How to Mow Your Lawn Back To Health

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Your mower settings are vital to lawn health and appearance

Total devastation, lawn destruction at it's finest.  No, I'm not talking about an invasion of hyperactive mutated moles, but lawn homicide by lawn mower. Prior to the client taking his brand new riding lawn mower to his brand new lawn, it was a beautiful sight. An unbroken carpet of green, generously watered by the newly-installed automated sprinkler system. Now it was time to turn this beautiful masterpiece over to its rightful owner. I carefully gave detailed instructions on how to keep his new, expensive lawn not only lush, but weed-free.

Instructions he-- of course--ignored.

It is a story that plays out across the country, year after year. Many home owners get the idea that in order to cut down on their lawn mowing time, the lawn mower must be set on one of the lowest settings and mow away. The results, however to a beautiful lawn, are as noted in the scenario above - devastation. By clipping their grass too low they,  sometimes do irreparable damage. Here is why:

  • Grass gets its power and the ability to absorb nutrients from the sun - clip it short and there is not enough blade left to absorb the sun's energy.
  • Shortened grass blades promote shorter root systems--thus interfering with the lawn's ability to access water. Shallow root systems promote the formation of thatch. Thatch then interferes with penetration of water, and so on.
  • A cropped lawn will allow weed seed to germinate and take over. In our area it is dandelions.

There you have it. You know how to turn a perfectly good lawn into a miserable weed patch.

But all is not lost. You can sometimes mow a lawn back into good health. Start by raising the (sharpened) blade back up to the next to highest setting. Continue to mow at this height for a few weeks and you may start to see a recovery of respectability to your once-prized lawn.

For a severely damaged lawn, it may need a little more help.

  • If there is enough grass left to work with, follow instructions closely and weed and feed  your lawn.
  • Once the weed die-off is complete, rent a thatcher and de-thatch your lawn. Core aeration may also help.
  • Then follow up with a starter fertilizer and lime if needed.
  • Over-seed with a good quality grass - usually one that is suitable for your area
  • Carefully water - not allowing new seedlings to dry out . This is where a sprinkler system really pays off.
  • Wait until you have a good vigorous lawn fully established and remove only the top 1/3 of the grass stem with your newly sharpened mower.

In the spring you may need to mow weekly. If the grass gets too long, resist the temptation to cut too much off. Just set the mower at the highest setting and try to remove no more than 1/3 of the grass blade per mowing. You can then follow up with a lower setting in a couple of days. As the year gets hotter, start mowing the lawn at the next to highest setting. (On most mowers.) This will enable your lawn to flourish through the hotter summer months and help to conserve moisture in the soil. As the season comes to an end, lower the blade on your mower one or two settings and cut your lawn a little lower as the season winds down. Do not fertilize at the end of the growing season . Wait until the following late spring or early summer, when the extra nutrients are needed to support new growth.

Sit back and enjoy all your hard work--and don't let the neighbor borrow your lawn mower.


Posted on Sep 1, 2009
Sam Montana
Posted on Sep 1, 2009