Biggest Lawn-Care Mistake Is Cutting Grass Too Short
Kelly Burke is a professional turf manager who is accredited in organic land care and a licensed pesticide applicator.
A quick drive through almost any neighborhood where the lawns are planted with cool-season turfgrasses quickly reveals the biggest lawn care mistake known to man—mowing the grass too short! When you understand the effects of this kind of mowing, you’ll never look at lawns the same way again.
One reason that people cut their lawns so short is a misguided effort to reduce chores. By giving the lawn a crew-cut each time you mow, you might think you can mow every 10 days (for example) rather than every week.
In reality, though, you’ll really only buy a few extra days between mowings with this strategy; in the long run, your lawn will pay a heavy price for your extra hour of free time, as you’ll see.
Another reason for the turfgrass crewcuts is an owner’s desire to make the lawn look like a manicured baseball field or golf green. Who doesn’t want a beautiful green lawn that is striped just like Fenway Park? Or a soft velvety lawn that looks like the 18th green at Augusta National golf course? In reality, these highly artificial “lawns” are achieved with specialized reel mowers and protected from stress with a dizzying array of chemical fungicides, herbicides, fertilizers, and other products rarely seen by homeowners. And they are kept green with a computerized irrigation system overseen by a caretaker and staff of turf professionals with college degrees.
Cutting your lawn grass short really won’t save you much on lawn chore time, and it’s not realistic to think that you’re going to achieve the picture-perfect lawn you dream of. In fact, you may well end up with an uglier, more labor-intensive lawn than if you cut the lawn to a proper length from the start.
The Effects of Cutting the Lawn Too Short
A lawn of dense turf grass shorn to a uniform one to two inches is a beautiful thing to behold—for a little while, anyway. The problem is that this kind of mowing puts an enormous amount of stress on the turf. Each blade of grass is a leaf, and with less leaf area, each grass plant has less surface area to provide the photosynthesis that fuels leaf and root development.
When the lawn is mowed very low, the actual crowns of the grass plants themselves can be injured by the lawnmower blade, and this opens up a host of cascading problems. As the plant puts all its energy into recovering from the crown damage, it opens up a weakness in the lawn, increasing the pressure from weeds, insects, and diseases. Once a lawn suffers widespread crown damage, it may struggle against weed invasions and grub infestations for the entire growing season. Even if the plant crowns aren’t physically damaged, the short grass offers little shade to the sensitive plant crowns, making the lawn susceptible to summer heat stress.
These conditions favor the never-ending cycle of using chemical herbicides and pesticides to deal with problems that occur season after season. The multi-billion-dollar lawn care industry is only too happy to play along with the notion that insecticides and herbicides must be applied religiously every season.
The solution is very easy. Mow the lawn as high as possible—as high as you can comfortably tolerate.
Most homeowners find that three to three-and-a-half inches is a good height, though it may take some time to become acclimated to a length that feels a little shaggy at first. Mowing the lawn to this height once a week (or less during heat and drought stress) will ease the stress to the plants and result in an overall healthier lawn. Using a mulching lawnmower is even better; returning the clippings to the lawn saves work and provides another source of organic matter to the lawn.
A longer lawn means more leaf blade, and this provides several benefits. leaf blade means more photosynthesis, which results in stronger, more prolific root and shoots growth. This, in turn, means the plant is better able to withstand stresses such as drought, insect infestation, and heat. Healthier individual turf plants lead to a denser lawn that will crowd out weeds. Longer grass also has the effect of hiding whatever patchy, thin areas do exist in the lawn.
Longer Grass Means Fewer Chemicals
All too many homeowners react to the presence of weeds assuming it’s necessary to “get out the chemicals.” This is a myth that lawn care services and chemical manufacturers are all too ready to perpetuate.
In reality, though, the reason for the weeds is very often a lawn that has been stressed by mowing it too short. The solution may be ingeniously simple: let the grass grow to a longer height and keep it there.
