The lone voice of horticultural reason

“Lawn mower manufacturers create five height settings on lawn mowers so that I can opt for the lowest setting and ignore the other four the entire rest of my life.”

Seriously, that’s what must be going through the heads of homeowners who commit the number-one mistake in lawn care: mowing one’s lawn too short. I have a guy down the road from me with an enormous lawn that he cuts with a rider set so low the grass blade is cut to around half an inch. I theorize he was conceived during an amorous moment years ago on some country club’s 18th green. I’m surprised he hasn’t taken the tires off his tractor and tried running it on the hubs to get an even closer shave.

Starting now, mow your lawn using the middle setting—”C” on my Toro. Cut, your grass should be around 2.5 to 3 inches long. “A” cuts it to just under an inch. When repeatedly cut that short, grass doesn’t develop a deep, healthy root system, so you need to water it more. The grass blades also don’t shade the ground; the sun beats down and evaporates the moisture and fries the roots. Now you need to water even more and fertilize three or four times to keep it green. Your lawn becomes more susceptible to pests and fungal diseases, and is the first in the neighborhood to brown out and go dormant in mid-summer, unless you irrigate every two days.

Grow your grass longer and the roots will grow deeper. Plus blades shade the ground and keep the roots cool and happy. When July rolls around in Minnesota, temperatures climb into the 90s and even the 100s. These periods are what the higher settings on your mower are for. I move up to the “D’ setting so I’m growing taller, fully developed plugs during the most stressful periods of heat and drought.

Another benefit? Consider that you should only remove 1/3 of the grass blade when you mow. Cut any more and it stresses the plant. Well, if my neighbor is cutting his lawn to one inch, he has to cut it when it grows to an inch and a half, if he hopes to maintain his status as Lawn God Of Western Deephaven. His lawn will grow that half an inch in just more than two days during times grass is most active. So he gets to mow his lawn two and even three times a week.

Me, I consider mowing the lawn the gardening equivalent of cleaning the toilet. I let my lawn grow to 4 or 5 inches and cut it to just over three. I mow less than once a week.

In the fall, after the grass is finished growing, that’s when the low, “A” setting comes into play. The last few times you mow in the fall, mow your lawn as short as possible so there’s less rot and disease problems caused by snow cover and spring thaw. Removing the tires from your mower, however, is unnecessary.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener