Just because you are hiring a lawn company does not mean everything will be perfect and that you do not have to do anything. In this episode we talk about the three main parts to a healthy lawn and the importance the homeowner plays in all of this.
To have an amazing lawn you need to feed the lawn and soil, water correctly, and mow correctly. Often I see many people do 1 or 2 of the 3 and expect an amazing lawn. But that's not how it works. These are things you have to watch and inspect each month throughout the entire season.
Hey, hey everyone, what is up? This is Ete with another episode of Eco Lawn Science. Hope you're having a great day. Mine's going pretty well. Thanks for asking. Today I want to talk a little bit about expectations when you have a lawn care service.
So when you have a company like mine that is out there performing the treatments on your property, trying to get the weeds out, keep that lawn healthy and you're hiring those guys, you know, there's some work that you have to do as the homeowner to really make this work. And I want to kind of jump into that because that comes up a lot. I recently interviewed a landscaper in Park City as someone I look up to, respect a lot, for one of my other shows–I have a show called The Company Next Door where I interview other entrepreneurs, anyway–and she said this. She does installs and she, you know, does incredible work on some of the best, greatest properties in Park City. And she said, you know, she said, Ete, what I do is when I show up, I listen to the client: so the homeowner, their needs. And then I listen to the property, the landscape. And I kind of help this whole conversation and I connect them.
And I really liked that, uh, that approach. And I think we're missing that sometimes in this industry. You know, it's just, we come, we ride big machines, we blow off, we make a lot of noise and, and we, we get the lawn looking good and we do the right things there. But sometimes there's this like, it's disconnected. The homeowner might not understand something: Well, why is this happening? Why don't I have this? I pay you guys, why is my lawn not perfectly green? And so anyway, that's kind of what's led to this conversation today. So a little bit about that is we can only do, and I say we as service professionals, we can only do so much, right?
The best clients, my favorite clients and the favorite lawns that I've been able to work on over the years are the ones where the homeowner and the, the company they hire, are locked up. You know, they have the same understandings, they have a great communication and they're working in some ways, side-by-side to get the best lawn. And that doesn't mean they're calling me every week, "Hey, I just saw this, this," but it's just more, we locked that up before we start: the right values and the right goals and everything is just clear. And then there is a system of communication where they understand, hey, when something's not right, let me, let me check in with these guys. And I don't have to check in yelling and screaming. Like some people could like, you know, "Why is there a weed? I pay you!" without really truly understanding, you know, the biology and what's going on in the soil. Because we obviously can't control that as service companies, but people really believe that sometimes. And so, but working together in this, this kind of synergistic way where there's a great communication and a great reply and things are getting done.
And so as far as expectations go, you know, we as service professionals, we can apply the fertilizers, you know, we can take care of the weeds, we can feed your soil, we can add organics to the soil and build it up and compost teas. We can do all this, but if other parts aren't done, this is really not that valuable. You know, we can't own our own, take a, a living organism and make it green when we're there once every five weeks. It just doesn't happen.
And the two biggest parts...So it's kind of a three piece deal, right? You've got the feeding and the growth and the weed control and the soil biology, that all that, that's one. That's, that's the company you hire. Then over here, the second one–think of a triangle–the second little, little corner is the maintenance: the mowing, the weed whacking around the edges, you know, the edging, the blowing off, you know, those types of parts. That, that's the second part. And the third part really is the irrigation, is the watering. So as you know, that triangle, the company you hire, they only can help with the one thing. But without everything, those three corners working, you know, synced up, it's not going to be that ultimate result. You're not going to maximize the money and you may not be happy. Because sometimes people think, "I hire you to make my lawn green. Why isn't it green?" And depending on where you are, like especially here in Utah, irrigation is everything. And so yeah, I can feed and treat and, and work at the biology all night and all day, but without those other two pieces really dialed in, I can't make, I really can't make a ton of improvement that I want to make. And that frustrates me. And so that's not a good fit.
And so let's talk a little bit about the other pieces because this part you're already hiring out if you're using a company. If you're not, then yeah, we're talking about fertilizing, we're talking about, you know, feeding the soil, the things I've mentioned. But then the other part with the mowing, one thing I see is a lot of companies, people will hire companies and they'll mow too low, they'll scalp the lawn. Or they're just constantly running heavy machinery when the lawn's a little wet. The timing's wrong and they damaged and they stressed the lawn out. I've seen it. And then peak of summer, 99 degrees, the lawn is brown and dormant and people are out mowing on top, just adding more stress, right? And so those really aren't good practices. And those are all working against what we're trying to do. Not only are they not helping, they're actually counteracting. And so that's, that's where you got to have that sync up. You know, ideally you want to mow higher. I actually recommend going up quite a bit, three and a half to four inches. And I know some people will freak out at that. But hear me out.
