Tips For Mowing Your Lawn
Hey, everyone. In this episode, I sat down with Micah and talked about how to mow my lawn, from what height to mow, when to mow, how often I should mow. He had some good feedback. So without further ado, here is that conversation.
So Micah, I bought a push lawn mower over the weekend and actually mowed my lawn and looking at it now, it's rained since, and it's looking pretty good, but I actually have some questions on when should I mow next, what height should I be shooting for when mowing? Yeah, just kind of a lot of general questions about mowing my lawn, which seems so easy, but there's so much on the internet that seems contradictory.
Yeah. So that'll be pretty much one of the main three cultural practices, the primary cultural practices, we'll call them, and those are mainly just mowing, fertilization and irrigation, but to start out by push mower, some people might be confused as to like walk behind, push, reel, rotary, all those sorts of different types of mowers. So by push you mean it is kind of the old school, reel mower where you are literally pushing, correct?
Yeah. It's the old school, has like the circle blades that spin when you push it. It's really satisfying, actually. I thought it was going to be a total pain, but it's awesome.
Well, that is actually the fun way to get really into turf nerdery, if that's a phrase, getting into the turf management and people most often don't know, but reel mowers, it's actually a much cleaner cut and you'll actually get a better quality of lawn that way. But yeah, we'll kind of go through some of the different tips and tricks, I guess, for just mowing lawns in general, but kind of as we go through, maybe I'll be able to tailor that to your lawnmower specifically since it is a little bit different type than most rotary mowers on the market.
Wait, yeah, so the rotary mower is the one that's like, it's a typical lawnmower. It has the blade that just spins?
Yep. So, as it's cutting the grass as a rotary unit, just imagine like a machete. So as your blade on the mower is spinning around, and around, and around, under the deck it's pretty much pulverizing grass blades. And the way the physics of the mower works, that deck actually kind of pulls the grass up and then it's pretty much just thrashing it around, and around, and around. So there are chances it gets just pulverized multiple times. There's also mulching decks, which cut it in multiple ways with two blades at the same time, which is a completely different style. But yeah, so what leads to disease and pretty much the lower quality compared to reel mowers is the cleanness of the cut on the blade level. So if you were to take a microscope and look really closely at the leaf blade, rotary mowers are pretty much ripping and tearing essentially. So imagine you have a machete and you go chop blackberries or some other brush, you're pretty much just blunt force trauma ripping the plants apart. Whereas the reel mowers, it's literally similar to cutting with scissors. So it's that shearing action where it's the cleanest cut. And if you can imagine an analogy would be, if you get a scrape or a cut in your hand, and relating to the plant, the bigger cut you have, the better chance there is for bacteria to get in, basically increased surface area, such as blunt force trauma with a rotary blade will just enable more disease to possibly get into the plant and kind of stunt growth or just reduce quality. So that's where the reel mowers really are improving your quality, is by pretty much reducing the time to heal, since there is much less surface area, it's just the width of the blade if it's a really clean cut, which they can dull and potentially reduce quality as well. So that's another kind of thing to keep an eye out with your reel mower is you'll want to keep it sharp over time. Most often it's just like a back lapping kit that'll come with, or you can probably go find that online or even some golf courses nearby are willing to help you out for a small fee.
I had no idea. I honestly bought this mower because it was the cheapest one that I could find at Home Depot. I honestly thought that because it was cheaper, it would do a worse job, but it's going to do a better job.
Mostly with the cheaper prices, I think that has to do with interchangeable parts. There's no engine, you are the engine. So for the most part, it's easier to construct and there's less parts, honestly, just going into the whole thing. But yeah, it's ultimately just the action of cutting the turf grass blade that really gets you the highest quality. So you look at like a golf course putting green mower, which is also reel driven and they're also motorized. They're going to cost way, way more than thousands and thousands of dollars compared to just the little reel push mower, as you've got, but on the blade level, they can still perform similarly, but you're not going to be able to mow as low as some of those units. Does your mower actually say the range at which it can mow? Like height-wise?
