Best Mowing Practices for Southern Turf

Daniel Gill, Koske, Thomas J.

Rotary mower

Mulching versus high lift blade

Bad mowing practices or good xeriscaping ?

There are bad mowing practices, good mowing practices and best mowing practices. The good practices are okay with most lawns and tall-cut turf. Tall-cut grass often has more abuse tolerance by nature of more leaf area and more root mass. Low-cut turf does not have these extended benefits to draw from and requires the best mowing practices to sustain decent quality.

For the very best mowing practices to give your turf the best chances, try to incorporate as many of these considerations as possible.

1.) Set the "effective" cutting height to the appropriate range for that cultivar’s sustainability. Effective means "what the grass is actually cut at" not necessarily the mower's bench setting. If you want a ¼” cut, measure the verdure (green shoots) after the mower passes over to see if it is actually ¼” tall. Don’t try to cut a common bermuda like hybrid or a St. Augustine like a centipede height.

2.) Have a reasonably sharp and well-adjusted (level, etc.) mower.

3.) Apply the "1/3" rule of cut by never removing more verdure than the top third. Another way to say this is to mow whenever you get 50 percent regrowth from last cut.

4.) Operate the mower safely and properly. Avoid sharp donut turns. Mowing at too high a speed can produce a washboard, rippling cut with reel mowers. Bouncing rotary mowers can leave an uneven surface.

5.) Lower the mowing height in small steps to avoid scalping (reread item #3).

6.) Limit or avoid use of heavy mowers to lessen soil compaction and resulting root retardation.

7.) Leave clippings in the sod, but avoid overlay (reread item #3). Overlay looks bad, can discolor turf, promotes disease and promotes thatch, which leads to sustainability problems. If you are going to mulch-mow, have a well-designed mulching mower with a proper mulching blade. These give a cut with very small clipping pieces and avoid overlay and thatch buildup.

8.) Catch clippings if needed to avoid overlay or if they affect turf use.

9.) Limit double cutting; try skipping every other cut as such; a cleanup cut is usually a double cut so use appropriately.

10.) Avoid mowing at high-risk or high-stress times such as active disease pressure, frost, drought, heat-stressed or saturated and heat-stressed (wet wilt).

11.) Raise mowing height before an expected environmental stress period. This is usually heat, cold, frost or drought but could be others like extended cloudy weather or spring root decline.

12.) Mow young establishing grass as soon as it reaches its target height range to promote spread and density.

13.) Don’t mow when you will leave mud ruts in the soil.

14.) Be careful with collected clippings for several mowings after a herbicide application; turf herbicides may damage other plants.

15.) Avoid catching a green’s clippings directly after most granular fertilizer applications; you may pick up what you spread or damage the prills.

16.) Mow low-cut turf (greens) in different directions with successive cuts to reduce grain development.

17.) Mow greens in the morning rather than afternoon or evening for longest play quality.

18.) Mow turf when foliage is reasonably dry so the mower will work optimally.

19.) Mow short (within recommended limits) in spring when warm-season grasses are more prostrate in habit. This helps with thatch, density, spread and green-up.

20.) Use reel type mowers for low-cut grass, especially for cuts of less than 1 inch, and make sure there are adequate numbers of blades in the reel for the height of cut selected.

Remember that as the effective mowing height reaches its lower limit for that cultivar, these 20 considerations become more critical to the turf’s sustainability.

2/1/2008 10:24:27 PM
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