While mowing the lawn is a typical activity for many Oklahomans, all of the severe weather, endless rain and flooding has likely put the kibosh on firing up the lawn mower. However, the water will recede soon, and mowing activity will once again be a priority.
Mowing to the proper height during a particular time of the year is essential in order to have a healthy lawn. The type of grass you have, as well as the time of year, will depend on cutting height. Warm season turfgrass such as Bermudagrass, are cut lower in the summer to promote lateral spread and a tight turf. Cutting it too short may cause the turf to thin because it is less able to withstand heavy traffic. In addition, environmental stresses such as low soil moisture and extreme temperatures also may cause problems. In cooler weather, turfgrasses are cut higher to provide insulation for the lower temperatures.
Cutting it too tall may produce a stemmy turf, characterized by leaves being produced near the end of upright stems.
During the heat of the summer, keep Bermudagrass at about one-half to three-fourths inch tall. During the cooler seasons, recommended height is 1 inch to 1.25 inches. Cool season turf should be maintained at about 2.5 inches pretty much year around, except for tall fescue, which should be at about 3 inches during the summer months and 2.5 inches from September through April. Turfgrasses grown in shade areas should be maintained at a slightly higher cut in order to increase leaf area to compensate for lower light levels.
So, how often should you mow so it is the most beneficial to your lawn? While there’s no specific timetable, turfgrasses should be mowed on a schedule based on the amount of plant growth between mowings. This will depend on the level of soil moisture, nutrients and temperature, as well as the amount of sunlight. Since these conditions often change from week to week, it makes sense the plant growth also changes. Therefore, the ideal time to cut turfgrasses is when no more than about a third of the leaf area is removed in one mowing.
As you mow, use the mulch setting on your mower to eliminate the need to bag the grass. The clippings have valuable nutrients that are removed if you bag them. Also, grass clippings take up valuable space in landfills. For more information on not bagging grass clippings, check with your local Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension county office and request a copy of Extension Leaflet L-253, Don’t Bag It Lawn Care Program.
Another tip to ease the mowing process is to keep your equipment sharp and in good working order. Dull, improperly adjusted equipment can bruise leaf tips, reduce growth and cause a dull appearance over the turf area due to frayed leaf blades.
Something else to consider is varying the mowing pattern throughout the season to distribute wear, reduce soil compaction and improve turf appearance. Also, make turns on sidewalks or driveways, or simply make wide turns while mowing to avoid tearing the turf.
Finally, avoid mowing wet grass. While that may not be an option for a while for some folks across the state, it’s harder to get a quality cut, clippings form clumps on the mower and turf, and disease organisms are more likely to be spread.
David Hillock is a consumer horticulturist with OSU cooperative extension.