Smart Mowing Means Good Growing

Lawn Company Secrets

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Mowing with a power mower causes noise and pollution, and it uses fossil fuels. Mowing is dangerous. Mowing is bad. Flip to Chapter 19 to read more about the effects of mowing. In the meantime, this section provides some tips for mowing as smart and sustainably as possible.

Besides watering, mowing is the other most-important lawn care practice. You should mow your lawn high (and no, I don't mean under the influence). Maintaining grass at the proper height preserves plenty of leaf surface so that photosynthesis is maximized and plenty of sugars go into the roots to strengthen them (plants are sugar junkies). Mowing high encourages deep rooting and soil building. It also helps shade out weeds, encourages grass to spread by sending out underground runners, discourages pests (what's better than a discouraged pest?), and keeps diseases at bay.

Mow cool-season grasses, such as fescues, bluegrass, and rye 2 to 3 inches high. Mow warm-season grasses, such as Bermuda grass, no more than 1 inch tall.

Here are a few other mowing mantras to keep in mind:

  • Mow when the grass needs it, not just because it's Saturday morning.
  • Use a mulch mower or mulching blade to return the clippings to the lawn by practicing grasscycling (see the upcoming "Grasscycling" section). Grasscycling can account for up to 30 percent of the total nitrogen requirements of the average lawn, and it eliminates the need to dispose of the clippings.
  • You can mow right over fallen leaves, and they, too, can return to the soil. Contrary to popular belief, this practice doesn't cause thatch buildup.

Mowtown: Alternatives to fossil-powered mowing

People mow because the grasses they use in lawns are bred to be mowed. They mow because society says mowing is the right way to keep a lawn. They xflBEH

mow because a cropped turf is a playable, attractive surface. They mow, and mow, and mow, burning up dinosaur juice and making noise and pollution in the process. Yet you can mow in less damaging ways.

Muscle-powered push mowers (also called reel mowers) work very well. They use no fuel unless you count what you had for breakfast. They're quiet. They always start. They let you mow the lawn and get your exercise at the same time, which is perfect for busy people. They work well as long as you don't let the lawn grow too long before mowing. Because a reel mower shears the grass off like a pair of scissors would, it makes a cleaner cut than the typical rotary mower. One of these mowers is a feasible option if your lawn is smaller than 3,000 square feet, made up of a fine-bladed and not-too-wiry grass variety, and is on relatively level ground.

If you have a bigger lawn or tough grass, use an electric mower, which requires about half the energy of a gas mower and can be less polluting, depending on the source of the electricity (solar panels on your roof would be ideal). Modern electric mowers are cordless, quiet, and efficient, and they always start.

Or try the classic solution: sheep. The town of Curitiba, Brazil, uses a flock of municipal sheep to mow the parks. Grass co-evolved with browsing animals, so this method isn't such a big leap. The sheep fertilize, too. If you happen to have one or more domestic ruminants, turn them out on the lawn.

Taking good care of your mower can make a difference. Reel mowers need sharpening and adjusting now and then to keep the cut clean and minimize the effort it takes to push them. Electric mowers need little care other than keeping the blade sharp. If you have a gas mower, keep it tuned up so it pollutes as little as possible, and sharpen the blade so it doesn't have to work so hard.

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