How To Mow A Lawn

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Many people claim that they know just how to mow a lawn the right way.  However, when you ask ten different people, you will wind up with ten different answers. 

The truth is that there are many factors that should be considered that most homeowners do not even give a second thought.

Do you have Kentucky bluegrass or Bahiagrass?  Are you mowing too early in the morning?  Are you using the right lawn mower for the job?  These are but a few facets you, as a homeowner, should consider before you cut the grass.

So before you crank up the engine on your lawn mower and take off with reckless abandon, take a few moments to read up on everything you should know about mowing your lawn the right way.

Freshly mowed, dark green lawn.

Choose the Right Lawn Mower For Your Yard

A lawn mower is not merely a purchase; it is an investment.  By choosing the right piece of equipment, you will wind up with a greater rate of return.

The primary factors in determining what type of equipment fits your turf care needs are the size of your property and your budget.  Once these are determined, you are ready to look into the different types of mowers.

There are four different subcategories of mowing equipment that need to be examined to fit your specific lawn care needs.

A red push-style lawn mower in action

Push Mower

This style is perfect for you if your property is an acre or less.  Once you have passed that threshold, you should probably begin considering an option requiring less physical exertion.

Push lawn mowers can be manually pushed, battery-powered, corded, or gas-powered.  For larger or more challenging (sloped) terrain, push mowers have a feature that makes them self-propelled for ease of use.

A corded electric push mower is generally only used for lawns that are ¼ acre or less because of the range limitations afforded by the power cord.  The size of the mowing decks on these types range from 10” to 61”.

A man pushing a corded lawnmower

For anything bigger than ¼ acre, you should look into cordless electric (battery) powered or gas-powered versions.  Lawns larger than ½ acre or yards with rougher terrain should consider using a mower with the self-propelled option.

A push mower is without question the most budget-friendly of the four types.  For a decent corded electric model, you could spend as little as $150.  For a quality self-propelled mower that is gas-powered, you can expect a price tag somewhere between $400 and $500.

A man pushing a lawnmower with fresh clippings coming out of the back.

Riding Lawn Mowers

These lawn mowers are designed for larger pieces of property and have a mowing breadth that falls between 26″ and 74″.

If you have a larger property or need to avoid walking or standing for extended periods of time, then a riding mower is best suited for your needs.

A rear-engine riding mower is usually priced between $1,300 and $3,000.  These are not designed for pulling attachments behind them and take up less space for storage.

A man on a riding lawn mower

Lawn and garden tractors are a bit more capable than the rear-engine models.  Priced between $1,200 up to $4,000 (on average, they can go as high as $11,000), these offer more functionality because they are equipped to pull attachments behind them.

These are attractive to potential buyers because they allow you to cut a lot of grass in a little time.  Lawn and garden tractors will take up more storage space in your garage and, since they are technically a vehicle, will require regular maintenance for proper function.

Zero-turn mowers are the most advanced of these three subcategories.

They mow effectively at higher speeds.  This is the main reason they are preferred for commercial use by lawn care professionals. 

Zero-turn means they can rotate 360 degrees on a dime with mowing decks that range from, which makes them more maneuverable and agile than the others in this category.  This ease of maneuverability allows you to cut closer to fixed objects in your lawn.

A yellow, zero turn lawn mower sits on a yard

Because these are faster, stronger, and more agile, they carry a heftier average price tag of $4,000 to $5,000.  Some commercial zero-turn mowers can cost as much as a new car.

Tow-Behind Mower

These mowers attach to the back of your riding mower or ATV.  Generally, these are used for giant swaths of land or fields with rougher terrain.  Think golf courses and pastures.

These are usually only used in commercial capacities by professionals or farmers.

With an average cost of between $1,000 and $3,000 and because they must be attached to something to pull them, they are not usually practical for the average homeowner.

A red tow behind lawn mower is cutting grass as it is tugged along.

Automated Lawn Mower

Think of a robotic vacuum for your lawn.  This relatively new technology should only be used if you don’t have the time to mow your lawn and do not want to hire a professional to do it for you.

Ranging between $500 and $2000, you control them with an app from your phone. They can be controlled from anywhere in the world.

The smart technology will deploy it from its charging station to mow your lawn.  It functions quietly enough to operate at night.  When the battery begins to run low, it will simply return to its charging station.

You can put these into use at will or set them up on a schedule to cut your lawn.

