How to mow?

gwlolo(9b/ Sunset 15)June 12, 2013

We laid down new sod (about 2500 sq.ft) and have a gardening service which does weekly mowing. The grass seems to be reasonably well established. I would like to make sure we are following good mowing practice for a healthy lawn. Would really appreciate some guidance on the following:

- Is it better to ask the gardener to use our mower as opposed to their mower? I thought this might be a good idea to prevent contamination. They use a bag mower powered by gasoline.
- How important is mulch mowing? Does this need a special mower? Or can the bag mower also do it?
- Is reel mower a better idea than my lawn guy's rotary mower? In the past, I have used a Brill Lexus and we liked it.
- Mowing height - is there a preferred mowing height? We have 2 kinds of grass.
Bolero plus - 90%bolero dwarf fescue & 10% blue grass
Shade Blend - Cayenne Tall Fescue, Dynasty Tall Fescue, Jasper II Creeping Red Fescue, Victory II Chewings Fescue & Blue Velvet Kentucky Bluegrass
- Watering & mowing- we will likely mow once a week. Is there any advice regarding watering and mowing? Water before or after mowing or avoid watering the day off etc? My gut instinct is to mow when the grass is not too wet and water after mowing to prevent disease.

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Watering. Your lawn, when well established, needs about 1 inch of water per week, depending on the weather. Hot, dry, and windy weather will mean it needs more then that while cool, wet, calm means less. Then how much organic matter is in the soil will also affect that since adequate levels of OM will help hold moisture better. Water at least the day before mowing and not the day of unless you do that after the mowing is done.

Mowing heigth. Depends on which grass you have. Cool Season grasses, Blue grass, Perennial Rye, and the Fescues can and should be cut higher than the warm season, At. Augustine, Bermuda, etc., grasses should. What you have should be cut not shorter then 3 inches and 4 would be better for that turf.

Bagging the clippings, or not. The grass clippings mulch mowed back into the turf will supply up to 1/2 the annual Nitrogen needs of that lawn as well as neede organic matter. Removing them means the turf will require more "fertilizer" which can mean more watering, which can lead to more disease and insect pest problems.

Reel mowers are much better since they actually cut the grass instead of chopping it. But to use a reel mower you need a pretty level lawn with very little debris in it and reel mowers are not made to mulch mow any tree leaves you might get in the fall.

Turf grasses properly tended, growing in a good healthy soil will have fewer problems with diseases and insect pests then will turf grasses that are synthetically fertilized

    Bookmark   June 12, 2013 at 12:17PM
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gwlolo(9b/ Sunset 15)

Thanks Kimmsr. How do I know if my grass is cool season or warm season? Of the two types I posted in my original post, the shade blend seems to be almost all fescues, so mybe that is cool season grass? I know I don't have any bermuda.

I will change the watering to be off on the day of mowing. I typically water at night. Is there a good time of day to water?

Any recommendations for reel mowers? I used the Brill Lexus before. My lawn is pretty level and I only have leaves and such seasonally. I suppose I could rake that ahead of mowing.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2013 at 1:34PM
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Cool Season grasses, Blue grass, Perennial Rye, and the Fescues
warm season, At. Augustine, Bermuda, etc., grasses

    Bookmark   June 13, 2013 at 7:32AM
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Water in the morning, instead of evening because you don't want to encourage the fungal growth of cool wet leaves.
Let your soil dry between times of watering and especially for mowing. Compressing wet soils with foot traffic and mowers increases the compaction issues dramatically.
Many leaves can easily be mulched right into the lawns and it will benefit the turf greatly. For that you'll likely need to to use a rotary mulch mower.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2013 at 8:58AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Wait a minute! Are you still watering daily? Once the new grass is established you can back off on watering frequency and start adding to the duration. Kimmsr's suggestion to water the day before mowing is good, but that should be the ONLY day you water. If you are watering 1/7-inch per day, every day, that is the worst way to water for several reasons. Watering should be deep and infrequent. Deep means a full inch all at one time. Infrequent means monthly in the cool months transitioning through 3 weeks, 2 weeks, and finally 1 week as the weather warms up and humidity dries out.

There are only three types of grass which should be mowed low. Those are creeping bentgrass, bermuda, and centipede. All the rest can be mowed from the middle to the top of the mower's settings. Your dwarf varieties would be mowed in the middle, but the rest could be mowed higher. That's one issue with mixing seed types.

Mulch mowing is better because it returns nutrients. The pros like to collect clippings for a couple reasons. One is that the owner knows the grass is being cut. The other is that they sometimes mow when the grass is too wet to mow. If they don't collect the clippings, the clippings will clump and sit on top of the mowed grass instead of sifting down into the turf. The clumps can be the seeds of fungal disease.

