Mowing is one of the most common practices associated with maintaining turfgrass. When done properly, you will encourage a thick, dense, healthy stand of turf able to manage some drought, crowd out weeds, and provide for all of the environmental advantages it was meant for. Performed improperly, you become…that guy!
Maintenance also comes with almost as many philosophical approaches as turf fertility or how the country should be run. That said, some of the old “must-follow” rules passed on from fathers to sons on hot Saturday mornings just might not be the soundest advice, especially as the temperature rises for turf.
There are some very important factors to help with survival, and the failure to know the difference could result in less-than-perfect turf cover. Here’s what you should know:
Skip the “No Mow May”
Excess turf canopy will shade out lower portions preventing leaves from getting the necessary sun for photosynthesis. This will leave weakened, bleached, or brown lower plant parts when you do finally plan to plow through the unmowed lawn. Weeds also will have an advantage as they can survive better without routine mowing.
When you do decide to mow, you will not be able to do so by the one-third rule—which calls for removing a maximum of a third of the leaves per mow—because the lawn is out of control.
Last, you will be left with clumps or trails of clippings unable to be quickly broken down and likely matting what is left of the lawn.
Keep Mower Blades Sharp!
Well-maintained and sharp mowing equipment will ensure peak performance. Mowers are designed to cut blades of grass by impact or a shearing motion which turfgrasses are well adapted to manage. These wounds heal easily, reducing moisture loss. The aftermath of an unsharpened mower is torn or ragged leaf tips which are left open much longer, inviting pests and water loss.
Hold off mowing when it’s excessively wet or excessively dry. Particularly in drought conditions, it is OK to let the turf grow in order to reduce traffic. Weakened and/or stressed turf becomes more susceptible to tracking and damage.
Manage Mowing Heights
To manage mowing heights, you will need to identify what type of turf you are maintaining. This chart lists many cool season and warm season grasses. While they do have a standard mowing height recommendation, those numbers go up for hot and dry conditions.
As the mercury rises, plant growth will slow down and the need for routine mowing will be reduced. Take that time to accomplish some other tasks and curb the urge to fire up the mower.
Mowing on the lower side of the range is not really recommended, even under good growing conditions. Shorter turf provides less leaf material for photosynthesis, allows more sun to dry the soil surface, aids in preemergent barrier breakdown, and can ultimately result in less rootmass development.
The take-home message is to mow toward the upper end of the height recommendations.
Finally, hold off on fertilizer and herbicide applications. Without rain or soil moisture, these can be either rendered useless or become more damaging.
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