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Of all the things that can happen to lawns in the Midwest, it’s not insects, fungal disease or even our everchanging climate that causes more problems than a lawn mower. What’s worse, ask almost anyone for their opinion of the most benign landscaping activity and most will say without pause, mowing. Despite this common misconception, mowing is an activity that will cause a great deal of injury if one is not mindful of growing conditions, past, present and future. While we no longer offer a mowing service, I feel this information is important and can be useful for homeowners who cut their own grass or for those who use the service of others.

In the early spring, mowing is a useful way to speed up recovery following winter dormancy. It is important to begin before you think the lawn needs to be cut. Nipping off the ends of leaves/blades is a controlled injury that will trigger the plant to “recover” by encouraging additional shoot growth to thicken the lawn (soil temperature is also important). Mowing, coupled with a successful fertilization program and core aeration can improve turfgrass and greatly limit, even prevent the use of pesticides needed to correct weeds and disease.

*We are not offering Mowing services anymore.

While cultural practices like mowing can be beneficial when carried out with care, much damage can occur when people are less attentive to common mistakes, often relative to the frequency of cutting. Homeowners often wait too long before cutting. The first cutting of the season usually takes people by surprise because they underestimate how much the lawn has grown in early spring. Those who chose to watch the football game instead of giving one last cut the fall before will be in this group, they’ll be making hay on the first outing. Every neighborhood has one who is last to put the mower away in autumn and the first to wheel it out in the spring……
Usually, this is also where you find a healthy stand of turfgrass.

There are some very basic and beneficial rules to follow, specifically, the “One-Third Rule”. This dictates that never shall more than 1/3 of the total leaf surface be removed at one time. For instance, if you cut the grass at three inches high, do not allow the turfgrass to exceed four inches between cuttings. Removing too much of the leaf surface in one cutting will result in injury, causing the root system to die back from the stress. It’s much better to raise the mower, gradually lowering and cutting in two- or three-day intervals to get back on track. Mowing when wet (too tall or too fast) will cause the grass to lay over and become thin while mowing when it’s too hot and dry can cause injury leading to fungal disease in the summer. Turfgrass (especially Kentucky Bluegrass) in Iowa will show stress with the first (early) transition into hot and dry weather (May/June). Proceed with caution during this pivotal period, making hay and/or cutting during the heat of the day will leave a lasting impression with additional weeds and fungal disease, likely to spread through the summer season.

Being mindful of climate conditions will help guide some decisions…To mow or not to mow… That is the question… While mowing under the best conditions encourages growth, mowing under poor conditions will cause damage. If the weather is hot and dry and looks to remain that way, keep off. People often get into a routine that becomes hard to break. There is no need to cut the grass when it’s already under (climate) stress and not growing. The same goes for shaded areas where turfgrass isn’t actively growing and it is especially true to anyone using a riding mower and/or on any slope….Keep off!

Kentucky Bluegrass should be cut at 3” with the exception of the summer months when it’s best to keep turfgrass taller (3.5” to 4”). The last cuttings of the fall season can be shorter, allowing leaves to easily blow off and to prevent “hay making” in the spring. The first cut of spring can also be slightly shorter to aid in growth stimulation and to clean up remaining leaves and debris that have gathered over the winter. Be sure to sharpen blades often and check your tire pressure or otherwise level the deck. Mowing may be a brainless task that many of us have done since our age first became a two-digit number but there is a right way and a wrong way despite our learned habits.

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Tompkins Lawn Care, Inc 
3956 – 120th St NE
Solon, IA 52333 

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OFFICE: (319) 331-9357

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