This new technology needs to mature for some time to gain efficiency and should probably not be used unless you genuinely have absolutely exhausted all other options.

An automated, smart, wifi-based lawn mower

When Should You Mow Your Lawn

The broad and straightforward answer to this question is that you should mow a lawn whenever it needs it.  Regardless if you mow it yourself or contract a professional, you should always mow your lawn when the grass benefits from it the most.(1)

That means that you should not be mowing a lawn on a set schedule that disregards the current state of the environment in your lawn.

You should consider what type of grass you have growing in your yard.  Ask yourself what the growing conditions and patterns of growth are in your yard.  Measure the rate of growth over a period of time to see how fast your lawn is sprouting.

For warm-season grasses, like St. Augustine and bermuda grass, the growing season peaks from late May to late July or early August.  During this time, you can expect to have to mow the lawn with a bit more frequency.

Cool-season grasses, like ryegrass and tall fescue, hit the apex of their growing season two times each year.  From late March to early May is the optimal time for growth during the spring.  The peak growing time for the fall season ranges from late September to early November.

These respective times for each grass type will require you to mow your lawn more frequently.  Still, this frequency will generally be no more than once every 4 to 5 days.

Freshly mowed lawn with striped pattern

There are times of the year, dependent upon your geographical region, where the grass will go dormant due to either extended periods of drought or because the weather has grown too cold.  Never mow your lawn once it has gone dormant.

Cool-season grasses, like fine fescue and bentgrass, will generally go dormant whenever the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Their warm-season counterparts, like zoysia grass and centipede grass, usually go dormant in mid to late October.

What Time of Day Should I Mow My Lawn

Homeowners often make the mistake of assuming that it doesn’t matter when the lawn gets mowed as long as it does.  This is a mistake.  Bad timing can lead to insect infestation and disease.  Let’s look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of mowing at different times of the day.

A man pushing a lawn mower in the early morning.

Early Morning

Maybe you just wanted to get the mowing out of the way while it was still cool outside.  This was a bad idea.  Mowing too early in the morning means that you have mowed the lawn while the dew was still present on the blades of grass.  

Not only could this damage your lawn mower, but you leave it susceptible to disease and fungus as well by tearing the grass instead of cutting it. 

Sometimes, the early bird doesn’t need to get the worm.

Mid Morning

Without question, this is the best time of day to mow cut your grass.  The dew from the morning has evaporated away, so you do not leave your lawn vulnerable to fungus and disease.

The moisture inherently found in newly cut grass has time to heal and dry before the cool of night sets in again. 

Stripes can be seen in variation of dark green and light green in the grass

Midday

Mowing during the middle of the day could be considered safe, but that does not mean that it is a recommended time for mowing your lawn.  Mowing while the lawn is too hot could potentially tear the grass.  Tearing, as opposed to cutting, opens the floodgates to disease and fungus.

Afternoon

This is widely considered the second-best time to cut your grass if mowing in the middle of the morning proves impractical.

By this point, the heat of the day has generally subsided, so there is minimal risk of tearing the grass.

The sun is still out, so moisture from the newly cut grass still has a chance to dry out before the cool condensation of night begins to set in.

A man is mowing a lawn in the mid-day even though this is not recommended

Evening

Dew appears on your lawn after the sun goes down.  So mowing in the evening is just as bad as mowing too early in the morning.

In some ways, it is worse than mowing too early in the morning.  If you mow in the evening, your lawn has no heat source to dry it off for many hours.  This makes it a virtual breeding ground for all sorts of fungus and lawn diseases.

How High Should You Mow Your Grass

Grass height is important because it is an integral part of creating a low-maintenance and drought-tolerant lawn.  A key to proper mowing is knowing how high you should maintain your lawn.(2)

For a healthy lawn, a general rule for all grass types is to keep your grass at 2 ½”.  However, this number is hardly absolute.

For instance, if your lawn has a problem with crabgrass, lawn care experts contend you should keep your grass at the height of 3″.  The additional shade provided by that extra height will keep the low growing weed from getting the light it needs to thrive.  That way, you naturally hold it in check.

Red lawnmower in action

Specifically, there are desired ranges of mowing height for different types of grasses. Before you mow a lawn, you should consult the following figures that denote grass type and desired grass height.

