Proper Lawn Care, Mowing, and Maintenance
Short version up front: You should mow your lawn weekly at roughly 3 inches (It’s situationally dependent). Use a good sharp mulching blade on your mower and edge the lawn every week. Why? Because it works.
Most people love beautiful green lawns (Exceptions include: Scrooge, Cruella, and the Grinch). They look great, cool our environment, and create useable space to walk and play. Lawns are one of the most basic aspects of a landscape. Keeping the lawn healthy and happy is an important aspect of having a great-looking yard. In some places in the world, having a great lawn happens almost naturally without thought or effort. Unfortunately, here in central Texas, having a great lawn is a little more complicated.
For a great looking lawn, some basic needs must be met. Lawns need food, water, and proper maintenance. It sounds simple enough. Where it gets complicated is when you factor in all the variables that can impact the lawn. These include (but are not limited to): the type of grass planted in your lawn; the microclimate the grass is growing in; the condition of the soil; the quality and frequency of lawn maintenance. Etc. If you were to pull out a piece of paper and list every little thing your lawn needs to look its absolute best the list can get long and overwhelming.
Fortunately, grass is forgiving. Start simple, make positive steps to improve the lawn, and stop when you get the results you are looking for. Grass does not need a perfect growing environment, but it does need “good enough.”
The first place to start is back with the basics. Irrigation, Fertilization, and Lawn Mowing. Irrigation covers the water needs of a lawn. Fertilization, combined with sunlight, allows the grass to produce food. Lawn mowing helps manicure and promote good growth in the lawn.
What does Lawn Mowing do for my grass?
Let us focus in on the final item in that equation. Lawn mowing. Un-mowed grass is just…grass. If you give the grass all the water and food that it needs, it will not become a lawn all on its own. Mowing transforms grass into a lawn.
Mowing does much more than just make the grass short. It promotes the growth and creation of “turf”. Turf is thickly grown grass. Not just thick grass, but thick enough to choke out non-grasses and create a monoculture – so thick, it holds the soil in place and can stand up to abuses and wear and tear without effort.
When the grass is cut, it does two important things. It limits the vertical growth of the plant, and it allows sunlight to reach the entire lawn evenly. Plants only grown when they have light, and tall grass will shade out and restrict growth closer to the soil. Cut short, the grass will fill in and form a dense turf.
How long should I cut my lawn?
This can be a tricky question to answer. The ideal mow height is rarely a practical mow height. For instance, Bermuda responds best to a mow height around ¾ to 1 inch. BUT, the only way to keep Bermuda at that short height is to use a special mower and mow DAILY. The only place you will see Bermuda maintained at the ideal height is at a golf course putting green.
Generally, a good practical mow height is a compromise. For Bermuda, the compromise is to grow the grass longer than ideal and cut the lawn at 2.75-3 inches. For St. Augustine, the compromise is to cut it shorter than ideal and shoot for 3 inches. Zoysia does not have to compromise, 2.75-3 inches is close to the ideal height for a weekly mow.
Why is weekly mowing better?
Weekly lawn mowing helps reduce stress on your lawn. Every time your grass is cut it will suffer some form of stress. Physically cutting off a portion of the lawn is damaging the lawn. The damages are proportional to the amount of grass removed. I.e. when the lawn is mowed weekly, only a small portion of the lawn is removed, and stress is minimal. Every other week mowing cuts off a larger portion of the lawn and causes more stress. Mowing less often can cause even more stress.
Long mow intervals are only appropriate for non-turf grasses, like the wild grasses that grow in unlandscaped areas.
Do I need to mow when the grass isn’t growing?
The long answer is yes. If the grass isn’t growing it’s either dead or it’s dormant. Technically mowing won’t make a difference.
But why is the long answer yes? Even mid-summer, when the heat is blasting the lawn, it is still growing. Early in the spring, and late in the fall, when the nights are cold, the grass is still growing. It may not be growing very much, but it is still growing. If it is growing, cut it regularly for a healthy lawn. Consistency is key for a healthy lawn!
Even when the grass is dead or dormant, you should probably be running a mower over the lawn space regularly anyways. If the lawn is dead, weeds and weed grasses can quickly take over the area if they get tall enough to flower and produce seeds. Mowing will discourage a lot of weeds from spreading and might give the lawn a chance of growing back in. Reducing weeds is beneficial for dormant lawns as well, so a periodic mow even in the dead of winter can do a lot of good.
What sort of mower is best?
The best lawn mower is a mower with a sharp blade that mulches clippings.
A sharp mower blade reduces the amount of damage caused while mowing and can drastically reduce the stress on the lawn from mowing. At Top Choice, we sharpen our blades weekly, with high-quality steel blades This ensures a clean cut all week long. At home, you may not need to sharpen that often, but you should at least sharpen your mower blade every year. If you do not sharpen your mower blade, you are beating your lawn to death with a fast-moving club.
Mulching blades are practically magic. They take normal grass clippings, something considered a waste product, and turn them into fertilizer for your lawn. Grass clippings are high in nitrogen, but they can take time to break down. A sharp mulching blade shreds the grass clipping into ridiculously small particles that will quickly break down and add nutrients back to the lawn. Keep those nutrients in the lawn and mulch the grass clippings.
What is lawn edging?
Edging a lawn is simply trimming the horizontal grass growth at the edges of the lawn. This includes grass that grows along the edges of driveways or sidewalks, where the edging is mostly to make the lawn look clean and sharp, but it also includes edging around planting beds.
Edging around the planting beds will help stop grass from growing into areas where you do not want grass. St. Augustine and Bermuda can spread quickly into bed spaces if the lawn is not edged. Both grasses spread by sending runners out over the top of the soil. A quick trim with an edger is often enough to keep the lawn and beds separate and clean.
Zoysia spreads under the ground and needs a good barrier to stop its spread, but the edging keeps the Zoysia looking sharp.
What if I’m mowing right and my lawn still looks bad?
Once you have the mowing down pat, if your lawn is still struggling you may need to address some other factors impacting the health of your lawn.
Make sure your Irrigation and Fertilization are sufficient first. If you have a good, functional irrigation system, and you are fertilizing regularly consider:
- Top Dressing with Compost – improve that soil!
- Changing out your lawn – add a sod type better suited to the environment/micro-climate
- Remove trees or obstacles blocking sunlight
If you want to get really nerdy about turf in Texas, we recommend visiting AggieTurf.