Using the right techniques for cutting grass are key to keeping it looking its best. Ditch these bad habits from your maintenance routine now.

By Deb Wiley
Updated July 02, 2020
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Mowing your lawn is one of the most common yard chores out there. Even if you're more of a hands-off gardener, chances are you've had to rev up the mower on a regular basis. But there's a little more to it than just pulling your lawn mower out once a week and running it across your yard. To end up with the healthiest fresh-cut grass, there are a few common mowing mistakes that you'll want to make sure you avoid. If you're guilty of any of these, luckily they're all easy to fix, and then you'll be able to have a beautiful lawn each time you mow.

Karla Conrad

1. Mowing Your Grass Too Short

It may seem like mowing your grass shorter would mean you can mow less frequently, but actually this can cause more harm than good. Each blade of grass is part of a plant that gets its nutrients in part from photosynthesis from the sun. Mowing too low cuts the amount of leaf surface available to soak up the rays, so you might end up damaging or even killing your grass. Short grass also makes it easier for weeds to move in and take over.

Instead, keep your lawn mower blade high and mow frequently. As a rule, never remove more than one-third of a blade of grass in a single mowing. If your grass has gotten tall, mow as high as you can, then a few days later, mow again a little bit lower rather than waiting another week. Grass clippings should always be less than 1 inch long.

Lawns can be mowed a little lower in the spring and fall when the weather is cooler. In summer, keep the height taller so the blades can shade their roots and the extra leaf surface can provide more photosynthesis to fuel the roots.

Experts have raised their recommendations in recent years for mowing heights between 2 and 3.5 inches, depending on the type of grass. Cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, and perennial ryegrass can generally be cut at 2.5 to 3.5 inches. Warm-season grasses that grow horizontally, such as zoysia and Bermuda can be mowed lower, 2 to 2.5 inches.

Marty Baldwin

2. Collecting Your Lawn Clippings

It's tempting to remove grass clippings as you mow with a bagging lawn mower, but you'll rob your lawn of valuable nutrients if you do. Grass blades are primarily composed of water (about 85%) and also include nitrogen, so they break down quickly and will add nutrients back to the soil (meaning you can use less fertilizer!). If you have a bagging lawn mower already, you probably don't need to buy a new one; you can just remove the attachment on most models.

Another common misconception is that grass clippings cause thatch, which is a layer of partially decomposed grass roots and stems that can build up between the soil surface and the growing grass. But if your clippings stay under an inch in length, they won't cause this problem. However, if your lawn already has thatch that's more than ½ inch thick, grass clippings can contribute to the problem. If thatch becomes a problem for your lawn, use power raking, verticutting, or core aeration in spring or fall to open up more space for the roots.

To prevent grass clippings from making a mess, keep them away from hard surfaces such as streets and driveways. If they're sitting on concrete or another hard surface, they can be swept into storm drains and clog them or affect water quality down the line. Grass clippings contain phosphorus, a nutrient that turns lakes green with algae. Chemically treated decomposed clippings can also pose a threat to fish and other wildlife.

3. Not Changing Direction Each Time You Mow

If you always mow your lawn in the same direction, eventually your grass will start bending that way. Changing up the pattern each time you mow will also decrease soil compaction. Alternating directions, either at right angles or diagonals, can also help control the runners of creeping grasses and reduce thatch development.

4. Mowing Wet Grass

Never mow your grass when it's wet. It's a lot messier than mowing it when it's dry (nobody wants wet grass clippings sticking to everything). Also, wet soil is softer so grass roots may end up getting pulled out of the ground by your mower, leaving you with patchy, dead areas. And lawn diseases spread more easily when grass is wet. Dry grass takes less time mow, cuts easier, won't clog or mat, and looks better when you're finished. It's also safer to mow on dry grass because there's less risk of slipping (especially on slopes) and getting injured by the mower.

Chip Nadeau

5. Not Sharpening Your Lawn Mower's Blades

If you notice that your mower isn't getting the job done as well as it used to, try sharpening the blades. Just like kitchen knives, mower blades become duller with use. Dull blades can tear the grass blades instead of cutting them. And while ragged edges look bad, they can also invite diseases or pests in through damaged areas. So it's worth taking the time to sharpen the blades at least twice a year (once at the beginning of mowing season, and again about halfway through the summer); you can do it yourself with just a wrench and a medium file, or a sharpening power tool.

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