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How To Get Started Lawn Mowing

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Reel lawn mower photo.

Reel mowers have been around for decades and they're still a good choice for mowing small yards.

George Doyle/Getty Images
If you don't know how to mow a lawn, don't be discouraged: it's never too late to learn. Lawn mowing doesn't take a lot of strength or expertise, and it's nice knowing you don't have to rely on someone else to do the job for you. You just need a good mower, some patience and a basic understanding of how to mow a lawn.
Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: 2-4 hours, depending on lawn size (includes lawnmower setup and maintenance)

Here's How:

  1. Buy or borrow equipment for lawn mowing: If the lawn is less than 500 square feet, consider a reel lawnmower. They're simple to use and less noisy than gas or electric mowers. For larger lawns, a powered mower is faster, and its mulching options or grass catchers save time on clean up. Don't bother with a riding mower unless you've got at least an acre of lawn to care for.
  2. Make sure the mower is in good condition: Before you begin lawn mowing, look for obstructions in the blade area, particularly if the mower was just purchased. Add a little oil to the moving parts if they feel tight. If the mower is over a year old, the blades may need to be sharpened, or your lawn will look ragged after you've mowed it. Ask your local hardware store or garden center to recommend a company that sharpens lawn mower blades, if you're not comfortable trying it yourself. But it's easy to learn how to sharpen mower blades.
  3. Adjust wheel height: Generally, warm-season grasses are cut to a height of 1/2 inch to 1 inch, 2 inches at most. Cool-season grasses such as bluegrass and fescue thrive at a height of about 3 inches to 3 1/2 inches. Cutting height can usually be adjusted by raising or lowering a mower's wheels. The Lawn Institute's Web site offers a handy lawn-mowing chart to determine the ideal height for mowing your lawn, depending on your type of grass. Look on the side of your lawn mower to find latches or switches that allow you to adjust the height of the wheels.
  4. Clear objects and mark obstacles: It may seem to have little to do with learning how to mow a lawn, but this can actually be one of the most important tips to take away from the article. Before you begin lawn mowing, use a rake to pick up branches, loose stones, dog bones, small toys, bottles, cans or other such objects. Why? Because anything that might get caught in the mower blades or fly out of the discharge chute is a hazard: such an object would be flying at up to 200 mph and could easily hurt you or someone else. Mark surface pipes and half-buried rocks, so you won't run into them accidentally.
  5. Mow the lawn in a pattern: Proceed back and forth — not around and around in a spiral. Move at a brisk walking pace; if you go too slowly, grass will catch and clog the blades. Consider lawn mowing to be a workout! Use a similar back-and-forth pattern if you're using a riding mower, proceeding in neat, even rows. To mow around a flower bed or tree, do two laps around the obstacle, first in one direction, then the other.
  6. Use the half-pass trick: Every pass, overlap the area you've already mowed by half the width of your mower. While this may seem like more work, it takes less time and energy, because the lawn-mowing movement is smoother (less grass to cut in each pass) and you will cut anything missed the first time. You won't have to go back later to trim up any rough or shaggy patches.
  7. Tidy up after lawn mowing: When you're finished, use a lawn rake to gather clippings. Clean the mower blades with water (follow machine directions with a gas or electrically-powered unit) and squirt a little oil on the moving parts to prevent rust.
  8. Mow early and often, but mow "high": For the best possible lawn, mow early (in the morning, after dew has dried on grass) and often (once a week is best, every two weeks will do). Like other perennial plants, grasses stay healthy when only a third of new growth is removed at any given time. So mow "high": i.e., don't scalp your grass.

Tips:

  1. Safety first and always is lesson #1 in learning how to mow a lawn. Never allow children to play near you when you're lawn mowing: something might fly out of the discharge chute and strike someone. Nor should you take kids "along for the ride" on a riding mower.
  2. When lawn mowing a sloping area, always mow across the slope, not up and down, to prevent accidents. The exception to this is when you're using a riding lawnmower -– then you can mow up and down the slope (indeed, mowing straight across a hill with a riding lawnmower can result in its tipping over).
  3. Lawn mowing should be done when the grass is dry. You might slip on wet grass, and soggy clippings will clump and clog. Cutting damp grass also leaves it vulnerable to fungal diseases.
  4. If grass clogs the blades or discharge chute of a power mower and the engine starts to sputter, turn off the engine and make sure the blades have stopped rotating before carefully raising the mower to remove the debris.

What You Need

  • Lawn mower
  • Lawn rake
Related Video
How to Mow Your Lawn
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