As a general rule, your lawn should never look worse after you mow it than it did before you mowed it. If it does look worse after mowing, chances are you’re either mowing too much off at once or mowing with a dull blade. Mowing properly can help you lawn look terrific. Mowing improperly can encourage weeds and browning. It’s easy to do it right! Her are some tips:
Dull mower blades rip the grass instead of cutting it. This leaves your lawn vulnerable to disease attack and also dehydrates the grass blades causing them to turn brown. A hardware store should be able to sharpen your blades for you (every 20 hours of cutting).
Want to mow your lawn less often? If so, mowing high is for you! It is important never to mow more than 1/3 of the grass blade at one time – doing so will result in browning, root death, and weed invasion (your lawn won’t look good!) So don’t mow the lawn down to 1 inch just because you don’t want to have to mow it for a few weeks, that’s a recipe for a terrible looking lawn. Let’s assume that you’re going to follow the 1/3 rule. If you mow at 2 inches, that means you can let the lawn grow 1 inch, to 3 inches before you need to mow. Now suppose you don’t like mowing the lawn that much, so you decide to mow at 4 inches instead of 2. That means that you can let the lawn grow to 6 inches tall before having to mow (the grass grew twice as much! And means that you have to mow it ½ as often. Make sense?) Other benefits of mowing high, is that you’ll be crowding out weeds like crabgrass and also encouraging deeper roots which will keep your lawn greener during the hot summer months.
With all that said, 3.5 – 4 inches is a good mowing height for today's modern grasses. Some older grasses won’t stand up straight enough to grow that high, so use your judgment, just remember to mow as high as you can handle and follow the 1/3 rule. In the fall and late fall it is a good idea to gradually lower you’re mowing height down to 2 inches so the grass doesn’t fold over under the snow.
Just take a ruler and measure from the top of the soil to the tips of the grass blade. Mowing height is not how long the blade is, it’s how far the tip is from the soil to the surface.
Most of the time we’d recommend that you leave the clippings on the lawn as long as they don’t clump and smother the grass. The clippings will not contribute much to thatch and can return nutrients to the soil. If weeds are an issue, you might consider bagging and composting the clippings whenever weed seedheads are visible (white dandelion puffballs etc.).
Our lawns in the Midwest will naturally turn brown during severe heat and drought stress. Normally you can let them turn dormant and they'll green up again when the rains return (not always true, but usually). Watering correctly will help your lawn fight off weeds and will keep it looking better. If using water on your lawn doesn’t make sense to you, we’d recommend having us replace or overseed your lawn with our premium grass mix that doesn’t need as much water to stay green!
Adding a little bit of microclover will reduce your need to water even further, and the neighbors will wonder how your lawn stays so green without any water.
Note: During extreme periods of hot dry weather you will need to water your lawn for about an hour once every two weeks just to keep it alive. Normally, the occasional thunderstorm will handle that for you, but if we don't get rain you will want to get the sprinkler out just to keep the grass alive.
In a perfect world, if you had great soil, you would water once per week with about 1 – 1.5 inches of water per session. This water would work its way down through the soil to the roots and everyone would be happy. Unfortunately, most of our lawns are not built on ideal soil, so this watering regime does not work. (Liquid aeration will improve your soils ability to absob and store water). You’ll need to play with it a little to find out what is best for you, but here is the principle: You want to water as deeply as possible in as few sessions per week as possible (5 minutes per zone every morning is a recipie for disaster!)
To find out how long it takes your sprinkler to put down 1 inch of water, just put out an empty tuna can (or fancy water measuring cup) and time how long it takes to fill up – that will be about how long it takes your sprinkler to put down 1 inch of water.
1. Water deeply and infrequently - Apply ½ to 1 inch of water (enough to wet the soil 6-8 inches deep) in each application.
2. Water once every 2-4 days, not everyday. Watering everyday encourages a shallow root system and invites disease problems.
3. Water in the early morning - Don't water at night. Watering at night keeps the blades wet for a long period of time and invites disease problems.
4. In periods of very hot weather, giving your lawn an early afternoon sprinkle (in addition to the deep watering described above) will cool it off a few degrees and reduce the stress that it is under.