I have an experimental lawn at the house in the town where I work. It is on an acre although only about 20,000 feet of it is St Augustine. Anyway the neighbors are at a distance and don't bother me. The experiment is to see what all the effects are of not mowing. What I have seen is remarkable. First you have to know that St Augustine is a 'shade tolerant' type of grass like fescue. Second is that it is soil tolerant meaning that it grows in sand, clay, salt, or pure. Here's what I have seen. My location is at the edge of the Texas desert not known for fertility or ability to grow anything but mesquite. St Augustine MUST have enough water to survive or it will die out completely.

Tall St Augustine in the shade needs little to no water
I have spots which have not been irrigated since Oct 2011. Those happen to be under live oak trees.

Tall St Augustine in full sun needs water
In the full sun the grass took 18 months to get taller than 4 inches. During that time the short grass required water on a weekly basis in the summer. We have been in a drought since I bought the house in Oct 2011. Part of the problem in 2011 was the grass had been left to die out (low mowing and not enough water). In early spring this year we had some dry fronts come through which dried out the soil. I had to water several spots where the grass was still short. It has finally happened late this spring (2013) that the rains have returned to Texas. I have gotten about 5 inches of rain so far this year (now I jinxed it!!). The timing was perfect and the grass has responded by leaping up to 9 inches high. When the rain finally stops I'll be watching to see what the watering interval is.

Tall St Augustine needs no fertilizer
My grass looks great if you over look the height. It is dark green (for St Aug) and healthy. See picture below.

Ultimate height
St Augustine seems to stop growing at about 32 inches high. Here is a picture of my dog walking through the grass. You can see her ears and the top of her tail, about 30 inches high.

Here is a closeup picture taken yesterday. It shows how healthy the grass blades are. There is no sign of damage due to insects or disease. This grass is about 20 inches tall and in full sun.

So the point of this is that mowing high helps with the issue of watering and the ability of tall grass (deep roots) to gather nutrients.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2013 at 1:18PM
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The idea that one should only water in the morning applies to those that feed their lanes with synthetics which are more susceptible to disease. The idea that water a small amount every day has been proven wrong by research done since around 2002 that shows that lawns watered much less often, for longer periods of time, so the water goes deeper into the soil produces a much healthier turf with fewer insect pests (they usually need a moist environment to live in) and plant diseases (they usually grow better in moist environments), moist environments that daily wetting provides.
Since rain does not fall just in the morning, and rain seldom causes plant disease problems (at least in a good healthy turf) that old saw about only watering in the morning does not hald water. Besides, if you are on a municipal water system your water pressure decreases in the morning, when most people are getting ready to start their day, so your sprinkling systems delivers less water then you think then.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2013 at 7:38AM
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gwlolo(9b/ Sunset 15)

Dchall, kimmsr - you have given us a lot to think about and rework. Today DH and I reset the lawn watering from once a day to once a week. Given that we get no rain in NorCal during the warm months, it seems about right. How do we translate inches of watering to time on the automatic sprinkler? I was thinking to set out cups on the lawn and turn on the sprinklers and see how long it would take to fill an inch. Is there a more scientific way?

Re: mowing: my grass has obviously been too wet when the lawn guy has been cutting it. He leaves it in my compost area and it is soggy and stinking to high heavens. We want to move to a mulching reel mower to leave the clippings behind like you have suggested. Given that we do not have a very big lawn, I think that should be doable with a manual reel mower right? We had a brill Lexus years before and we quite liked it. With the tall fescue, I think we need something that will cut grass a bit high. Will something like fiskers manual push reel mower work? My garden guy may be willing to use it as well.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 1:42AM
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Place several straight sided cans, or other measuring devices, marked at inch increments and time how long your system takes to deliver that much water. Know that if your water supply comes from a municipal water source the amount of water being delivered may vary depending on usage by everyone else. Studies show that mornings have the lowest pressure and least amount of available water in those systems since most users are getting ready to start their day.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 7:06AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Reel mowers work well at low mowing heights and less well at higher levels. Problem is some blades get missed and you have to go back. Check the lawn mower forum for advice there.

If you can get your lawn guy to use your mower, that would be good.

Yes, the scientific method for measuring sprinklers is to use cat food or tuna cans and time how long it takes to fill most of them. Sometimes when you extend the duration you can get runoff. Stop watering immediately if you see runoff. Let the soil soak in what it can for 15-30 minutes and start watering again. If that happens, you need to spray the area with clear shampoo. Apply at 3 ounces per 1,000 square feet and then irrigate. Repeat the shampoo in 2 weeks and the soil should start accepting it all. If that still does not help, you might look into low flow sprinkler heads. Some sprinklers will saturate any soil in 5 minutes. A friend of mine in Phoenix switched out his and that cured his problems.

