As summer approaches and day length and temperature increase so will the frequency that you need to mow your lawn. Driving around I have already started seeing the common practice of mowing the grass as short as possible in an effort to extend the time before the next mowing. However, this practice of essentially scalping the lawn is one of the worst things you can do.
Mowing practices — including height of cut and frequency — affect the grasses’ ability to handle other types of stresses such as temperature extremes, drought, nutrient deficiencies, shade and traffic. While turfgrasses have adapted to tolerate mowing, when not done properly it can be a potential stressor that can affect the overall health and vigor of your lawn.
These are the most important factors in determining the appropriate height of cut for your turfgrass:
>> Species and cultivar of grass;
>> Use or expectations of the area;
>> Management capabilities, such as equipment, time and labor;
>> Prevalent stressors for your area such as shade or drought.
Bermudagrass and St. Augustine grass are the two most common types of turfgrasses in our area; the recommended mowing heights are 1.5 to 3 inches and 2.5 to 4 inches, respectively. It’s encouraged to maintain turfgrasses at the higher mowing height when possible. The higher height increases surface area which generally corresponds to greater energy production in turn producing deeper, healthier roots. Deep roots are known to improve water infiltration, nutrient and water-use efficiency and improve over all stress tolerance for your lawn.
Frequency of mowing is just as important as mowing height and is determined by the rate of growth. The general rule of thumb is to never remove more than 1/3 of the total turfgrass height at one time. For example, if you want to maintain a height of 2 inches, then you need to mow once the grass reaches 3 inches in order to only remove 1/3 of the total height. The frequency of which you mow will vary throughout the year. In the summer this may mean mowing your lawn twice a week in order to maintain your desired mowing height without scalping the grass. If your lawn has become over grown, you may want to gradually reduce the height in order to avoid removing more than 1/3 at a time.
It can be beneficial to your lawn to recycle your grass clippings into your lawn; grass clippings contain 2 to 4% nitrogen and can reduce your supplemental needs. However, they should be evenly dispersed and not in rows or piles as this can restrict sunlight and water to the grass beneath.
Proper mower maintenance is also essential; dull blades can injury the grass by crushing or shredding in-stead of cutting. This damage can increase the susceptibility to pests and diseases. When possible avoid mowing wet or damp grass. This can help prevent the spread of diseases and allow for more even distribution of clippings. Additionally avoid mowing during the hottest parts of the day as grass is more susceptible to wilt.
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Ashley Gregory is the Horticulturalist for Hidalgo County with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She can be reached at the Hidalgo County Extension Office at (956) 383-1026 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.