What’s the Best Lawn Mower?
The type of lawn mower you choose depends on your yard’s needs. Rotary mowers are the most commonly used for residential and commercial lawn maintenance. For athletic fields and golf courses, reel mowers are preferred due to their ability to cut at extremely low heights with higher rates of frequency.
- Rotary mowers. These lawn mowers use a rotating horizontal blade to cut grass. The blade spins fast enough to chop turf into tiny pieces, but taller grass can slow the blade and stall the engine. Some rotary mowers have a special housing unit where cut grass is suspended as it’s repeatedly minced into fine pieces. This is called a mulching mower.
- Reel mowers. These mowers have a set of cylindrical, angled blades that spin in a vertical, circular pattern to cut turf grass with a scissoring action. Although reel mowers can either be manual or engine-driven, their close-cropping ability means lawns must be mowed more frequently to maintain the quality of the cut.
What’s the Right Height to Mow Your Lawn?
One of the most important aspects of lawn maintenance is proper mowing height. Mowing height is measured as the distance from the surface of your soil or thatch to the top of your grass after mowing—not before.
The species of turf grass you plant will determine the proper mowing height for your specific lawn, so stick to the recommended height range. Mow shadier sections of your lawn at the upper end of the recommended height range so you can increase the leaf area and offset low-light conditions.
It’s important to note that home lawns shouldn’t be mowed as short as athletic lawns or golf courses, which require much more lawn maintenance. The weakened turf that results from mowing too low is more susceptible to weed invasion, mechanical damage, drought stress and lawn disease. In fact, setting your mower blades too low can also result in:
- Decreased root, rhizome and stolon growth
- Decreased plant food production and storage
- Increased growth of succulent shoots
When you mow extremely low, you run the risk of scalping your lawn. A scalped lawn is defoliated, leaving the plant with no green tissue for food production and growth. Reserves of stored food have to be pulled from the crown and roots of the plant in order to produce new shoots. This is extremely stressful on a lawn, which is why repeated scalping can completely kill your turf grass.
How to Set Your Mower Height
While each model and style of mower is different, most mowers have height adjustment controls at deck level, or right near the wheels. Check these settings before each mowing as part of your basic lawn care routine.
After you’ve set your mower to the recommended height for your turf grass, check the actual cutting height by making a single pass on your lawn and measuring the mowing height. Adjust the wheel or deck controls if necessary so that your actual height matches your proper mowing height—this helps adjust for any mowing brand discrepancies.
How Often Should You Mow Your Lawn?
One common misconception about home lawn maintenance is that grass should be mowed at a preset schedule. In fact, the best routine is to mow your lawn when it’s necessary—not when it’s convenient.
Lawns grow at different rates depending on the season, weather, management and species. So, how can you tell when it’s necessary to mow your lawn? Follow the “one-third” rule: Simply mow frequently enough so that no more than one-third of the leaf blade is removed in a single mowing.
Removing more of the grass blade than that may stunt root growth. So if your desired lawn height is 3 inches, mow when your grass grows to 4 to 4 1/2 inches tall.
Some other frequency-related lawn mowing tips include:
- Mow every three to four days during periods of rapid grass growth
- Mow every six to eight days during periods of moderate growth
- Mow only as needed—or not at all—during periods of drought or dormancy
For overgrown grass from vacationing or neglected lawns, don’t overwork your mower by trying to get it all in one pass—mow as many times as needed in the same day, never removing more than one-third of the blade in a single pass, lowering the blades each time. For example, for 6-inch grass, pass first at a 4-inch cutting height, then again at a 3-inch cutting height.
How to Get a Quality Cut From Your Lawn Mower
One of the best lawn mowing tips you’ll ever read is the same for chefs in the kitchen: Keep your blades sharp. Blunt mower blades bruise and shred the tips of grass leaves, causing moisture loss and inviting lawn diseases.
Sharpened lawn mower blades not only improve your lawn’s appearance by giving it a clean, crisp cut, but they also minimize mowing stress, decrease water loss and improve overall lawn health. Tips for keeping a sharp mower blade include:
- Sharpen your mower blades at the start of each season
- Check your blade balance and straightness (hitting objects can cause warping)
- Keep a set of spare blades, and rotate them in and out with your main set
- Resharpen your blades after about 15 mowing sessions—i.e., around four times per year in the north and seven times per year in the south
What’s the Healthiest Mowing Pattern?
Every time that you mow your lawn you, should change directions. This simple but powerful lawn care tip reduces soil compaction and any turf damage from mower wheels. Repeated same-direction mowing causes patterns in areas such as tree rings or median strips because it’s hard to change cut directions in these areas.
As patterns develop, mowers stop adequately cutting the grass and simply push it over, causing it to lie flat on the ground. This reduces the cut quality over time. Alternatively, athletic turf managers can use patterns to create visual stimulation and interest on ball fields—this requires much more lawn maintenance and upkeep than is necessary for a home lawn, however.