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Mowing practices for healthy lawns

Lawn mower on lawn in suburban yard.

Lawn mowing is more time consuming than any other lawn-care practice. Regular mowing with a sharp mower blade at the proper height will help keep grass growing vigorously and maintain adequate density. Proper mowing practices contribute to a healthy lawn and minimal weeds, and, if you leave grass clippings on your lawn, contribute to lawn nutrition. Typically, the species of grasses used in Minnesota lawns are Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and fescues.

Height

  • For a typical residential Midwest lawn, maintain a height of 3 inches or higher.
    • Taller grass shades out weed seeds and keeps soil cooler.
    • Taller grass means longer roots and greater ability to withstand drought and reach nutrients.
  • Remove no more than 1/3 of the leaf tissue when you mow.

    • Mowing too short or scalping results in stress to the grass plant. Weak grass plants will take longer to recover. To maintain a 3-inch lawn, mow before the grass reaches 4.5 inches tall.

    • Mowing too short can allow weed seeds to get more sun and increase the chance of germination.

Leave your clippings on the lawn

  • Decomposed clippings add the equivalent of one fertilizer application to your lawn each year.

  • Decomposed clippings improve soil quality and minimize runoff.

  • Leaving clippings on your lawn improves carbon sequestration.

  • If your clippings are too long, mulch by mowing several times or rake them off.

  • If you have used herbicides on your lawn, leave clippings after you mow – don’t use as mulch on other plants or add to compost.

  • Read more about the benefits of mulching lawn clippings.

Four grass blades with shredded tips side by side with four grass blades with cleanly-cut tips.
Grass shredded by dull mower blades (left) and cleanly-cut grass with sharp mower blades (right)

Mower blades

Make sure your mower blades are sharp.

  • Dull blades leave jagged edges and plants are more susceptible to diseases.
  • Cleanly-cut grass blades are able to conserve water, reducing the need for irrigation.

What time of the year should I stop mowing?

Continue mowing until the grass stops growing in the fall, generally around the end of October.

  • Maintaining grass height before winter can minimize diseases that occur when grass is too long over the winter.
  • Longer grass during winter may encourage vole activity.
Lawn and curb next to road with a patch of lawn that has been mowed too short
Scalped patch of lawn

Keep your lawn healthy and actively growing

  • Increase the mowing height by an inch during mid-summer to improve the lawn's ability to tolerate stress caused by heat and drying winds.

  • Change the direction of mowing frequently to promote upright shoot growth.

    • If possible, mow at right angles every other time.

    • Alternating mowing patterns will prevent continuous scalping and soil compaction.

  • Consider installing the bagging attachment or raking up excessive debris following the first mow of the year and last mow of the season.

Sam Bauer, Extension educator and Jonah Reyes

Reviewed in 2018

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