In this article, we’re going to talk about how to mow the lawn.
Cutting the grass is the most important and time-consuming part of the lawn care calendar. That said, so many people get it wrong and wonder why their lawns look flat, lifeless, full of weeds, or covered in moss.
Mowing the lawn isn’t just a case of setting the lawnmower to its lowest setting and pushing up and down the lawn.
In order to create and maintain a beautiful, thick, green, healthy lawn, you need to understand what grass is and how it works. That way, caring for it becomes simple and you’ll never mow the lawn wrong again.
A Quick Lesson on Grass
Unlike animals, grass and plants don’t eat and digest food to survive.
Instead, grass creates its own food via photosynthesis.
The Lawnsmith has a very good way of describing photosynthesis;
“Photosynthesis is more akin to how a factory works – raw materials go in one end (water & fertiliser), energy is used (in this case sunlight instead of gas or electricity) and food is produced (carbohydrates and proteins, not pizzas).
This food is then either stored for hard times just as we store fat, or used to grow leaves and roots; equivalent to muscle and bone.”
Grass leaves trap sunlight to power the process of photosynthesis. Solar panels on the roof of your housework similarly in that they trap sunlight to produce hot water.
In order to produce as much hot water as possible, the solar panels need to trap as much sun as possible. This means big solar panels on south-facing roofs. If you put them on north-facing roofs in the shade, they won’t be able to produce much hot water.
It’s the same with grass but instead of producing hot water, they produce food.
Think of the blades of grass as solar panels that trap the light. The bigger the grass leaf, the more sunlight it can trap and therefore the more food it can produce. This makes for a nice, lush, healthy green lawn.
But if you reduce the amount of sunlight the leaves can trap (by either putting it in the shade or cutting it) you reduce the amount of food it can produce. As a result, the grass’ survival mechanism kicks in. It grows faster to replace the leaf you cut off, or to compensate for the lack of sunlight if it’s in the shade.
Your lawns survival depends on the grasses ability to produce food via photosynthesis. If someone came and stole the solar panels on your roof, you wouldn’t be able to produce hot water and you’d freeze. It’s the same for grass.
The moral of the story is to treat your grass with care. When you mow the lawn, you should be mindful of how grass needs to be treated in order to stay healthy. After all, a healthy lawn will look spectacular.
When to Mow the Lawn
Lawn mowing is generally carried out between March and October, although this very much depends on the weather and where you live.
If you live in the south of England you’ll generally start to mow the lawn a couple of weeks earlier than if you live in the North of Scotland, simply because it’s typically warmer in the south.
Normally the start of spring when the grass starts to grow which means you can mow the lawn for the first time.
It’s important that you keep the lawnmower on its highest setting and only take the top off the grass. Do this on a dry day.
The rising temperatures and plenty of rainfall make for good growing conditions.
Increase the frequency of mowing to once every two weeks, maybe even once a week depending on how quickly the grass is growing.
Keep the lawnmower quite high to give the grass the best chance to grow instead of weeds.
Mow the lawn frequently during these months as growing conditions are usually at their best.
Feel free to gradually lower the mowing height too but I’d recommend that 1.5 inches should be as short as you go. That is unless you have an ornamental lawn, you can cut them very close.
As the weather heats up and the rain becomes less frequent, grass growth will slow down. Take your mowing schedule back to once every two weeks, every 10 days if growth is still strong.
If it’s hot and dry with very little rainfall, raise the height of your lawnmower. If you cut the grass too short now you’ll be taking away vital food stores that give grass its ability to survive drought.
September usually marks the start of Autumn with the return of the rains and the warmth in the soil makes for excellent growing conditions.
Increase the regularity at which you mow the lawn again to once a week.
Autumn is when moss starts to spore so it’s important to raise the height of the lawnmower. This keeps the grass long and as strong as possible, depriving any moss of the light it needs to grow.
Regular mowing will all but stop in October and you should keep the grass on the high side. This will enable it to keep as much of its food store as possible.
In turn, your grass will stay strong through the winter and be more able to fight off moss infestations and disease.
November to March
You might want to mow the lawn at any time in the winter to take the top off the grass and keep your lawn looking neat and tidy. Afterall, your lawn shouldn’t look untidy just because it’s winter.
Remember though, only take the top off. Don’t cut the grass too short.
Only mow the lawn when the when the ground is firm and if possible, do it on a dry day. And never cut the grass when it’s frosty or when frost is due.
Dry Afternoons/Evening: The Best Time of Day to Mow the Lawn
Late afternoon or early evening on dry days are the best time to mow the lawn.
If possible you want to avoid cutting the grass while it’s wet. Avoid early mornings because morning dew means wet grass.
Cutting the grass in the heat of midday can stress it. While the sun is at its peak your grass is busy photosynthesising, producing food and trying to keep hold of its moisture. If you cut the grass now, you’ll almost hear it cry.
So that means late afternoons and early evenings are the best time to cut the grass. The day’s sun will have dried up any dew so your lawn should be dry and it’ll be cool enough so the sun doesn’t dry the grass out. It’ll also give the grass time to recover before the sun beats down on it the following day.
