Mowing essential to maintain lawns

KENNEWICK -- Don't stop mowing your lawns!

Keep reading even if you think this mundane subject will bore you to tears. Most lawn and landscape caretakers fail to understand the importance of proper mowing. Trust me, it is important even if it's not a scintillating subject.

The quality of your lawn is directly related to the quality of your mowing. Mowing the right way -- the right height, frequency and pattern -- encourages a dense stand of grass and gives your lawn the best appearance.

Height: Kentucky bluegrass is the major grass component of most area home lawns. The recommended mowing height for these lawns is 2 to 2.5 inches. Get out there with a ruler and measure the height of your cut. I would bet it's 3 inches or more. That's a problem. Did you know that high mowing, not grass clippings contribute significantly to the develop of excessive thatch in your lawn? Consult your mower manual about how to decrease your mowing height.

Frequency: It's certainly a chore, but it's important to mow regularly and not let the grass get ahead of you. The universal rule-of-thumb is to remove no more than one-third of the grass height at any one time. That means lawns mowed at the recommended height of 2 1/2 inches should be mowed before they reach the height of 3.25 inches.

If you go on vacation or the mower breaks down and the lawn does jump ahead of you, you should take the height down gradually still removing no more than one-third of the grass's height at any one time. Failure to follow the "rule" will "scalp" the lawn, injuring the grass and causing root growth to stop until the grass recovers.

Pattern: Don't get in a rut. There is a tendency to always mow in the pattern that's easiest for the person mowing the lawn. Using the same exact route each time you mow can lead to soil compaction from the mower's wheels. Also, mowing in the same direction time after time tends to push the grass in one direction. Create several different mowing "routes" or patterns that limit your number of turns and allow you to mow a right angles to the direction your mowed previously. If you have a bumpy lawn area, mowing in different patterns can also help reduce repeated scalping that may occur in those spots.

Mower blades: Have you heard the old saying of "mow when the blade is sharp?" I haven't heard that one either, but a sharp mower blade is crucial in proper lawn mowing. A sharp blade correctly installed on your mower is essential in getting a crisp clean cut, especially with lawns that contain the tougher bladed turf-type perennial ryegrass. Dull blades tear grass rather than cut it cleanly. This injury to the grass blades results in mowed lawns developing a whitish cast not long after mowing. A close look at the individual blades reveals the torn and frayed blade ends. Check your mower blade frequently and have it sharpened if needed. It's always handy to have an extra sharpened set on hand for a switch out.

Clippings: Grass clippings do not cause thatch. If you don't have a mulching mower, mow often enough so there are no piles of clipping left on the lawn surface after mowing. Grass clippings contain nutrients (approximately 4 percent nitrogen, .5 percent phosphorus, and 3.5 percent potassium).

Left on the lawn, clippings can reduce your lawn's fertilizer needs by 25 percent.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Extension Office in Benton County.

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