  • Bahia grass – 2” to 3”
  • Bent grass – ¼” to ¾”
  • Bermuda grass – ½” to 1 ½”
  • Buffalo grass – 2” to 3”
  • Centipede grass – 1 ½” to 2 ½”
  • Fine fescue – 1 ½” to 2 ½”
  • Kentucky bluegrass – 1 ½” to 2 ½”
  • Perennial ryegrass – ¾” to 2 ½”
  • St. Augustine – 2” to 4”
  • Tall fescue – 2” to 3”
  • Zoysia grass – ½” to 1 ½”

These are suggestions to use as a guideline and come with some variations.  During the summer and periods of drought, you should allow all grasses to grow to the higher ends of their respective spectrums.

Freshly trimmed lawn with some flowers in the background.

You should mow warm-season grasses shorter in the spring to remove dead grass blades before the peak growing season.

For cool-season grasses, for the final mowing, before your lawn goes dormant, you should cut the grass to the shorter end of the mowing height spectrum in regions prone to snow to prevent mold.

It behooves you to remember when mowing the lawn that you are only trying to cut off the top ⅓ of the blades of grass.  For example, to achieve 2 ½” of grass in your yard, commence lawn mowing when the grass is 3 ⅔” high.  That way, you make sure that you only have to take off the top ⅓ of the blade.

Do not just allow your grass to grow too tall because you will make the environment ideal for insects, mice, and snakes.

When you mow a lawn, do not fall into the myth that the shorter lawn mowing, the less often you will have to mow.  You are only creating more problems for yourself.

A lawnmower sits in the middle of a yard

What Do I Do With All These Grass Clippings

There are several different things you can do with the clippings left over after cutting the grass. 

Just Leave Them Be

This is the best option for clippings that are shorter than 1” in length.  The reason for this is because grass clippings will decompose quickly and fertilize your lawn by putting the nutrients right back where they came from. 

This method will help your yard retain moisture during the hottest parts of the year.

This is the best option for your grass’s health as you will avoid having to put excess chemicals onto your turf.  It also creates less work for you.

Use Them As Mulch

If you don’t need to fertilize your yard, you might as well take advantage of this free and readily available form of much to keep weeds out of your plants and shrubs while at the same time keeping the moisture in.  Keep 1” to 2” of clippings for optimal conditions.

Let grass clippings stay on the yard or you  can use it as mulch.

Compost

By adding grass clippings to your compost pile, you provide it with a natural heat source that helps the living microbes that are breaking down the material in the pile.

Add dry, brown material such as peat, leaves, or newspaper shreddings at a 1:1 ratio to avoid overheating the compost and putting an end to the microbial activity.

Make A Homebrewed Fertilizer

Filling a 5-gallon bucket ⅓ of the way up with fresh clippings and then filling the rest up with water will mark the beginning of a natural fertilizer you can use to add life to your ornamentals.  You should cover the bucket with a screen or cloth to deter mosquitoes and let it sit outside for two weeks.

Once the two weeks have passed, pour 16 ounces into your watering can before you fill it up with regular water.  Water your flowers and watch how they flourish.

Close-up of a lawnmower

Tips For Proper Lawn Mowing

Dull blades on your mower make for uneven and irregular cutting.  By regularly sharpening your blades, you ensure that they cut clean and true.  This makes for a healthier yard. Also make sure you change the oil in your lawn mower, which extend its life span.

Remember when mowing on slopes that there are different rules for different mowers. 

For riding mowers, you should mow up and down the slope to ensure the equipment is never tilted to one side to keep it from tipping over and causing both bodily injury and property damage.

Push style mowers should be taken horizontally across the slope to decrease physical stress on your body.

When on a slope, push horizontally to help conserve energy.

Before mowing, always do a walk through of your property to check for debris, rocks, and any other obstacles that can be moved.  Mark any fixed irrigation and utility lines to prevent damaging them.

Create a couple of established mowing patterns you will use and alternate them each time you go out to mow your yard.  Alternating the patterns will prevent rutting and grooving on your property.

Be careful not to blow fresh clippings onto your driveway or sidewalk as these are wet and can stain the surface.

Always remember to be respectful of your neighbors.

Lawn care is not difficult, but you will need to know all the necessary steps to be successful. Make sure to click here and read more details of the steps to proper lawn care.

The Green Pinky

About the author: Jeffrey Douglas is a horticultural hobbyist that loves everything related to plants and gardening. He specializes in gardens and houseplants. Read More

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