day. See you.

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