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Ag Matters column: Mowing helps your lawn ward off problems

Lawn mowing is perhaps the most important practice performed in home lawn care. The simple practice of mowing impacts not only the appearance of your lawn, but also can impact the turf's ability to ward off problems.

Regardless of whether the lawn is fertilized, irrigated or other management practices, proper mowing practices are essential for a high quality lawn. Properly mowed lawns will have fewer weeds, will better withstand mid-summer moisture stress and will have a more pleasing appearance.

Regular mowing with a sharp mower blade at the proper mower height keeps grass growing vigorously and maintains adequate plant density to thoroughly cover the soil surface. Continually scalping turf seriously weakens grass plants, leaving an opening for weed invasion.

For most lawns, mowing at a height of 2 to 3 inches screens out light to the soil surface, thus preventing weeds (such as light-loving crabgrass seeds) from germinating. Also, a higher cutting height encourages slightly deeper root systems, allowing them to gather moisture and nutrients from a larger soil volume, thereby increasing a grass plant's stress tolerance. If your grass has become very long (e.g., during extended rainy periods), lower the mower blade height gradually rather than cutting grass back all at once to reduce unnecessary stress on plants.

Mulching mowers and mulching attachments for mowers reduce the size of grass clippings, thus increasing the rate at which they decompose. And mowing on a regular basis with a sharp mower blade produces clippings that decompose fairly quickly. Allow these clippings to remain on the lawn whenever possible. They do not contribute to thatch build-up because when they decompose they become a valuable organic source of nutrients for grass plants. In fact, yearly nitrogen applications may be reduced by 1/3 to 1/2 when grass clippings are left on the lawn. However, remove clippings that form large clumps on top of the grass. Moreover, mulching the clippings will also save the time in clipping removal. Turf mowed with the new mulching mowers has grass that has nearly the same swept or vacuumed appearance as when the turf surface was mowed with bagging attachments.

The direction of mowing should be altered every one to two mowings. Mowing at right angles (90 degrees) to the previous direction will help prevent the grass from repeatedly being pushed in one direction, an important consideration at high mowing heights. Also if scalping areas of the lawn is a problem, the different mowing directions will help minimize continual scalping in any one area.

All mowing equipment should be kept in good working condition. Having the mower serviced prior to the heavy spring mowing period will help ensure routine, maintenance-free mowing. Mower blades should be sharpened each spring and as needed during the season. A dull mower blade frays the ends of blades and results in brown tips which are unsightly and indicate damaged turfgrass.

Turfgrass should be mowed when it is dry. Wet grass is more difficult to cut and has the tendency to clog under rotary mowers. Mowing should not, however, be delayed for long periods of time because the grass is wet.

For more information, contact me at the Polk County office in McIntosh or at the Clearwater County office on Wednesdays. Our toll free number is 800-450-2465. If email is your thing, contact me at Sources: UMN, NDSU and OSU.