To the inexperienced third party, this might seem like such a trivial issue – just mow the lawn, who cares how high or low you cut?! But gardeners and garden enthusiasts will know just how big of a difference cutting height can make to a lawn.
Knowing how low down to cut your grass is a very important skill, as this will determine not only how your lawn looks, but also how it grows and its overall health. There are several factors that will contribute to the cutting height decision which we’ll look at in detail.
By the time you’re finished reading this article, no matter how experienced you are with gardening or lawn mowing, you’ll have a better idea of what setting to put your mower on in order to get the optimal trim!
One of the worst things you can do when it comes to mowing the lawn is to assume that all lawns are created equal – they’re not. Different lawns will have different conditions, different types of grass, different positions, soils, and uses, all of which will affect the ideal cutting height.
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
This is something a lot of people might not think about, and that is the fact that there are hundreds of different kinds of grasses that can be used for lawns. When you think about that, it seems ridiculous that anyone would assume it was ok to cut every kind the same way, and indeed, we need to be specific with our cutting choices.
There’s not enough space in this article (or hours in the day) to explore every type of grass individually, but generally speaking, grasses fall into one of two main categories: cool season and warm season.
Cool season grasses generally need to be cut down to about 2.5 inches, whereas warm season grasses can stand to be cut a little taller at around 3 inches. Cool season grasses do majority of their growing in the cooler, wetter months and go dormant in the summer whereas warm season grasses do the opposite.
Knowing which variety you have will not only help you to know what height to cut it at, but also when to cut it. It’s best to cut cool season grass while it is actively growing in the colder months, and warm season grass while it’s actively growing in the summer months.
Instead of having a set mowing schedule in mind, you should be able to monitor your lawn’s growth and mow intuitively according to its length and health. The weather conditions you experience will also greatly influence the rate of growth and overall health of your lawn and thus, are vital factors.
If you experience long periods of intense heat and drought, or intense cold and excessive rainfall, it’s likely that your grass will be suffering to a degree and growth will be stunted. In these trying conditions, it’s best to mow your grass on a high setting so that the blades aren’t cut too short to survive.
If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that has moderate heat, just enough rain, and a good mixture of sunshine and cloud cover, then I’ve got great news – your grass is likely going to be very healthy, happy, and strong! This means you’ll be able to cut to a shorter height as the grass will be better able to recover.
If you’re uncertain of how low your grass can handle being cut, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and go a bit higher – you can always trim a bit further but you won’t be able to stick grass tips back on if you mow too much off!
Just as there are many different types of lawn grass, there are also many reasons why people have lawns. Most people have lawns because they provide a flat, clear space for children and pets to play, for barbeques, parties, and picnics, or for playing sports on.
Alternatively, some people with bigger plots of land might want their lawns to look highly manicured and even, or they might want a wilder, more meadow-like aesthetic. Whatever you want your grass to look like and whatever you want to use your lawn for, you’ll need to take this into account when setting your mowing height.
If you want a neat, short, and even lawn then you’ll probably want to cut quite low to ensure optimal uniformity. If you’re interested in having a fluffier, more natural lawn then mowing higher is the way to go. If you’re cutting the lawn of a sports pitch or golf course, then special considerations will need to be made in order to adhere to the sport’s own standards.
If you don’t mind other plants and flowers interspersing with your lawn, then you might need to be quite careful with mowing height to ensure you aren’t chopping off too many flower heads or other desirable plants. Purpose is such a subjective factor, so it’ll all depend on your specific desires.
Similarly to weather conditions, the composition of the soil you have will go a long way in determining how quickly your lawn grows, how healthy and strong it is, and how frequently and short you can afford to cut it.
If the quality of your soil is generally quite rich, then your grass will have plenty of nutrients to support its health and growth. This will mean it should grow faster than grass in nutrient-poor soil and will have better disease and pest resistance, allowing it to recover easily from being cut quite short.
Lawns with poorer quality soil will take longer to recover from mowing so you should consider cutting them at a higher level. If you’re looking to improve the composition of your soil, then using a mulching attachment on your mower will spread shredded lawn clippings over your grass which will then be decomposed by microorganisms and release nutrients into the soil.
You can also look into lawn-specific composts, fertilisers, and things like weed-and-feed (which do exactly that, tackling both weeding and feeding!) but just be sure to look for organic ingredients that won’t be harmful to plant or animal life.
As briefly touched on in the above sections, cutting your lawn too short can be detrimental to the health and appearance of your grass. This can lead to several different issues that can ruin the aesthetic of your space as well as get worse over time if not treated carefully.
Brown stripe syndrome is a commonly known side effect of cutting grass without optimising the blade height setting. What happens in this case is that the grass has been mown too short so that most or all of the green leaf part of the blades has been chopped off, leaving the straw-coloured stem behind.
Clusters of many of these straw-coloured stems together can make for a patchy lawn with brown stripes or spots where all the chlorophyll-containing parts of the grass have been lost. Not only does this look unappealing, but it also affects the grass’ ability to photosynthesize, making it harder for it to recover and resist disease.
Cutting your grass too short can also leave the soil between grass blades exposed to the elements such as sun and rainfall, leading to increased drying out and erosion which can negatively impact soil structure and aeration, as well as dehydrate the roots of grass and other plants.
Common sense is one of the most valuable qualities a gardener can have and the success of so much that you do will rely on it. That’s not to say that we should trust our guts on absolutely every gardening and lawn mowing issue, but it definitely goes a long way to ensuring we don’t make silly mistakes.
Aside from mowing too high or too low, frequency can also be a concept some people struggle with. It’s key that you don’t mow your lawn too often as this will hinder its recovery and overall growth, leading to weaker grass that’s not as healthy and resilient.
If you want to avoid patchiness, soil problems, pest and disease infestations, and visual displeasure, think carefully about the cutting height you need. Of the factors listed above, none of them can work alone. When deciding what cutting height to use for your lawn, you must take them all into account!
Hopefully this article has given you a better idea of what to think about when planning a lawn mowing session, and hopefully, you’ll be able to maintain your lawn in an easy and enjoyable manner as a result!