Probably. So it has a reel out front and then it has a set of rollers in the back that you can adjust the height. And what I did is, is I moved the blade up as high as it could go, because this is the first time I've mowed my lawn. So my grass was pretty tall. So I moved it as high as it could go. And then just mowed the whole thing. If I had to guess, maybe it's going to be a bad guess, three inches, three and a half inches. Something like that.
Just describing it how you did is actually the best way to go to increase turf quality in general, especially home lawns, there's people who really want to make it as professional and as tight as a golf course or a sports field as they can. So they're most often mowing lower, but already mowing the highest it can go is pretty much going to increase your chances of just having a durable lawn with the highest potential quality. And given the photo I saw of your lawn a little while back, you had a tree in the front yard. So obviously, and you probably know now since trees are kind of leafing out, and before then it was a bare, but a mowing higher under shade will definitely help. So grass plants under shade will typically leaf out longer or extend growth, because essentially it's like looking for sunlight. So you imagine a tree, like an Oak tree, if you plant a bunch of Oak trees together, they're all competing with each other for light. So they actually grow pretty much straight up altogether. It's like an Oak grove, for example. But if you've got one Oak tree on the middle of nowhere, it's going to have that typical Oak ... I forget, it's been so long since I've had the horticulture arboriculture classes, but the structure of like a bowl or a dome. So it's going to be leafing out wider.
Oh, okay. We have tons of Oak in the area, in this area where I live. And when they're by themselves, they just do whatever they want. But when we looked at some property before we bought this house and it was like a beautiful Oak grove, like what you're saying, and they were all straight and they looked really nice.
Yep, so on a microscopic level, comparing to turf, it's kind of the same thing. So it's just going to extend the leaves longer to go find light when it's under heavier shade. So what you want to do there is mow as high as you can possibly, because the less area of leaf blade to catch sunlight, especially under decreased sunlight situations like shade, it's going to just have eventual lower turf quality. There's not going to be as much as photosynthesis going on in the plant.
This is good to know, because honestly what my plan was, Micah, is because I've read on the internet only cut one third of the grass blade at a time. So I was deciding to stick with that. So I was actually going to mow it at the highest setting and then start dropping it down. But as it sounds, because my lawn is so shady, I should keep it at the highest setting to keep my lawn as healthy as I possibly can, in brief. Okay.
Yeah, so just having that at the highest setting, I think is honestly the best way to go, especially for now. I mean, you nailed it. One-third rule for the cutting height is pretty much our integrated pest management or IPM recommendation across the board for mowing. And honestly, people don't really think of this too much, but it's the same rule for mowing putting greens, mowing rough, mowing a home lawn. So the theory behind that is, if you mow too much, you're essentially getting into scalping conditions, so be it. So maybe you're mowing half of the leaf blade and the grass kind of has to reproduce a lot of that leaf blade more so than it would with one third, which is just common sense. There's more leaf gone, so replace it. But what happens when you do that is it's taking a lot of carbohydrates that's stored under the soil. So while you could still mow half or even three quarters of the leaf blade over and over and over, you're going to end up depleting the nutrients within the plant that it's stored already. And if you combine that with not adding more nutrients in the soil to make up for that, you're going to run into a lot of chronic problems over time. So for example, one-third rule on, let's just say for example, to make it really easy, your lawn mower reel thing is able to cut up to three inches. So you're going to be cutting once, actually just say you're at two inches, reverse that. So you're cutting at two inches, you let it go until three, one third of three is one. So that would take it down just to two or two thirds of the plant remaining. So that's kind of the rule of thirds. If your mowing height is three, then you're waiting actually until it's like four and a half, but that's actually a little easier to do with a rotary mower or something gas powered in general, especially with your reel. Just imagine having to push through that much grass. Yeah, once you get into that realm then it's a little bit harder to keep up with. But, yeah, that's one spectrum of it. So go back to pretty much the highest maintenance turf setting, which would be a putting green. You can see why if grass grows relatively quickly, imagine the grass at around a 10th of an inch, you're going to have to keep up with mowing quite a bit to maintain that one third rule. So even if it grows just above 0.1 inches, you're going to have to move again. So that's why they're mowing putting greens pretty much daily throughout the growing seasons. So the same rule applies at whatever cutting height. You just kind of do the math and over time, you'll just figure out when your setting is. But what gets people in trouble oftentimes is they want to mow their lawn once a week while also having really high quality or really having a short mowed lawn in general, which some people think, short cut equals high quality, well short cut, equals more maintenance. So it's all just dependent little equation where if you change one factor it's going to increase or alter or decrease another factor as well.
