East Texas Ag News: Lawn mowing tips for the best possible yard

Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 4:01 PM CDT
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ANGELINA COUNTY, Texas (KTRE) - Every homeowner wants that perfect lawn. Deep green and thick, we strive to achieve that top lawn. At my house, my wife is the one who mows the yard while I weed the beds, do the edging, and other landscape chores. We often disagree about where to set the lawnmower height. I always want it higher than what she thinks it should be.

Of all the management decisions, mowing height is one of the easiest to change and can have profound impacts.

Several factors determine the appropriate height of cut for any designated turfgrass area. First is the species and cultivar of turfgrass being managed. For example, we mow common bermuda up to three times the height of Zoysia. San Augustine can be left as high as 4 inches according to state turfgrass research.

Second, is the use or expectations for the area. Home lawns and public areas are typically left at a higher height than athletic fields or golf courses that will receive more use and much more criticism.

We cannot forget the management capabilities for the area including available equipment, time, and labor. You may find that the best practice on some areas is to cut at 1 inch every five days, but do you have a good mower that can mow properly at that height, and do you have time (or want to pay a service) for every five days?

The last factor affecting mowing height is the prevalent stress on your lawn. Normally this includes shade or drought, but I think we can all agree that excessive soil moisture is the key stressor these past few weeks. While at a friend’s house last weekend, one fella teased that the host had started “striping” his lawn. The “stripes” were nothing more than the muddy tracks left by the wheels of the lawnmower!

Put simply, it is generally recommended that turfgrasses be maintained at the higher height of cut for the given species and cultivar. Taller canopy growth generally corresponds to greater energy production which supports deeper and more vigorous rooting. Deeper root systems may result in improved water infiltration, nutrient and water-use efficiency, and improved overall turfgrass tolerance to stress.

When you mow, mow no more than 1/3 of the total turfgrass plant. For example, if your intended mowing height is 2″, then you would need to mow before the plant has exceeded 3″ in order not to ‘scalp’ the turf. As you can surmise, the appropriate mowing frequency is determined by the rate of growth. The faster the growth, as we are experiencing now, the more frequent we ought to be mowing.

Dull mower blades will not cut grass properly and may cause injury by crushing, shredding, or leaving jagged, uneven cuts on turfgrass leaf blades. Anything less than a clean, sharp cut will increase turfgrass susceptibility to pests including diseases and insects, and will ultimately increase other environmental stresses such as drought, heat, or excessive rain.

Most mower blades can be sharpened at home or professionally. While sharpening mower blades is an ideal DIY project, be sure to use caution when sharpening mower blades to avoid the risk of injury. Always turn off mowers and unplug the spark plug prior to maintenance. Accidental spinning of the mower blade can be like the old way of starting an airplane engine by spinning the motor!

Lastly, avoid mowing when the grass is damp from dew or irrigation. This will help prevent the spread of diseases and allow for better clipping distribution. Use caution when mowing during peak summer hours when temperatures are especially hot. Turfgrass may be more susceptible to wilt and foot traffic during this period of the day, and mowing may exacerbate the situation.

The recommended mowing heights for warm season turfgrass species in the home lawn are as follows. For Common Bermuda, 1.5 to 3 inches. For Centipede grass, mow at 1.5 to 2 inches. For Zosia grass, 1 to 2.5 inches. Lastly, for the most popular turfgrass in our area, St. Augustine grass, mow from 2.5 to 4 inches!

My own lawn is a blend of San Augustine and Common Bermuda with a few weeds mixed in. With the recent relentless rains, it has been difficult to match dry weather with our schedule and hinder my wife’s intention to mow too short. Truthfully, we have mowed higher than I would even like. But come summer, the drier soil will grow slower, and we can get down to an “agreeable” 2.5 inches of mower height - - both strengthening the lawn and reducing marital disagreements.

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