Once you have recognized that a longer lawn is healthier than a crew-cut lawn, be careful not to go to extremes by letting the grass grow to six or eight inches or more between mowings. Most lawn care experts recommend cutting no more than one-third of the total length of the grass blades each time you mow; trimming a smaller amount is even better. Very long grass is hard to mow effectively—the grass blades tend to tear rather than be sliced off cleanly by the lawnmower blade. Too many clippings can form a matt on your lawn that blocks sunlight from reaching the grass blades and mars the appearance of your lawn. And as anyone who has done it knows, mowing very long grass with a push mower takes a lot of effort.
If you have settled on a three-inch mowing height, for example, don’t let the grass get longer than four or four-and-a-half inches between mowings. Trimming frequently with a mulching mower to keep your lawn turf in the three-to-four-inch length range is a great prescription for a beautiful, healthy lawn.
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- What Is Photosynthesis. Smithsonian Science Education Center, 2017.
- “Mowing Practices For Healthy Lawns.” Extension.Umn.Edu, 2018, https://extension.umn.edu/lawncare/mowing-practices-healthy-lawns.
- “Lawn Insect Management GuidelinesPests In Gardens And Landscapes.” Ipm.Ucanr.Edu, 2014, http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7476.html.
Follow the mowing tips below for a healthy lawn, and check out our short video on best mowing practices.
Tip #1: Adjust your mower height so it never cuts your grass shorter than about 3 or 4 inches for ideal conditions.
Tip #2: When mowing, never cut off more than one third of the grass at a time.
If you cut your grass below 2 inches or less, the grass will draw energy from its root reserves to grow, instead of drawing energy from the sun. Keeping grass tall during the summer also helps the plants tolerate the heat and dry weather, rather than requiring more water.
Photo by Kurhan, 123RF
Leave every last grass blade on the lawn
Don’t even think about bagging up or composting lawn clippings.- your grass wants them back!
Grass clippings can return 50-100% of the nitrogen your lawn needs, and are free fertilizer. Leaving grass clippings produces short grass particles that fall to the soil surface and quickly break down. The result: the release of valuable nutrients that fertilize the lawn, add organic matter that conserves moisture, and protect against temperature extremes.
Leaving grass clippings eliminates the need to use commercial fertilizers and reduces the amount of yard trim materials that must be collected and processed by the County. Here in Montgomery County we collect 23,000 tons of grass clippings at our compost facility each year, and we still can’t figure out why anyone would want to rake up, bag, and give us all that free nitrogen!
Image by Jesus Jauregui, 123RF If you are concerned about the appearance of lawn clippings, use a mulching mower, which will chop them into fine bits. It will also boost your soil microbes—bacteria will break down the cut up lawn clippings quickly.
Beware the “Dethatching” myth
Thatch is the brown material that gathers at the base of the grass, and is produced by surface roots that naturally die. It is not a build-up of lawn clippings.
A healthy microbial population will usually eat up and decay thatch, but it can accumulate too heavily in unhealthy or chemical based lawns. Many conventional lawn care manuals tell you to rake up this thatch, but that only causes damage. A few applications of compost tea will clear up thatch, as will core aeration. or applications of blackstrap molasses, which will boost the bacteria that eat thatch as food.
Selecting a Lawn Mower
Did you know that in the U.S. we use approximately 1.2 billion gallons of gas ( DOE) running lawn mowers each year? And that we also spill up to 17 million gallons of gas refueling them each year? That’s 50% more than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez!
In 2011, 24%−45% of all non-road gasoline emissions were from gas powered lawn and garden equipment ( EPA). These emissions contribute to climate change, and are ground level pollutants that contribute to heart attacks, cancer, asthma, and developmental and neurological disorders. Not to mention the other hassles of gas mowers: noise, oil changes, draining gas in the winter, storing gas safely, and many additional trips to purchase fuel.
