STEP 5 - Mowing Your Lawn
Tips on proper lawn mowing techniques
All lawns need regular mowing, making it one of the most important maintenance tasks in lawn care, whether you go organic or not. By changing only a few of your normal mowing practices, you can dramatically improve the quality and vigor of your lawn.
The most common recommendation from experts for a healthy lawn is to set your mower blades high, at least 3 to 3.5 inches, even as high as 4 inches if your mower can be set that high. This might seem surprising to many of you, since the vast majority of homeowners and landscapers cut lawns very short, trying to emulate the look of a manicured golf course putting green. However, longer grass shades out weed seeds, by keeping the sun from warming the ground and germinating weed seeds. Longer blades provide energy for the grass to grow deeper roots. Deep roots help grass withstand dry periods without rain, and damage from chewing pests. Longer grass also provides a softer cushion for children playing on the lawn than a short "golf green."
Avoid cutting off more than 1/3 of the grass blade at once. Cutting too much grass at once shocks the plant and increases drought vulnerability. This means that if you are cutting at 3.5 inches, you have to cut when the grass is not much longer than 4.5 inches. Therefore, plan to cut more often than once a week when grass is growing very fast in the spring. This rule can be hard to follow if there is a long period of rain keeping you from getting out and mowing. Mowing while the grass is dry avoids the grass clumping. But mowing a damp lawn doesn't harm the grass. If you have a long stretch of rainy days, it's better for your grass to mow before it gets too long, rather than wait for it to dry. (Mowing Height)
There are a few occasions when the general rule of mowing high should not be followed. For the first mowing of the season, mow low to let the sun warm the ground and germinate grass seed. Mow low before overseeding, as described in Step 2 of this series. This allows seeds to make better contact with the soil. For the last mowing of the year, you also want to mow low to avoid frost damage.
Before the next time you mow, make sure your mower blade is sharp. A dull blade rips your grass rather than making a clean cut, leaving your lawn with ragged edges, which are prone to disease. If you have a small lawn that doesn't get much mowing, your mower blades should be sharpened at least once a year, for large lawns that get cut often, sharpening could be needed as often as once a month. When removing the blade, make sure the spark plug is disconnected for safety, or the mower is unplugged/battery removed if you have an electric mower. You can have your mower blade professionally sharpened, or do it yourself if you have the right tools. (How to Sharpen Your Mower Blade)
Leave your clippings on the lawn so that they can return nutrients and water to the soil. If you want, you can use a mulching mower, which cuts the grass clippings smaller, but this is not as important for organic lawns, because the soil life will break the clippings down faster. Not bagging or raking up clippings also avoids the problem of disposing of them. Many towns have stopped collecting grass clippings and promoted "Don't Bag It" campaigns. Although there are many benefits to leaving clipping on the lawn, many people are concerned about bringing grass clippings from the lawn into their pool, there's an easy solution. Just place a small foot basin near the pool ladder to wash off additional grass before going in.
Consider using an electric mower, it can provide tremendous conveniences. They cause less pollution and smog (small engines pollute more per gallon of gas burned, because they don't have the emissions controls that are required on cars), lower greenhouse gas emissions, and are quieter, lighter, and less smelly. Plus, you don't have to deal with trips to the gas station to refill your gas can, storing gas, and spills when you are refueling. There are now effective battery powered mowers available, so you don't have to be tethered by a cord. There is growling interest on Long Island in reducing noise from power mowers. Electric mowers cut noise by more than half. Your neighbors are less likely to complain if you like to mow early on Sunday morning.
For more information:
Yard and Garden: Lawn Mowing Tips from Iowa State Extension
How Green Is Your Lawn Mower
Mowing Height How-to Video (one of many helpful videos offered at safelawns.org)
Building a Healthy Lawn a safe and natural approach, Stuart Franklin
Handbook of Successful Ecological Lawn Care, Paul D. Sachs
Long Island Organic Landscapers
Although it's easy for the average homeowner to maintain their lawn organically, some may too busy and wish to hire a professional. In that case there are thousands of landscapers on Long Island to choose from, but only a small but growing number of experts who can maintain your lawn and landscape without the use of chemical pesticides. They can be found here.