Best Mowing Practices
Fred Newcombe

When it comes to mowing lawns and athletic fields, best mowing practices matter. Although it’s a basic operation, there are a lot of ways to do it wrong. First, it is important to realize that mowing causes stress to the turf grass. Mowing removes tissue from that grass blade that would otherwise undergo photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, the chlorophyll in grass leaves captures the energy from sunlight and uses it to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen. The glucose is then stored in the plant’s cells and used as a source of energy. So, mowing reduces the energy store for the grass plant. To create a healthy lawn, review these 7 guidelines for mowing residential lawns and athletic fields.

1. Mowing Height

graphic showing to only cut the top third of turf grass when mowingAs a general rule, never remove more than one third of the grass height in a single mowing. Cutting the grass too short can weaken the turf and make it more susceptible to stress, diseases, and weeds. Furthermore, do not trust the settings on the mower deck to accurately reflect the actual height of cut (HOC). Measure the blade height on a flat surface, i.e. driveway. A simple cheat for 3.5″ HOC is to place a 2×4 on its side under the blade (obviously, make certain the mower is turned off…). Lastly, tire pressure and—if a ride-on mower is used—weight of the operator, will affect the height of cut.  So….Measure!

Read our blog “What Height to Mow Lawns & Athletic Fields” for additional best mowing practices related to turf height.

2. Mowing Frequency

Adjust the mowing frequency according to the growth rate of the grass. During periods of active growth, you may need to mow more frequently. Conversely, during slower growth periods, you can mow less often. Maintaining a shorter HOC on an athletic field will require more frequent mowing. Typically, weekly mowing is suitable for most residential lawns, especially if a HOC of 3 – 3 ½” is being maintained.

3. Mower Blade Sharpness

Ensure that the mower blades are sharp. Dull blades can tear the grass, resulting in an uneven and ragged appearance. The turf will have a brown cast to it. Cutting with dull mower blades will increase the likelihood of disease, decreased photosynthesis, and increased water loss. Clean and sharpen the blades regularly (minimum every 24 hours) to achieve clean precise cuts.

4. Clipping Management

Leaving grass clippings on the lawn—known as grass cycling—can provide valuable nutrients and organic matter back to the soil. In an organic lawn, grass clippings will not contribute to thatch. The active, healthy biology and in the soil will help it break the clippings down. If the clippings are excessive and clump together, consider using a mulching mower, double cutting, or disburse them to avoid smothering the grass.

5. Alternate Mowing Patterns

Change the mowing pattern each time you mow. This helps prevent soil compaction and ensures an even cut. Vary the direction, such as mowing north-south one week, east – west the next, and on the diagonal the next.

6. Avoid Mowing in Wet Conditions

Mowing wet grass can lead to uneven cuts and damage the turf. Ideally, mow when the grass is dry to achieve a cleaner cut and minimize soil compaction.

7. Other Athletic Field Considerations

For high traffic athletic fields, it may be necessary to maintain grass at a slightly higher HOC to better withstand wear and tear.

When mowing grass in the Summer, these are general guidelines for best mowing practices. It is essential to also consider usage, site conditions, seasonal variations, and grass types while developing your mowing protocol. One size does not fit all.

Are you a landscaper, school or municipality looking to implement organic turf care? Reach out! We’re here with organic turf care products, education, and support services so you can do so seamlessly.