Mowing Tips For A Healthy Lawn

Following these tips will help keep your grass looking it's best. This isn't about creating an even surface or making perfect stripes in your lawn. It's about keep your lawn thick, green and free of weeds and disease.

Every little thing you do to your lawn can have a tremendous impact on the appearance of your lawn. Mowing is no exception and sometimes poor mowing can really hurt your curb appeal.

The following tips are easy to implement and will improve the look and health of your lawn.

Proper Mowing Height

Grass is just like any other plant in that it needs sunlight to create food through photosynthesis. It is the green blade of grass where photosynthesis occurs. The longer the blade, the more area available for photosynthesis. Tall grass also help shade the soil to keep it from drying out too fast and blocks sunlight from shorter weeds that have recently germinated.

Cool season grasses that are the norm in the this region can be mowed high, around 2.5" but you can usually go higher with good results as long as the grass gets enough water. Generally, higher is better so feel free to try setting your mower to the highest setting it can go.

Also keep in mind that many mowers come with the wheels set at the lowest setting to make them more compact for packaging. Don't just assume it's factory set at that height for any other reason. Your owner's manual should have told you this and with a piece of equipment that is powered by explosions and spins a heavy metal blade thousands of times per minute, it's a good idea to read the manual.

Don't Let Your Grass Get Too Long

Have you ever let your grass grow too long? Maybe you were on vacation, there was a lot of rain or you applied too much fertilizer. Except for the length and lack of uniformity in height, the grass looks lush with a nice green color. When you're done mowing it looks dull and has brown patches.

Part of the reason is that when the grass grows tall, sunlight doesn't get to the bottom of the blade. The grass plant will concentrate it's photosynthesis efforts on the upper part of the blade where it does get sun. No photosynthesis, no green. When you cut off the grass you'll be cutting down into that area, exposing the hay colored parts of the grass.

When the grass grows too high, it also reduces air circulation near the ground. The moisture and poor air circulation creates an environment where lawn diseases (fungus) can thrive. Your soil likely contains the fungus but as long as it's healthy, it can usually resist it. When conditions are ideal, the disease can overtake the lawn.

The recommendation is to never cut more than 1/3 of the height of the grass in any one mowing. You accomplish this by mowing frequently. If you keep your lawn at 3" you should cut it when it gets to 4.5".

Don't Mow Wet Grass. Wait 24 Hours After Mowing To Water.

There are a number of reasons why you shouldn't mow your grass when it's wet. The grass grass will clump more when the blades are wet and it will also put more strain on your mower. Walking on wet soil will also compact it.

Mowing your lawn also injures the grass. If you're using a reel mower that cuts the grass cleaner the damage to the tips of your grass will be less but most people use a rotary mower. The tip takes about a day to heal and until then is more susceptible to disease. Many lawn disease travel through water so it's best to keep the lawn dry until it heals.

Mow In Different Directions

When you expose grass to the same force each time, it will start to lean in the direction of that force. You can see this effect in striped lawns. Stripes are achieved by using a roller to push the grass down in one direction and then the other direction on the next row. You'll notice that even if you don't use a roller, you'll still have stripes because grass doesn't recover that fast from that type of force. Normal mowing provides enough force to cause grass to lean even with out a roller. You may even see swirl patterns.

To counteract this, you should mow your lawn in different directions each time you mow. Go north to south and the next mowing go east to west. You should also try to alternate where you start. So if you start in one corner going north, try to mow that area so that line gets mowed going south.

Some people even mow both north to south and east to west each mowing.

Use A Sharp Mower Blade

A sharp mower blade leaves a nice clean edge while a dull blade tears the tip of the grass. Don't just assume that your blade is sharp because it cuts grass. Most anything spinning at 3,500 RPM will cut grass. Occasionally look at your grass to see if the tips are brown, torn, split or show any other signs of damage that indicate your blade isn't sharp enough.

When the tips of the grass are damaged they take longer to heal and are more susceptible to disease. The damaged tips also dry out the grass faster requiring more water.

Keeping your mower blade sharp is one of the best things you can do for your lawn. Many people neglect this. I have to admit that before I started learning about proper lawn care my mower blade hadn't been sharpened for years.

You can bring your mower in for service, remove the blade and bring it to get sharpened or you can learn to sharpen it yourself. When removing your blade, or sharpening it in place, make sure to follow the safety procedures in your owner's manual.

How To Sharpen A Mower Blade

There are a number of tools you can use to sharpen a lawn mower blade yourself. The important things to keep in mind are to get the correct angle and make sure the blade is balanced. If your mower blade isn't balanced it will wobble and can damage your mower. You don't want your blade to be razor sharp. A thin edge isn't necessary and will dull faster.

You can use a bench grinder to sharpen your mower blade. Bench grinders make quick work of sharpening your mower blade. They are easy to use but with any power tool, make sure to read, understand and follow the safety instructions provided with your manual.

Factory Reconditioned bench grinders, like the one pictured to the left, are very affordable and can be used for other purposes. I've always had good luck with factory reconditioned power tools. They are great for DIY'ers that want quality tools at an affordable price. You can also check out other reconditioned tools from CPO by clicking on these links:

If you don't have or want to purchase a bench grinder, there is a very effective tool that you can use on a power drill. It comes with a sharpener and a balancer. After you remove the spark plug and do whatever else your mower needs to make it safe to mess around underneath the mower deck, you can use a board to keep your mower blade from turning and use the sharpener to touch up your blade without removing it.

It has a guide to get the right angle but you still need to pay attention to keep it aligned.

Another option if you have a Dremel is to use the lawn mower sharpening attachment. If you have a thick blade you might have trouble getting it in and it can be slow gowing. I've sharpened a blade with a Dremel without the attachment but it can be difficult to get the right angle. I used the Dremel to get the blade close and then followed up with a flat file.

Or if that all seems like too much hassle, you can always just buy a new lawn mower blade.

Gator Mulching Blade

Last year I purchased a Gator Mulching Blade to replace the stock mower blade which wasn't a mulching blade. The Gator blades get very good reviews and seem to be used by a number of professionals. The main reason I chose a Gator mulcher was the reports I've seen that indicate the blade needs to be sharpened less frequently because it uses a harder steel than most OEM blades.

The following video is the best I found to teach you how to sharpen your lawn mower blade. Don't know if I'm too crazy about spreading used motor oil on your mower deck though.

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