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Determining Mowing Height, What to Do With Grass Clippings

Mowing Tips to Achieve the Greenest Lawn Possible

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Would you be surprised to learn that your reason for mowing the lawn -- and doing the job properly -- goes beyond impressing the neighbors with that "clean-cut" look? Learning from the mowing tips on this page can promote lawn health and give you the greenest lawn possible. The goal is a lawn that looks not merely well-kept, but lush.

One of the best investments to that end would be in a mulching mower. Using mulching mowers can not only cut down on your yard maintenance, but also make your grass greener. Otherwise, you may end up either raking or bagging your grass clippings -- which in turn means disposing of them or recycling them. All extra work. Besides, hauling away your grass clippings means depriving your lawn of a natural fertilizer (supplementing the chemical feedings discussed on Page 3) that can make your grass greener.

Proper Mowing Height and What to Do About Grass Clippings

So how long should you wait before cutting the lawn? And how short should you cut the lawn (which is another way of asking, At exactly what mowing height should you set lawnmowers?)? According to the Cornell University Cooperative Extension, cutting the lawn with a lawnmower set at a proper mowing height can save you from having to bag your grass clippings, even if you don't own a mulching mower. The rule of thumb suggested by the Cornell Extension is, "Mow when your grass is dry and 3 to 3-1/2 inches tall. Never cut it shorter then 2 to 2-1/2 inches or remove more than one third of the leaf surface at any one mowing."

The premise behind this mowing tip is that the valuable nutrients in the grass clippings can do your lawn some good, left right where they lie after cutting -- as long as their bulk is kept at a minimum. By following this rule of thumb and cutting only about an inch off the top of your lawn at any one time, the bulk of the grass clippings is kept low.

Employing this mowing tip will entail more frequent cutting, to be sure. But the result will be a healthier lawn, fed by nutrients that you would otherwise be hauling away. Besides, cutting a lawn too short can stress it out, especially during periods of hot weather. In addition, cutting the lawn stimulates growth and increases thickness. Again, think of the lawn not as an amorphous mass but as a vast garden of individual plants. Those plants can profit from "pinching," as can many houseplants or garden flowers.

Note that with mulching mowers, you don't need to be quite so careful about the height at which you cut the lawn, since the grass clippings are shredded up more finely. This works much better for those of us who don't generally walk around with tape measures on our belts! For more information, please consult my product review of mulching mowers.

Mowing Tips on "The Cutting Edge": When and How to Mow

  • "The cutting edge": Be sure to keep lawnmower blades sharp. Sharp lawnmower blades produce clean cuts, and clean cuts promote better grass health. Dull lawnmower blades, by contrast, produce rougher cuts that make the grass more susceptible to disease.

  • When to mow: It puts less stress on the lawn to mow in the evening than to mow when the sun is pounding down in the afternoon.

  • How to mow: Alternate the direction in which you mow each lawnmowing session. Using this mowing tip, you will prevent your grass from "getting into a rut" (literally). If your lawnmower wheels pass over the same area in the same direction each time you mow, they'll form ruts over time.
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