The Ideal Mowing Height
The ideal mowing height for your grass is a compromise between;
- What you deem to be a beautiful looking lawn
- Allowing the grass to keep enough leaf to stay healthy and green
By all means, mow your lawn close but you should only do this when growing conditions are at their best and your lawn is at its healthiest. That means good amounts of warmth, rain, sun and lawn fertiliser.
If any of these conditions change, the grass plant will need the ability to produce and store food to survive. That means raising the height of your lawnmower so you don’t remove too much leaf.
How High to Mow the Lawn: A General Guide
Please take these guidelines as just that, a guide.
How high you mow the lawn will depend on several factors that we have already discussed in this article.
But if you’re asking how high to mow the lawn in your garden, here is my advice;
- Lawns that contain Rye Grass and get used a lot: 1-2 inches or 3-5cm.
- Low use lawns that do or don’t contain Rye Grass: 3/4″ to 1½ inches or 2-4cm.
- Ornamental lawns which consist of only the fines grasses: 3/8″-3/4″ inch or 1-2 cm.
- Shady areas: add 50% so if the rest of your lawn an inch tall, make the shady areas 1½ inches.
- Sloped areas: these dry faster than other parts of your lawn so the advice is the same for shady areas.
- Mossy lawns: Make sure the grass is at least half an inch taller than the moss.
- In times of stress (drought, heat, cold or wet): mow high.
- If in doubt: mow high.
The Grass Cutting ‘Rule of Thirds’
The term, ‘the rule of thirds’ is borrowed from photography and is one of the rules of composition.
When cutting the grass, however, it means that you should never cut away more than a third of the leaf to protect its ability to make food.
So if your grass is currently 3 inches high for example, set your lawnmower height to remove a maximum of a third, which is one inch.
If you want to get the length down to 1½ inches it will mean mowing every few days and lowering the height of the mower each time. The frequency will change depending on the weather and growing conditions. It might be every 7-10 days or it could be every 3-4 days if growth is quick.
Never leave it longer than 14 days to cut the grass, regardless of the mowing height. Regular mowing encourages the grass to grow sideways and create new leaves. This makes the lawn denser and that means less room for weeds like daisies and dandelions, moss and weed grasses to creep in.
Cutting Wet Grass
Cutting wet grass is never recommended and this is for several reasons;
Firstly, if you use an electric lawnmower then the safety concerns are obvious – water and electricity aren’t the best of friends.
Another safety concern is the lawn becoming slippy. On a flat lawn, this shouldn’t be an issue but a sloped lawn could cause you to slip. A falling person in charge of spinning blades will rarely end well!
But it’s not just yourself you should be worried about damaging when cutting wet grass.
Wet grass sticks to the blade of your lawnmower so you’ll end up with a rough cut at best. At worst you risk ripping chunks of grass from the lawn. This not only means your lawn looks rough but the stress could cause your grass to turn yellow.
Then there’s the overall muckiness of cutting the grass when it’s wet.
Because wet grass clumps together and sticks to everything it touches, it’ll stick to the underside of your lawnmower and potentially block the inlet to the collection box. This means having to tip it over and clear it out. I guarantee that you’ll have clumps of wet grass left on your lawn too which you’ll need to rake up.
So to sum up, mowing wet grass can damage it. And it’s a massive headache so ideally, you should mow the lawn when it’s dry.
But sometimes needs must and if you really must cut the lawn when it’s wet, here are a few tips;
Drag a Hose Pipe or Rope Across the Lawn
This will knock excess water off the grass. If you can wait for a little while longer, the grass will dry much quicker.
Raise the Height of Your Lawnmower
Taking the top off the grass instead of cutting it where it is most dense will rake load and stress off the blade and motor.
Sharpen Your Blade
Cutting wet grass with a dull blade will almost guarantee in it being torn out of the ground instead of being cut cleanly.
Keep it Slow
The motor and blade will have to work much harder than normal to cut through wet grass. Push your lawn at least 50% slower than you normally would to give your lawnmower chance to get through the glass cleanly.
You might find that your lawn still has some bits of long grass because your lawnmower didn’t get through them the first time. As a result, you might need to give your lawn another pass (in a different direction).
Cut Half Rows
When you’ve cut your first row, position your lawnmower so that the next row is half-cut and half non-cut grass. This will reduce load on the motor and blade and help cut the grass more effectively.
Clean Your Lawnmower
As soon as you’ve finished mowing the lawn, clean your lawnmower. Washing the grass off while it’s wet is much easier than scraping it off when it’s dry and hard.
How to Create a Striped Lawn
Creating a striped lawn will give it that ‘professional’ look and set it apart from your neighbours. But just because it looks professional doesn’t mean it’s difficult to do.
It’s actually really easy!
How Lawn Striping Works
The stripes you see on a lawn is nothing more than light reflecting off the blades of bent grass.
Grass that is bent towards you appear dark and the grass that is bent away from you appears lighter.
