Lawn Maintenance

Gladys Fowler

The sun is shining and most of us living in the Northern Hemisphere can't wait to get into our gardens and on our lawns.

Good mowing practices are essential in maintaining a healthy lawn. Mowing is a major factor in determining fertility, irrigation, thatch and weed and insect control.

Don't mow too early in the spring, as this is when the root Systems of grasses are being renewed. Wait until the grass is about 6-7cm (2.5-3 in.) high before the first cuffing. Never remove more than a third of the leaf blade in a single mowing. If you have difficulty keeping grass growing in shaded areas, mow higher and only a few times during the season.

When you mow your grass low, your lawn will be thicker; however there is a price to pay for this thicker lawn. The price is a much higher level of maintenance. The lower the grass is mowed, the shallower the root system becomes. A healthy root system is essential for the grass plant to take in water and nutrients. The shorter the grass is cut, the more often you will have to cut it to maintain the quality of the turf. Mowing low causes the cell walls of the grass plant to become thin and easily stressed by drought and high temperatures. The shallow roots are unable to take up water and nutrients, and the grass turns brown. The homeowner waters more with few results. Most home lawn grasses used are Kentucky blue grass, turf-type perennial rye grasses and red fescues. For a medium level of maintenance, the mowing height is usually 4-5 cm (1.5-2 in) with the lawn mowed once every seven to ten days.

Weed seeds require light for germination. Cuffing your grass short allows light to reach the seeds providing the conditions for an invasion of weeds in your lawn.

Always mow your lawn when the grass is dry and leave the clippings on. Grass clippings are high in nutrients especially nitrogen and potassium. Studies have shown that removing cuttings from a Kentucky blue grass lawn results in an increase in fertilizer of 20-35% to maintain the same quality of lawn. Clippings form a layer over the soil that results in less water loss, and helps to keep the temperature of the upper soil level cool. Earthworms eat the dead grass leaves and stems preventing excessive thatch build-up. A thatchy lawn feels very spongy when walked on. Cut a small patch of lawn with a sharp knife and measure the thatch layer. A thatch layer thicker than 2.5 cm creates problems. It prevents the grass roots from growing down into the soil's root zone, causing a shallow rooted lawn. It also prevents water from infiltrating down into the soil.

If you want a healthier lawn this year without being a slave to it, set your mower higher and you and your lawn will reap the benefits.