Tip #5: Choose a Green Mower
Mulching mowers: A mulching blade has bent blade angles to help chop up grass and leaves into smaller pieces within the mowing deck and drops the small cuttings below the mower. You can buy a mulching kit and adapt a regular mower, or making multiple passes with a regular mower to chop grass smaller, but a mulching mower will do a better job because of the shape of the mowing deck.
Electric mowers: They are quiet, better for air quality, and you’ll never have trips to the gas station. Opt for a mower with a cord, because it requires no battery, is usually less expensive, and will last longer. There are also electric ride-on mowers for commercial operations or very large properties. The upfront cost of an electric mower can be higher than a gas mower, but keep in mind the time and cost to refuel, and change the oil, filters, and spark plugs on a gas mower.
Reuse an old mower: Opting for a second-hand mower prolongs the useful life of the mower and costs a lot less upfront. Get a tune up to make sure it’s good to go and running well. But only accept used 4-cycled engines and don’t use old 2-cycle engine mowers: they emit up to 10 times the amount of emissions compared to a modern car, and you’ll breathe these pollutants in as you mow.
Lawn Mower Maintenance
Make your lawn equipment last as long as possible with regular maintenance. Gas mowers, in particular, need extra care.
Tip #6: Maintain Your Lawn Mower
Keep your mower clean by removing any buildup of grass clippings under the mower deck before they dry out. Store your mower in a clean, dry location and empty the gas tank before winter storage, or add fuel stabilizers.
Follow manufacturer directions on electric mowers for charging and battery care.
Tip #7: Buy extra blades for your mower and keep them sharp!
You want to sharpen a mower blade after every 10-12 hours of use. Have extra blades on hand to change out the dull ones, and save trips to the hardware store or lawn mower repair shop by sharpening as many blades as possible at once.
With the right tools and safety equipment, you can also sharpen mower blades at home.
Mowing for small lawns
A push reel mower requires only human power and is also fully recyclable in the metal pile. Reel mowers also cut like scissors, and if kept sharp make a nice, clean cut. The downside: most reel mowers won’t cut grass over 2” and just push it over; lawns in cooler regions should be grown longer, and only a few reel mowers will cut grass over 3” tall, so shop carefully.
An electric powered string trimmer can quickly trim a small space and won’t require sharpening blades. Just be careful not to cut the lawn too short. Robotic mowers are also on the market now—consider them if you can keep the lawn free of toys, pine cones, and other objects.
Image by pixelsaway, 123RF
How to mow your lawn the right way
Keep your lawn healthy and mow it quicker with these tips.
Alina Bradford has been writing how-tos, tech articles and more for almost two decades. She currently writes for CNET’s Smart Home Section, MTVNews’ tech section and for Live Science’s reference section. Follow her on
No one wants to spend their weekend in the hot sun mowing the grass. If you go in with a plan, though, you can make your lawn care process quick and painless. Here are some tips on when to mow, how to mow and how to maintain your lawn mower that will have you enjoying a cold drink in lounge chair while admiring your beautiful lawn much faster.
Wait until the grass is dry
Lawn mowing in the early morning while it’s still cool outside seems like a good idea, but if there’s still dew on the ground, you can lose valuable time. than likely, the wet grass will clump up in the discharge chute (that flappy thing on the side), requiring you to stop and remove the clog. Plus, your mower tires won’t get great traction either.
Instead, wait until later in the morning when the dew dries, or mow the lawn late in the day before the evening dew. Also, time your sprinklers to start up in the late evening or at night so there isn’t extra moisture on the grass when you mow. Here are some more watering tips for your lawn.
Read more: The gardening tips everyone needs to know.
Let the grass get long
If you’re strict about your lawn and mow it the same very short height every few days, I’ve got news for you. It’s better to let your grass grow.
A lawn that’s healthy during the hottest days of summer will be around 4 inches high after a cut. That may seem long, but taller grass retains more water and has longer, healthier roots. So, raise the deck on your lawn mower and let your grass grow longer before you cut.