In order to bend the grass, you’ll need a lawnmower with a roller on the back of it, either a rotary mower or a cylinder mower. Or you buy a lawn striping kit which fits onto the back of your current lawnmower.
Creating Stripes and Patterns
To create a lawn striping effect you simply need to mow one way and come back the other way and the roller on your lawnmower or striping kit will handle the rest;
When it comes to lawn striping, the possibilities are almost endless. To take it a step further you might want to create a pattern. This means cutting your grass in one direction and then giving your lawn a second pass.
For example, you could create a chess board effect by mowing the lawn lengthways and then widthways;
Or you could create a diamond pattern by mowing diagonally across the lawn;
Creating Your Grass Pattern
When creating lawn stripes and grass patterns, especially straight lines, it’s important to get those stripes as straight as you can.
Straight lines look superb and wavy lines look nice. But stripes that are neither straight or wavy don’t look great.
A good tip if you want to mow straight is to look at least 10 feet in front of you instead of looking straight down at the ground.
Also, make sure you overlap each run to make sure you cut the whole lawn without leaving little strips of long grass. This is also really important if your lawnmower has wheels as it will prevent tracks from forming in the turf.
To keep your overlaps consistent, use a marker on the front of your lawnmower that lines up with the edge of the last stripe. This could be a change in the shape or colour on the front of the lawnmower or you could create a marker yourself using a maker, paint or tape.
Make Your Grass Pattern Stand Out Even More
If you really want your lawn stripes to pop there are two things you can do;
- Raise the mowing height: The longer the grass, the easier and further it will bend. As a result, it will reflect more light and intensify the pattern. Just half an inch in length will make a big difference.
- Roll the lawn: This is what the professionals do to create that ‘big league’ look. Once you’ve cut the grass, go over it with a lawn roller in exactly the same as you cut the grass. This will bend the grass even further and make that grass pattern bolder.
Taking Care of the Edges of a Lawn
It’s the little things that make a big difference but it’s also the little things that are often overlooked or forgotten about.
Lawn edges are one of those little things that if you don’t spend the extra few minutes to get right, can let your lawn down. So please, just spend a few minutes to do a good job on them.
There are two types of lawn edge;
- Open edges, and
- Closed edges
They are both taken care of slightly differently.
Open edges are exposed and open to the elements. You’ll typically have these along planted borders where the grass meets the soil.
- NEVER stand on open edges as this can cause them to flatten or collapse.
- Mow as close to the edge as you can get without letting the wheels drop off the edge.
- Trim the edges with a strimmer or edging shears.
- Open edges should be sloped downwards, towards the flowerbed. This protects the edges from drying out. Either cut the edges at an angle or pack soil up to them.
- Repair or re-cut any damaged or imperfect edges with a half-moon edging iron. For straight edges, use a long, straight piece of wood as a guide. For wavy edges, a hosepipe works as a good guide.
A closed edge is where your lawn stops and meets another surface. This could be a wall, patio, or a dedicated mowing strip.
- If your lawn meets a wall, use a strimmer to trim the edges.
- For mowing strips and where the lawn is level with the next surface, you should be able to mow right over the edge.
- If your lawn is higher than the next surface, edging shears will be the best option.
What to Do With Your Grass Clippings
Different lawn mowers deal with grass clippings in different ways;
- Some have grass collection bags
- Others allow you to discharge grass clippings out of the rear
- Some machines mulch the grass clippings and blow them back into the lawn
- A few do all three
So that raises the question, ‘What should you do with your grass clippings?’
Well, this very much depends on what options your lawn mower gives you.
Grass Collection Bags
Nearly all lawn mowers have grass collection bags or boxes attached to them to collect the grass clippings as you mow.
This makes getting rid of them easy.
You can either put them in your garden waste bin or dump them on the compost pile.
However, if your lawn is full of weeds I’d advise against putting them on the compost heap as the seeds will probably germinate in it.
This is ideal for mowing long grass.
Instead of clogging up you grass collection box up, the lawn mower will spit the grass out of the back or side. This allows you to keep moving with the mower, although you’ll have to rake it up afterwards.
Long grass is best put in the green waste bin as it takes forever to compost down.
A lawn mower that has a mulcher, mulches up the grass clippings into tiny pieces and blows them back into the lawn.
When you cut the grass, you remove nutrients, food and water from each blade of grass.
Mulching the grass clippings and blowing them back into the lawn keeps the soil topped up with food, nutrients and water as the clippings decompose back into the turf.
If your lawn mower has a mulching function use it all the time. The only time you shouldn’t is if your lawn is full of weeds. This will only spread the weeds around to the rest of your lawn.
Now it’s Over to You…
Like I said right at the beginning of this article, cutting the grass is the single most important part of maintaining a healthy lawn.
Mow the lawn regularly and the grass will become denser, there will be less room for weeds and moss to creep in, it will be healthier and it’ll look beautiful.
So now it’s your turn. Get out there and mow the lawn regularly.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave one in the comments section below.
I’d also love to see some the grass patterns you cut into your lawns too so feel free to send them in and I’ll share them with our community.