Do we know where you live and what kind of grass you have? NorCal must be north of Redding, right? And if you tell me you live in the Bay Area, I'm going to argue that you live in northern Central CA because you are still a full day's drive to Oregon ;-)

    Bookmark   June 19, 2013 at 12:57PM
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gwlolo(9b/ Sunset 15)

I live about 40mins south of San Francisco.. so I guess that is norhern central california :)

We are dong the tuna can experiment this weekend. My gardener seems quite on board to try this water once a week for an inch experiment. He think about 30 mins will be an inch. I think it is going to be more like 15 mins. We are setting the sprinkler to go on tuesdays so that the grass is dry enough by Friday which is the mowing day. He has agreed to try leaving the clippings on the grass but recommends getting my mower as his guys may forget to remove the bag. This reel mower model claims it can cut the grass high (Fiskers staysharp max)

Here is a link that might be useful: Manual Fiskers reel mower (staysharp Max)

    Bookmark   June 19, 2013 at 1:58PM
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My water system, 45 pounds per square inch pressure, takes one hour to deliver 1 inch of water with a pulse sprinkler, unless wife is doing laundry, or someone is taking a shower, then it takes more like 2 hours.
Don't start with any preconcieved notions.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2013 at 7:56AM
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Concerning watering, I still like watering early in the morning. Organic lawns aren't immune to disease so anything to help prevent it helps. The midday sun also dries out the top of the soil helping to keep weed seeds from germinating. Set your sprinklers to start and stop before the sun comes up to reduce evaporation and when wind is low.

Your lawn and climate will determine how often you need to water. After you determine how long it takes to get 1" of water on your lawn I would turn off the automatic sprinkler system. Every day as you lave or come home look for signs of drought stress on your lawn. Limp looking, doesn't bounce back when you step on it, etc. When you notice that turn on your sprinkler so it can water the next morning. The number of days in between will change as your roots grow longer and the weather. You might be able to get an ET module for your existing sprinkler controller or upgrade your existing controller so that it factors in the weather for you.

I try to not water a day or two before or after mowing. Wet soil compacts easier when you walk on it and cut grass is more susceptible to disease.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2013 at 11:44AM
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I have never had a reason to water my lawn every day, especially since I have always done the infrequent and deep watering method. No one would want to water their lawn with 1 inch of water every day anyway. Now, I have (when the weather had 90 degree days and high winds) watered every 5 days instead of every 7, but that is rare.
The concept of watering some every day is a misinterpretation of the research of lawn care and comes from Golf Course turf management which is much different then home lawn turf management.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2013 at 7:23AM
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gwlolo(9b/ Sunset 15)

I wanted to come back to this thread and post some updates. First off a big thanks to kimmsr, dchall, maplerbirch, tomnorthnewjersey, -- > it is quite hard to get started with organic lawn care because no one is doing it in my area that I know of and all the usual experts like garden center, the gardening guys all think I am a crazy lady. The organic veg center people are more intent on having me get rid of the lawn and install a native ground covers or grow more vegetables or maybe a chicken coop. Lawn is not politically compatible it seems. So the time ou take to write and advice a stranger is much appreciated. I promise to learn and pay it forward.

We have reduced watering to once a week for 45 minutes. We have sprinkles along the edge of the lawn and based on our 4 can experiment, 1in seemed to take about 45 mins. Have to redo this with more cans. We do not eat much canned goods so it a bit of a challenge to get the cans. I used measuring cups instead.
The lawn seems fine except for 2 dead patches. I have a feeling the sprinklers are broken there. We are investigating.

I have switched to a manual reel mower and that seems to be leaving the clippings behind cleanly. I tried 4in height and it seems to overgrow pretty fast. We mow about once a week. We have it at 3.5in. Let us see how this works. Btw, the mower I got was the Fiskars max momentum. I must say I prefer the lightness and maneuverability of my old Brill Lexus. This mower cuts nicely but is quite heavy. One or two overlong lades, I just sniped with my pruner.

Incidentally the amount of small flying insects that used to swarm over the lawn is gone - may be because of the 90degree days we have had this week or because of the once a week watering. I don't know.

The one remaining issue - why do I have tons of mushrooms popping up on the lawn ? They are small and white and I can easily pick a hundred everyday in a 1500 sq.ft area.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2013 at 7:25PM
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You've had a lot of fungal growth during your overwatering period and the fruiting bodies are showing u now. It shouldn't be anything to worry about and as things dry out and the roots take over the soil again, things will get back to normal.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 6:33AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

And the flying insects are similarly nothing to worry about. Some people get excited about every little thing and will spray the entire lawn with insecticide to get rid of those flying things. If they are doing any harm it is certainly not as much harm as the insecticide does.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 8:55PM
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It's so great when people return to a thread with an update.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 7:03AM
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