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Over the Garden Fence

Ready, Set, Mow

Spring lawn care tips

Our lawns started to grow not too long ago, slowly at first and it has really ramped up in just a couple of weeks. If you have not wandered out in the yard with all the rotten weather that included snow and rain, you’re likely to see that the lawn is due for that first mowing.

The first mowing will begin to even out the growth of the lawn overall, as we all have areas that grow faster (such as the south side of the home) than others or that have different kinds of grasses now that grow at different rates. After the first mowing, you will see a bit of mottled green as those different grasses green up at different rates.

Pre-mow checklist

Before you start the mower for the first time, clean the mower deck and be sure the mower blade is sharp. A sharp blade will really make a big difference in the appearance of your lawn. A sharp blade will cut clean. It makes a big difference on the young tender grass. Another technique for making the lawn look good is to mow when the grass is dry.


Spring is a natural growth cycle for our cool season lawns, with fall being the other time of year with energy directed into the roots. In the spring, growth is going to be what we see, green grass growing very quickly. Grass is going to do this with or without any fertilizer. To extend the greening period and more easily manage the mowing, resist applying fertilizers until the lawn has already been mowed four to six times. This will help even out the rate of growth. If you are growing your lawn more naturally, you will not see that flush of growth as you do after using an inorganic product. Lawns fed with natural products can have a slower rate of growth, just more even over the growing season.

When and how to mow

Mowing the lawn this time of year means the lawn will be growing fast enough that the mower will be out of the shed or garage every fourth or fifth day right now. As the grass slows later on, we will be back to our once a week pattern. If you are looking for a good rule of thumb as to how often to mow the lawn, remember that mowing should not remove more than one-third of the grass blade at a time. This keeps the lawn growing and competitive against weeds.

If you are OK with the look of the lawn being just one mower notch higher, you gain three more benefits:

  1. This provides for more leaf surface and translates to making more food naturally to keep the lawn greener longer.
  2. This is another way to combat weeds. The taller lawn shades the soil, preventing weed seeds from germinating.
  3. If you shade the soil, you will be preserving soil moisture for use later on.

For more on lawn care in northern Illinois, visit the LawnTalk website.

A special note to “Over the Garden Fence” readers:

I am retiring at the end of April after nearly 30 years with University of Illinois Extension. For more than a decade, it has been my pleasure to write this blog, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share quality, research-based information from University of Illinois and other land grant universities to our communities.

As this growing season begins, a selection of qualified guest columnists will occupy this space. In time, another Extension Educator will join the team and likely continue this blog. It has been a joy to work with amazing people and help residents address challenges and grow their knowledge.


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.