There's an art to mowing your lawn

March 30, 2006
MONICA STUMFOLL - Victoria County Master Gardener Intern

This is the second in a series of articles about turfgrass. Last week's article talked about choosing the right variety of grass for a new lawn. If you missed it, go the Victoria County Master Gardener Web site at http://community.victoriaadvocate.com/groups/VictoriaCountyMasterGardenerAssociation   scroll down and click on Gardeners' Dirt (January-March 2006) and bring yourself up-to-date on choosing and establishing a new lawn.
The right equipment In his book "Turfgrasses," Richard Duble states that, "Density, texture, color, root development, wear tolerance and other aspects of turf quality are all enhanced by proper mowing."
Size up your yard and the terrain conditions that exist. Select a piece of equipment that will allow you to mow as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you have a small area to maintain, you don't need to "keep up with the Joneses" and purchase that zero-turn radius mower. The constant turning will leave bare patches in your turf where the wheel rotates in one spot.

Look for mowers that are also easy to adjust and maintain. Reel and rotary mowers are the most common type of mowers. A rotary mower has a horizontal blade that cuts grass on impact at a high speed. T

hey are generally inexpensive when compared to other mowers, making them popular among homeowners.

Maintain mower As the mower blade dulls, the grass blade becomes shredded, leaving the tips frayed and browned. It is important to keep rotary blades sharp for a good, clean cut.

Reel mowers are more expensive than rotary mowers. They cut with a scissor action, leaving grass blades with a cleaner cut, and are better for closely mowed turfs.

Whether you use a rotary or reel mower, make sure to keep up with equipment maintenance to ensure the best performance possible.

Mowing schedule The more often a turf is mowed, the finer texture it will have. When considering a mowing schedule, it is important that you mow often enough so that no more than one-third of the grass blade is removed at one time.

When a blade is cut, its photosynthetic area (how it makes food) is greatly reduced. Turfs that are mowed too closely cannot produce enough food for themselves to support strong, healthy root development. The end result will be a shallow rooted turf that will not be able to hold up in extended periods of heat and drought.

If you fertilize your turf, you will need to increase your mowing frequency to keep up with the faster growth rate that follows. Monitor your turf's growing patterns and determine the best schedule for a healthy lawn.

The right height Proper mowing heights for your turf will also be a determining factor in how often you will need to mow. Optimal mowing heights are different for each turf variety.

As a general rule, Bermuda grass turfs should be mowed at heights of 1 inch or less for good color, density and wear tolerance. St. Augustine grasses do best at 1-3 inches mowing heights, depending on mowing frequency and the amount of shade it receives.

Duble, as noted above, suggests 5-day intervals for mowing heights below 2 inches, seven-day intervals for 2- to 3-inch heights and 10- to 14-day intervals for heights above 3 inches.

For shaded turf areas, mowing heights should be raised by 30-50 percent. This allows for more leaf surface area, which will help maintain photosynthetic processes under the reduced light conditions.

For all turf species, the shorter the mowing height, the shorter the mowing intervals. Find out what turf variety you have and do a little research on the best mowing heights and management practices which pertain to it.

Find a pattern Changing up your mowing patterns will also help you increase your turf quality. When you mow your lawn in the same direction every time, your grass clippings will accumulate in rows along the path of your mower.

If the clippings are not removed, they will eventually become thatchy rows that cannot stand up to drought or cold stress. Changing your mowing patterns each time will ensure a uniform distribution of your grass clippings, which will not need to be collected each time.

In fact, leaving these clippings on your turf will recycle nutrients back into your turf, thus reducing your fertilizing needs.

And when it comes to fertilizing your lawn, experts have determined that you should not fertilize "just because" it is that time of year.

Soil samples should be taken and analyzed to determine what, if any, nutrients are needed.

Next week's article will provide more information on the rules for fertilizing turfgrass, so be sure and read this column for more material on turf management then.