If your home has a yard, then you'll need to know how to mow a lawn—and trust us, there's more to this crucial piece of lawn maintenance than simply moving a mower around!
That's why, in this edition of our Lawn Lover's Guide, we'll lay out everything you need to know, from the best time to tackle this chore to how often, and beyond. Read on to keep your grass looking its best.
Best time to mow a lawn
Choose your mowing time wisely: Debra Morrow, Vice President of Marketing at ArtisTree Landscape Maintenance & Design in Venice, Fla., suggests waiting to mow until after the dew has dried, but before the heat of the day sets in. This prevents the mower from slipping and sliding on the wet grass, but protects you from the heat. If you're not able to mow in mid-morning, a second choice is late afternoon, when temperatures start to cool.
Whatever the time of day, never mow grass when it's wet. Not only do you risk slipping while mowing after a rainstorm, but mowing on a sodden lawn can leave unsightly ruts. What's more, wet clippings are a pain to clean up, Milotte says, and clumps of grass on your lawn could smother new sprouts.
How often to mow a lawn
Mowing once a week every Saturday might work at some times during the growing season, but when your grass is popping up at an exponential rate, you just can't wait, says Damon Millotte, General Manager and Vice President at Tailor Made Lawns in North Carolina. Instead of a mowing schedule, he recommends mowing based on the height of the grass.
Generally, three to three and a half inches is an accepted height for most grasses. However, each grass type has an ideal height, says Morrow. When you get seed for your lawn, the bag should tell you the optimal height to mow. A good rule of thumb is to mow when the grass is one-third higher than the recommended mowing height. If you didn't seed your lawn, you can check Scotts' grass guide to determine which kind you have growing in your yard and the recommended mowing height.
Also keep in mind that the growth rate varies as well—for instance, based on the type of fertilizer you're using (nitrogen-heavy fertilizers make grass grow faster), the time of year (cool-season grasses grow quickly in fall and spring, warm-season grasses grow fastest in summer), and how much water your lawn is getting.
How to mow a lawn
"There's not one best way to mow," says Millotte. "Some people like to cut neat rows back and forth across their lawn, some people like to try a spiral, and other people will just tackle a section at a time."
That said, there are a few tricks to mowing your lawn that the experts swear by.
Avoid overmowing: Shorter grass means less mowing, right? Not exactly. "We advise against cutting more than one-third of the grass leaf at a time," Morrow says. "Your lawn will need less water, be more resistant to weeds and have a deeper, greener color. Mowing your grass too short just stresses your grass and invites pests and diseases. Mowing at the proper height allows it to develop deeper roots to withstand dry spells."
But don't wait too long: Can your lawn get a sunburn? You'd better believe it! "When blades are tall, they naturally shade the bottom," Millotte explains. "Then, when you finally cut it, that lower part of the grass gets scorched by sudden sun exposure."
Vary the direction each time you mow: "If you cut your lawn in the same pattern, your grass slowly starts to lean in that direction," Millotte explains. "If you switch it up, it can prevent ruts from forming and give you a lawn that stands more upright."
Check your mower blade: "A sharp blade gives you an even mow and leaves your grass at the same height, but when you start noticing patches that you have to go over again, it's a good sign that you need to start thinking about replacing the blade," says Butch Dellis of Nutri-Green Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla. You can also take a look a the grass blades themselves. Dull mower blades won't slice your grass clean across the top; they'll tear it.
"If you're still not sure, you can inspect the blade itself," Dellis says. "Most people who mow their lawn with regularity need to have the blade sharpened once each season. Large nicks or dents in the blade or areas where the blade is wearing thin can mean that you'll need to get the blade replaced, not just sharpened."
Your local mower shop will be able to tell you if your mower blade can simply be sharpened or if you need to buy a new one. Sharpening typically costs about $5 to $10, while a new blade can cost closer to $20.