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Over the Garden Fence

Time To Mow

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

The annual passage of winter to spring has begun and the smell of fresh cut grass is in the air. The last week has seen a big green change in the neighborhoods.

A few guidelines to having a good-looking lawn do not take us away from what we already do when tending the lawn. A longer grass blade means deeper roots and more tillers and rhizomes to keep our lawn thick and competitive against weeds. So when you set up your mower for the summer, try just one notch different from normal, raising the deck. That simple change will make a big difference in how well the lawn will handle stresses like a brief dry period. This will also make the lawn look better if your yard is uneven.

While you are getting ready to mow maybe for the first time, be sure that mower blade is sharp. Rotary mower engines turn at very high rates and the blade will get dull very quickly. A dull blade does not cut the grass, but tears it off leaving a ragged edge, which is prone to drying down and then browning. This gives your lawn a look you do not want. Homeowners spend big bucks every year on the yard, consider a second mower blade that can be sharpened at your leisure or taken to sharpening service. This leaves you with a blade on the mower and one in the ready when the first one gets dull. Start out with a sharp blade and change it out with the sharp one in July. If you really want to have some bragging rights on the street, sharpen or swap blades once a month. The lawn will look very well groomed.

Many gardeners do not like to collect clippings, but do not like them piled up or in clumps in the lawn either. Our cool season grasses naturally have two flushes of growth a year, spring and fall with more grass blade growth in the spring. If you can mow often enough to take off no more than 1/3 of the grass blade at each mowing, those small clippings will sift right into the lawn and no bagging or raking needed This means that mowing may need to happen every 4 to 5 days to keep up with the growth and that 1/3 rule for a few weeks. This has an additional benefit to you as the lawn will not be shocked and remain strong against weeds and diseases.

Another grooming tip is to mow in a different direction or pattern once a month. Gardeners quickly figure out the least amount of time it will take to mow and routinely use that pattern. By changing up the pattern, the mower will catch that grass that has been lying down from the regular mowing pattern and along with a higher, sharper blade, your lawn will look a lot better all season and the neighbors will be asking for your secrets.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.