Do you have to deal with the mow-short crowd?

A buddy who mows residential lawns in my neighborhood often complains about the “mow-short” crowd. These are customers that insist on having their lawns mowed to within a half inch of bare dirt. These are often the same people that complain about weeds in their lawns or scalping when he mows too close to a tree root or over an uneven area.

While he’s attempted to convince these customers to allow their grass to grow a bit higher, some of his regulars still insist that their grass be mowed tight to the ground. What to do? He’s decided to do as they say, take the money and move on to mow another day.

Thinking about mowing height got me wondering about what homeowners in my small northern Ohio town know about keeping their lawns healthy, specifically about mowing. It led me to more closely evaluate the lawns in my community. What I saw was just about everybody’s grass is being mowed too short. It’s a lawn plague. Do some of these homeowners mow their grass (or have their lawns mowed, at an expense) so short in the mistaken belief that their lawns will not have to be mowed as often? Probably, I concluded.

Yes, some of the lawns in the newer part of town where the homes are larger and better maintained looked thick and healthy. These properties appear to receive professional landscaping services. They’re the exception to the epidemic of tightly shorn lawns where weeds grow as vigorously as grass.

Cutting at the ideal height, regardless of season and conditions, results in lush, healthy turf that fends off weeds, drought and disease. Cool-season grasses (hard fescue, turf-type tall fescue, perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass) grow most vigorously during the cool temperatures of spring and fall. Warm-season grasses (St. Augustine, Bermuda, centipede and zoysia) thrive in summer’s heat and sunshine.

Let’s start with a few basic mowing principals:

  1. Mow to keep the grass even, not necessarily to keep it short.
  2. Cut no more than one-third of the grass blades at any one time.
  3. When lawns are most actively growing you may need to mow, say, every five days. But when grass goes dormant (usually in midsummer for cool-season grasses and winter for warm-season grasses), you may be able to reduce mowing beyond a week, perhaps every two weeks depending on growing conditions.

Here are some basic mowing height guidelines for common lawn grass species:

Warm-Season Grasses

  • Bahia: 2.5 to 4 inches
  • Bermudagrass: 0.5 to 2.5 inches
  • Centipede: 1 to 2.5 inches
  • Kikuyugrass: 1 to 1.5 inches
  • St. Augustine: 1 to 3 inches
  • Zoysia: 0.5 to 3 inches

Cool-Season Grasses

  • Fine fescue: 1.5 to 4 inches
  • Kentucky bluegrass: 1 to 3.5 inches
  • Perennial ryegrass: 0.75 to 2.5 inches
  • Tall fescue: 1.5 to 4 inches

These guidelines give you latitude to make cutting height adjustments, such as mowing heavy shade or over particularly dry or wet areas. But keep in mind, cutting too low, and especially to the bottom of the grass crowns, results in lawns that cannot resist weeds and quickly becomes unattractive when stressed by heat or drought.