"One-third rule for the cutting height is pretty much our integrated pest management or IPM recommendation across the board for mowing."
Okay, okay. This is good to know because honestly, I was just planning on mowing my lawn once a week because that's just what I thought that you did, but it's not like, okay, you mow your lawn every Saturday. It's more you look for, my mower is set at two inches, I look for when my grass reaches three inches and then I mow it.
Even a couple of weeks after doing that, you'll quickly start to nail down, okay, I have to mow every three or four days at this given height. So it is often just to get a little guess and check, there's no strict rules of telling people, when we make recommendations like mow on this day, or mow on this day, there's so many environmental factors that come into play, then you get down to the grass species and even some grass varieties that act completely differently. So yeah, it's a little bit of guess and check, but just keep in mind that one third mowing rule, which will then dictate your mowing frequency.
Does time of day affect like, oh, you should never mow your lawn at 2:00 PM or something?
The only thing that would come into play a little bit might be moisture. It's actually not too bad to mow when there's moisture on greens. We mow putting greens that, no, I meant in your lawn, but on putting greens, we've been mowing in the rain and stuff like that. There's dew often in the morning when golf courses or mowing or sports fields, before everyone's playing, 5:00 AM or earlier, it's more of the moisture around the soil. So if you're kind of smoshing the grass into the ground, if you've got high clay content, that's kind of more of a concern, but yeah, time of day is not really a thing. Imagine on a golf course, they just can't mow or they can mow around say like 2:00 PM, but they're probably not mind putting greens at 2:00 PM, because people are on the course or that sort of outlying factor.
Okay. So the only reason I ask is I was doing research on my lawn, like I do now that I'm a homeowner, and-
I know, right! I know! And I saw basically it said, around 2:00 PM is the hottest part of the day and when you mow your lawn, you're stretching out your lawn, and you don't want to be stressed and hot at the same time, but basically it's like that really won't affect your lawn a whole great deal, is what I'm saying.
Yeah. I think there's the chance that it could probably greater induce stress. A byproduct of that stress would probably be less of the cutting mechanism of the plant. Although, you could have some evaporation out of the plant itself in that instance, but I think more of the stress would be the actual mower or the units putting traffic on the plant with the high temperature or heat. So I think that would be more of the setting. If your plant and then it gets into your irrigation completely, but say the plant is little dryer, you have a lot of heat, it's already evaporating quite a bit and it needs to be replaced or irrigated and then you go and traffic on it before it has that moisture back built in. You could have a wilted plant that doesn't take stress as well. So it could damage in that scenario, so that's a good point. You are a turf expert already. Google does wonder.
Well, it doesn't feel like it! Gosh, yeah, my neighbor came over and was just like, why is that one spot so green? I was like, I don't know, actually, where all the clover is at in my lawn. Yeah.
The same thing goes for any profession. I'm remodeling some bathrooms right now in a house through this quarantine and I'm already quickly finding out there's things that I find later on that, oh, that would have been nice to know, but I just have no idea, like, wainscotting, or coating, I don't even know what it's called, but that's what I'm doing.