Let me tell you some of the benefits that we're looking at when you can move it up. And just so you know, what I'm sharing today is backed up by many universities. But the one that I liked the most was put out by the Michigan State University Extension and they love three and a half to four inches and, and I've always loved that as well. So here's some of the reasons why. You know, when you mow low, you're going to scalp the lawn. When they cut it too low, they scalp it, that's really harmful and adds a lot of stress to the lawn. So when your blades are up, the chances of scalping are significantly less. It also allows you to clip like 20-30% of the leaf blade each time you mow, which is kind of the ideal proportion for it to be beneficial, to regenerate. You know, there's a lot of benefits to that. It helps to establish the larger root system, which the result of that is it's more drought tolerant, right? When the summer comes, it survives well because the root system has just been flourishing. It helps with broadleaf weed and even crab grass control. And people are like, what are you talking about? It's because when you can grow higher, it shades that soil surface, keeping it a lower temperature. And as you know, the higher that temperature gets in the soil, the more chances and the more rapidly those weeds are going to germinate. And it also helps to kind of fight off grubs because of that larger root mass, you know. And one last thought on that is, because it helps minimize the weeds and the grubs, the best part of that is you're not using as much weed controls and you're not having to use as many insecticides on the lawn, which also benefits the microbiology down below the soil.
So yeah. So raise those blades up, keep them sharp, make sure they're sharpened routinely so that they're not just ripping. And the other thing is make sure they're cleaned. A lot of people don't clean their blades. You may have a company that they'll come and mow and they'll mow 30 lawns in a day and those blades don't get cleaned for months. The problem is some, that can be a carrier for some diseases, some fungus that will attack the lawn. Spores, they will attach to those blades and you will spread it to the next property. A client could get, you know, a fungus issue and say, "Hey, I'm hiring you guys. Why do I have fungus?" Well, it's because of this, you know, and so again, we got to work lockstep with the mowing companies.
Okay, let's talk about the third corner in our little triangle, which is irrigation. So here in Utah we have great rainfall or snow throughout the spring, usually throughout May, you know, there's all kinds of snow and rain and just we get plenty of spring moisture and then June it starts to dry up, but homeowners who have, who take care of their landscapes, they'll have some type of irrigation. So they'll run those in June, but come July, August, we don't see a single drop often in July or August. And so, and June as well, often so you could go two to three months without it. And so we subsidize it with our irrigation. And again, that's, that's part of the problem too. Every lawn is going to be a little bit different as far as how much water it needs. It's going to, you know, the soil type, the soil structure, those are all the components that are going to define what does it really need.
But some kind of important things that I like... You know, obviously it's a big concern here in Utah because we are in a drought area. And so the state has really come down and they've created something called Slow the Flow. And that is a program, and I've actually met the director and I've been to some of the things, but basically you can sign up and for free, they'll come out and they'll run tests for your sprinklers basically to make sure are they set up and efficient. You know, did you install yourself and put the wrong kind of heads in so that it's not being utilized? Are the timer's off, you know, those types of things and they'll help you and they'll guide you. So that's a great tool that I, I recommend and I love that, that our state's doing that.
But really that's the first part is making sure that your irrigation, you have the right heads, you know, you have the right, and that they're in the right places. I have on my property, a spot that browns out every year because the head that's supposed to hit this area is buried behind a huge rock. I mean a big boulder. And so the boulder gets plenty of water. Again, total waste and drives me loony. I'm trying to get it fixed. But that spot browns out because it's not getting hit.
So one of the smartest things is again, you can utilize these programs, have them come out, they can give you a better plan if it's not, you know, effective. And then you can maybe redo or make the changes necessary. This is everything here. You've got to keep that lawn wet and again at every property it's going to be different what I mean by wet, but you know, on average, you know, maybe an inch a week, it really is gonna depend, you know, on, you know, is it a shady area? You can put less. Is it a sunny area? It might need more. But just this idea of, this is such a crucial part. You know, we can fertilize it and mow right. But if it's not being watered properly, the food's not going to go where it needs to go. It's just going to dry out. It's, we, you know, we're a mile high up in the sky here, you know, our elevation. So that plays into it.
What I'm trying to say in all this is your expectations...You can have a great lawn. You can have a great landscape. But first, make sure you understand these three corners of this triangle, you know, the irrigation, the feeding, food source, and then the mowing and make sure they're all sync together and make sure they're all working together.
You know, from my company when we're out and we see in the summer, on a client, a spot that looks like it's going to be drought, you know, we try to notify them. "Hey," (we send them an email), "just so you know you know"–or we take a picture–"this is what we saw." You know, "Can you go ahead and check your sprinklers?" And there's this whole thing.
But if everyone works together, then yeah, you can have a great lawn, a great property. But if not, and you're just doing one of the three things, that's, that's where it gets hard. And so as simple as this all sounds, you'd be surprised how many times I get that phone call, "Hey, you guys came out, but it's not as green as it should be." And then I come to find out, "Oh, our sprinklers have been off for a month," you know, and it's like, well, okay. Or "Oh yeah, it hasn't been mowed in two months and we've got weeds everywhere." You know? And so it can be very frustrating and so anyway, that's what led to this, this episode.
So hopefully this helps. I know this was a pretty simple one, but I guess it needs to be heard cause it's always coming in. Anyway, have a great day.
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.