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Missouri Environment & Garden


Brad S. Fresenburg
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 884-8785

Choosing a Mowing Service

Brad S. Fresenburg
University of Missouri
(573) 884-8785

Published: April 1, 2008

Homeowners may choose to hire a lawn care service for the care and maintenance of their lawn. However, not all lawn care services provide everything you need. This may require you to seek a mowing service as well. Some lawn care services that do not provide mowing can and sometimes do make recommendations for their preferred mowing service.

Look to the information below as you evaluate mowing services. Be sure they follow the highlighted guidelines. Mowing is the most frequent cultural practice we provide in lawn maintenance. It can make or break a lawn.

Mowing Guidelines:

Turfgrass plants mowed shorter than their optimal height of cut are, in general, under more stress and more susceptible to weeds, diseases and insects. Optimal cutting heights for cool-season grasses, such as blends of turf-type tall fescues, should range from 3.0 to 4.0 inches. Warm-season grasses, like zoysia, can range between 2 and 3 inches.

Seasonal variation in mowing height was once thought to be highly beneficial and is still considered beneficial by some. We know that mowing cool-season grasses a little taller in the summer months can have benefits through summer stress periods (deeper roots, better cooling effect). Taller grasses will also conserve moisture, giving some reduction in irrigation requirements. We also know that cool-season grasses mowed a little taller in the spring and fall compete more successfully against weeds (up to 80 percent control of annual weeds). Therefore, select the tallest, acceptable mowing height for your species of grass and maintain that height during the entire season. This provides benefits throughout the season -- competition against weeds as well as reduced summer stress.

Clippings should be uniformly distributed rather than deposited in clumps. Mowing the lawn when the grass is dry and using a properly sharpened mower blade will spread clippings evenly. If some areas produce excess clippings, simply mulch those in with a second passing of the mower.

Mowing creates wounds through which fungi can enter the plant and infect it. Leaf cuts made by a sharp mower blade are cleaner and heal faster than the tearing and shredding caused by a dull mower blade. A dull mower blade inflicts more and bigger wounds that increase potential for infection by turfgrass diseases. Having a sharp, spare mower blade allows you to switch blades when needed and prevents delays in mowing when getting your mower blade sharpened.

Observe leaf tips or grass clippings collected on your mower deck immediately after a mowing to determine the quality of cut. Use this as an indicator of when to sharpen mower blades.

During hot summer months it is best to mow later in the day to minimize additional stresses on your grass. It is also best to change directions of mowing each time you mow.

Frequency of cut should be determined by the “one-third rule” of mowing. You should make sure that no more than one-third of the leaf growth is removed during a single mowing. During the spring and fall, cool-season grasses can be mowed every 5 to 6 days when properly fertilized.

Many homeowners believe grass clippings need to be removed to have a healthy, vigorous lawn. By following the steps in the “Don’t Bag It” lawn care program, you can have a beautiful lawn without collecting your grass clippings (MU Guide G6959 – “Don’t Bag It” Lawn Care: How to Recycle Your Grass Clippings, Leaves and Branches). Returning grass clippings can return as much as 30 percent nitrogen and 50 percent potassium. Grass clippings also contribute to the organic matter levels of your soil improving the water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil.

When is it OK to bag clippings? 1) When delayed in mowing due to rain; 2) When you wish to make compost (Refer to: MU Guide G6956 – Making and Using Compost & G6958 – Grass Clippings, Compost and Mulch: Questions and Answers); and 3) When preparing for aeration and over-seeding in late summer to early fall. Avoid using grass clippings in compost when chemically treated.

A word of caution about weed-eating: Weed-eaters typically scalp turfgrasses when edging along sidewalks, curbs, and driveways. This promotes weeds! Best edging practices include a power edger or weed-eater (rotated) with a vertical blade preventing any scalping of turfgrasses.

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REVISED: November 19, 2012