Okay, we covered when to mow, what time to mow, what height I should mow at.
We could probably talk about the grass in your lawn, I guess you are mowing just so listeners can probably tell how this would maybe affect frequency or different tips and tricks. So I already just know from previous experience and kind of looking at your lawn, it's a lot of fine fescue, but let's actually divert away from fine fescue. We could probably talk about other species relative to clipping production. So that's actually something that people may want to be, the end user that only wants to mow once every week or even less if possible, like my parents. So actually other species that would be worse for that would be probably tall fescue, pretty widely utilized grass plant across the US, especially in the cool season transition zones. It just generally reduces clippings quite a bit. It grows at a faster rate relatively. So the species that are generally lower producing of clipping rates are fine fescues, perennial ryegrasses, and actually, I think through a lot of studies we've done with our green earth program, which is kind of sustainability driven or making as most sustainable as possible, at least, perennial ryegrass is probably one of the better options you can go with. Fine fescue would kind of be second, but there's also a lot of varietal differences within those species. So bluegrass typically wouldn't really be viewed as a low mow type grass, but we have done some trials and some of our varieties are actually comparable to some ryegrasses and clipping production. So it's kind of a hard thing to nail down just on a species basis, because there's a lot of overlap depending on the cultivars within that species.
And so just because perennial ryegrass grows slower than these other varieties, or is there a complete different reason to that?
I think it's mostly, yeah, that rate, but also imagine if you can think of like the tall fescue texture is really wider, even though they're starting to be bred a little thinner nowadays. Perennial ryegrass is generally the thinnest leaf blade besides fine fescues, so it's kind of the combination of leaf surface area, as well as rate of production. So tall fescue might be three times, four times as thick as a ryegrass for just theory sake. And if it's growing at the same rate, tall fescue would still produce more leaf area. So in your instance, when you're pushing the little reel push driven mower, it actually would be a little bit tougher even, that that situation for tall fescue. Then you combine with a faster growth rate on top of that, then yeah it's going to be a little bit more difficult, and you might actually need to increase your frequency even more in your situation to make it less stressful, I guess.
Okay. Well, that's good to know. And speaking of clippings, what am I supposed to do after I mow my lawn, do I leave the clippings on my lawn? I also bought a rake, gosh, I have nothing, to like rake up the clippings, but I'm not certain.
Yeah, no, you can definitely just leave the clippings there. So some people will prefer to take the clippings off to bag them and whatnot. When you actually leave the clippings in, there's studies that show generally around like a pound of nitrogen per thousand per year is what you can add back into the soil by leaving the clippings. It does get a little hairy in terms of Fach production when if there's a lot of stems being produced and you're cutting those, those aren't decomposed as well. But for what you're doing, yeah. A, it would be just really hard to even pick up the clippings without a basket on your cutting unit.
That's why I have a rake.
Yeah. Quarantine Is giving us all, I guess, a lot of time to, and we can't go too many places outdoors SO OUR backyards, front yards are kind of the other alternative, which I've killed my lawn, but it's still progress. Do you want to talk in detail for fertilization or irrigation? I don't know if we talked to them about much of those in the first episode. We are kind of coming up to the 20 minute mark.
Yeah. I think we're coming up on time. I think we'll keep it to just mowing your lawn for this episode. And we can talk about fertilization and pest management in future ones.
Cool. Well, I'm expecting you to implement these tips.
Oh, I will try. I want to mow, I was going to mow my lawn again on Tuesday. I was like, no, I'm going to wait to talk to Micah first before I mow it twice in four days. So I'm glad I talked to you before I mowed my lawn.
I have reduced my mowing by 100%, because I sprayed out my lawn, so....
Well, mowing my lawn is so fun right now because of this reel mower. I just would like to keep doing it. So I'm looking forward to Saturday.
Yep, it is kind of therapeutic.
It is, yeah. it really is! All right. Well, thanks for your time, Micah.
Yep, no problem.