How High Should You Cut Your Grass? | How Low Can You Mow?

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A lot of people don’t realize how important mowing is to achieve a certain look in your yard. Adjusting your mower height is one of the best things you can do to improve the health and appearance of your lawn and it requires no extra cost or time.

So, what height should you mow at?

If you’re looking for a very brief answer…

Grass should be cut somewhere between two and four inches. Cool-season grass should be cut higher than warm season grass types which are better able to tolerate a lower blade height. You should never remove more than one third of the height of the grass in a single mow.

Finding the optimal height for your grass will require a bit of experimentation. In this article, I’ll make some general recommendations but you will get the results from choosing a  making some very slight changes and seeing how your lawn responds over a period of time.

For most grass types, I’d recommend veering on the side of keeping your grass longer rather than mowing it too short.

Benefits of mowing taller

Let’s look at some of the reasons why it’s usually better to cut your grass a little higher…

Your grass is better able to crowd out weeds

The thicker and more dense your lawn is, the better your turfgrass will be able to crowd out weeds. The higher canopy of the grass means less sunlight will reach the weed seeds preventing them from being able to grow. By mowing correctly, you can reduce the need to put down lots of different herbicides in your yard.

Your grass will be under less stress from the heat/sun

In the heat of summer, your grass is probably already under a significant amount of stress. Keeping your grass longer can help to provide soil shade and increase water reserves in the plant tissue.

Less frequent watering is required

If your grass is taller, the roots grow deeper. It’s roughly a 1:1 relationship – i.e. if you’re mowing at 2 inches, your roots will be two inches deep. A change in the root mass can make a substantial difference to the quality of your turf. The deeper the roots, the better able they are to draw water from the soil.

Your grass is more resistant to disease

Your grass is much healthier and thus more resistant to disease.

Less frequent mowing is required

If you have taller grass, you can take more time in between cutting the grass. If you want to, you’re going to have to mow more frequently.

If you can’t commit to cutting the grass every few days or so, then you’re going to have the bring your mower height up to a higher setting.

For most lawns, I’d recommending mowing at least once per week.

I’d recommend that you find a routine that works well and then stick to it.

Better color

The longer the blades of grass, the more surface area it has for photosynthesis to occur. The stronger the root system is, the healthier the plant will be too!

Adjusting your mowing height could be the difference between you having brown and green grass.

It’s much easier to follow the 1/3rd rule

Mowing frequently is going to be very important, especially when your grass is growing strong. When you take off less of the leaf blade in a single mow, you’re able to maintain short grass that still looks healthy. If you are removing more than 1/3rd of the blade in a single mow, your grass will actually grow faster. Sounds counter intuitive right? But it is true.

Can mowing too tall cause problems?

If your lawn is so tall that it’s laying over and wavy, you might want to consider cutting a little lower.

Mowing your grass too high can cause your lawn to retain more moisture, especially if you’re watering your grass inappropriately or you’ve been getting a lot of wet weather.

Lawns that are constantly wet are more susceptible to fungal problems. Make sure you’re only getting enough water to keep the you grass healthy. The rest should be able to evaporate off.

If you’re going to have taller grass, make sure you’re keeping your edges tight around sidewalks or any other paved areas.

Sometimes it is better to cut short…

If you have a warm season grass like bermudagrass, it’s much better to keep it short. It’s a tough resilient grass that can handle it well. It looks best this way too!

If you leave bermudagrass sitting over several inches, you’re likely going to run into problems with fungus, especially if you’re going through a period with a lot of rain. Keeping it short will allow the grass to dry out a lot faster.

The key takeaway here is that…

Your grass type absolutely matters!

Here’s a general guide…

Warm season grass types General Grass Height (inches)
Bermudagrass 0.5-2.5
Zoysia 0.5-3
Centipede 1-3
St. Augustine 1-4
Buffalograss 1.5-4
Bahia 3-4

Cool-season grass types General Grass Height (inches)
Tall Fescue 1.5-4
Kentucky Bluegrass 1-3.5
Perennial Ryegrass 0.75-2.5
Fine Fescue 0.5-3

Mowing reel low

You might be wondering how some people can get their lawns looking great while keeping the grass very short.

