Mowing the Lawn Cutting the Grass and Otherwise Giving the Yard a Shave

Mowing the lawn may be the job you love to hate, or you may relish the sweet scent of freshly mown grass. But no matter how you feel about it, it has to be done. Everyone can agree that a mown lawn looks better than the alternative — a rangy, overgrown neglected patch.

Mowing also has a purely practical side: It maintains your lawn's health. Mowing regularly

1 Helps fight weeds: Mowing helps prevent weeds from germinating and invading. How? Mowed at the right height, lawn grass shades out both weed seeds and seedlings. If weeds begin to grow, mowing chops off their heads, thwarting their drive to grow and mature and spread.

i Makes the grass grow more densely: Well, you know how when you pinch off the tip of a houseplant, it reacts by producing more-lush growth lower down on the plant? The same principle is at work when you mow and remove a grass blade's growing tip — the plant is inspired instead to spread out.

Basically, mowing turns grass into a lawn (and not, say, a wildlife preserve for ticks). Read on for some advice on the act of mowing and the basic mowing equipment.

How often you should mow depends — surprise, surprise — on how fast your grass grows. You'll be busy in the height of the growing season, to be sure. Three key factors affect growth rate:

i The time of year: Warm-season grasses grow fast in the hot summer months. Cool-season ones are motoring during spring and fall (summer's heat slows them down).

i The amount of water: More water equals more grass equals more mowing. If you're sick of mowing, cut back on watering. But be careful; if you cut back too much, your lawn may show signs of distress or go brown and dormant (see "Getting the water balance right," earlier in this chapter).

i The amount of fertilizer: More nitrogen and more lawn food equal more grass and more mowing.

Don't mow when the grass is wet. This advice holds even if you don't have an electric mower (and especially if you do). Wet grass is tough to mow; it mats and mushes and cuts unevenly. The clippings settle in damp globs, smothering the grass. It also rots with a rank smell! Later, when things are dry, you find out your hard work resulted in what looks like a very bad haircut. Also, cutting wet grass promotes the growth and spread of lawn-disease organisms. Not worth the trouble, not worth the risk!

How high to mow varies by grass type. In general, though, warm-season grasses spread out as they grow and may be mowed at a lower height, whereas cool-season ones, owing to their more upright growth habit, are better off cut higher. Don't get too concerned about these requirements, though. Figure 10-6 gives you an idea of where to start, but ideal mowing heights are just that: ideal. (For a general list of ideal mowing heights, see "Cool-season and warm-season grasses.") Do the best you can, and of course, watch how your particular lawn responds to your regimen. You'll get into a groove.

Figure 10-6:

Setting mower height.

Figure 10-6:

Setting mower height.

Adjust your mowing height according to the weather. If temperatures are really high, let the grass be taller; short haircuts are for cooler weather. Longer grass is better able to cope with the stress of drought and heat.

Suppose heavy rains inspire a burst of growth, or you go away on vacation and the lawn gets a little out of control. It happens. Don't fret. Respond with a two-part attack. The first mowing, set the blade higher than usual and go to it, mowing only some of what you really need to (and you may need to do some raking after). Follow up a few days later with a second mowing at the proper or usual height.

For information on types of lawnmowers and their maintenance, please see Lawn Care For Dummies (Wiley Publishing, Inc.).

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