Using a reel mower works great if you want a quality cut under a couple of inches. If done properly, reel mowers can give you that manicured look with lovely stripes.

Using a reel mower can really set your lawn apart from the others in your neighborhood. There’s really nothing that looks quite as good!

The problem is that reel mowing requires a level lawn. If you have lots of lumps and bumps in your yard, reel mowing is not for you.

Also reel mowers are usually very expensive and you’re probably can’t get away with having a reel mower as your only mower either.

Your cutting height also depends on how level your lawn is…

If you bring your mower height right down, you might start finding some areas that are slightly higher than other so some parts of your lawn will be cut shorter than others.

Beware of scalping…

If the wheels are a little bit lower than the blade in the middle, you can end up scalping your lawn leaving nasty marks.

If you have lots of lumps and bumps in your yard, the lower settings are out of the question, even if you have scalp wheels on your lawn mower. You might want to consider leveling your yard before trying to mow lower.

Tiny changes in your mowing height can make a huge difference to how your lawn looks. You will probably be surprised.

For those of you who don’t enjoy mowing the lawn

Even for people who enjoy mowing their lawn, there are times when mowing can become a real chore

There’s lots of people who like to let their grass grow very long before cutting it right down low so they don’t have to regularly mow. This is not a good strategy to keep a nice-looking lawn because

While you may increase your mowing intervals, this can actually cause cutting dead patches in your yard. Cutting your grass that short will expose the roots which dries out the soil too fast

Trying to take off a lot off long grass will cause your mower to struggle. Even if you have a riding mower that is able to do cut it easily, you’re going to be leaving large amounts of grass clippings sitting on top your lawn. It will look like you have bailed hay out on your lawn,

My suggestion is to set your mower higher…

If you want a healthy turf, only cut a little bit off in a single mower. You will often here the recommendation to cut a maximum of 1/3rd of the grass height at once and I’d recommend sticking to that. In doing so, you grass will be thicker, nice to look at and more resistant to weeds

Who knows… Once you start mowing correctly, you’re grass will start looking a lot better and you might even start to enjoy mowing your lawn!

Make sure you are cutting at the right height

It’s common for a lot of lawn mowers to have around five or six different settings indicated by letters or numbers on the wheel- e.g. 1,2,3…

Those numbers aren’t necessarily given in inches, so you will need to refer to the owner’s manual to find out what those numbers mean exactly.

Typically, I’ve found that the highest setting is too high and the lowest setting is too low. A lot of people aim to put the lever somewhere in the middle. In reality, the highest setting is usually appropriate for most people.

Measuring cutting height of your mower

Measuring the cutting height is really easy!

Here’s how to do it….

  • Safety first! Before you doing any measuring make sure you remove the spark plug to make sure the mower won’t start. A lot of mower’s these days have safety, you can never be too careful!
  • Set your mower on a flat surface
  • Use a tape measure to measure the distance between the blade
  • You could also use a straight object to stand up underneath the mower if it’s too tricky to get your tape measure underneath.

One thing you need to consider is that the blades are not entirely flat across. They tend to slant down lower towards the edge of the blades. I’d recommend the distance to the surface from three points on the blade. One from the lowest point to the ground, one in the middle and one from the highest point.

Other mowing tips

  • Keep your mowers blades sharp – Dull blades will tear the grass while sharp blades will give you a nice clean cut. You will save more time, more fuel and your lawn will use less water when using sharp blades.
  • Mulch your grass clippings Leaving finely chopped clippings on the lawn won’t cause thatch but they will break down quickly adding moisture, nutrients and organic matter to your soil.
  • Only mow when your grass is dry – You can rarely get away with cutting the lawn when it’s wet.

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