I know, your riding lawn mower has several speeds, from ultra-creeping to zipping around like an ATV. Even though it’s tempting to go fast while mowing, it really doesn’t save you any time. Speeding through the chore will leave some areas uncut and will give the lawn an uneven, sloppy look. Then you’ll have to re-mow it to get the lawn to look right.
To save time, do it once and do it right. Keep the speed within the first four speed levels on your mower for the best results. Remember, the choke needs to be lower for slower speeds to run properly.
Mow in a pattern
Randomly mowing areas can cost you time and unnecessary work. Follow a pattern instead, using this technique:
- Start on the edge of your lawn with the discharge chute pointing toward your lawn
- Mow around the perimeter of your lawn
- When you get to your starting point, make a U-turn so the discharge chute is facing the strip you just cut
- Keep mowing around the perimeter, making sure the discharge chute is pointed toward where you just mowed.
In the end, your lawn will end up with a nice pattern and the discharge chute won’t clog.
Prep your mower for next time
Getting your lawn mower ready for the next use right after you’ve mowed can save you time down the road. Always turn the mower over and rinse the blades and discharge chute with a garden hose before putting it away. This will prevent crusty grass build-up that is much harder to remove.
If the air filter on your push mower looks dirty, give it a good wash with some mild dish soap and rinse it with the garden hose. Set the filter aside to dry so you can put it on right before mowing next time.
One of the best time savers is keeping your lawn mower blade sharp. A dull blade will require you to go over the same patch of lawn more than once to cut any raggedy bits left behind. A sharp blade allows you to zip around your lawn just once and still get great results. Most mower repair shops will sharpen the blades for a small fee, or you can do it yourself with these tips.
How to Get Your Lawn Mower in Shape for the Summer
Originally published March 30, 2018.Update, March 21, 2019: Republished for spring 2019.
Mowing Lawn Tips: Information For Mowing Your Lawn Correctly
Mowing is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition for homeowners. You may think mowing your lawn is a sweaty, back-breaking chore or maybe you consider it an opportunity for healthy exercise as you commune with nature. Either way, mowing lawns properly is a requirement for healthy, vibrant turf.
Lawn Mowing Information
Mowing lawns properly is important in maintaining ongoing health. Mow your lawn when the grass is dry. Diseases spread readily on damp turf and the wet grass can clog your mower. However, don’t mow during the hottest part of the day. Intense heat isn’t healthy for your lawn or you.
Mow in a different direction each time to promote even, upright growth. Otherwise, the grass will lean towards the direction in which you mow.
Leave the clippings so they can return valuable nutrients to the lawn. If you mow regularly, the short clippings decompose quickly and won’t damage your lawn. However, if you wait too long between mowing, or if the grass is damp, you may need to rake lightly, as a deep layer of clippings can smother the lawn. If the clippings form rows or clumps, rake them lightly to distribute them evenly.
How Often Should Grass be Mowed?
There is no set time for mowing the lawn, but most lawns will require mowing at least once a week during late spring and early summer. To keep your lawn healthy, don’t remove more than one-third of the height at each mowing. Removing more can affect healthy root growth, which means the lawn will need more water during warm, dry months.
Cutting the lawn too close can also increase your lawn’s vulnerability to pests and weeds. As a general rule of thumb, a length of about 2 ½ inches (6 cm.), increasing to 3 inches (8 cm.) during the summer, looks good and promotes deep, healthy roots.
No Mow May 2023: Why you shouldn’t mow the lawn in May
The warming weather signals the point in the year when gardeners are able to turn their attentions back to their lawns, with regular mowing transforming a scrappy patch into an orderly sea of green.
The connection between mowing and the beginning of the gardening season is deeply entrenched in the psyche of gardeners, which is why No Mow May – the idea of avoiding mowing in May, suggested by charity Plantlife – is quietly revolutionary. Over the colder months, lawn maintenance mainly involves ensuring that mower blades are clean and sharp. But once spring begins to break through, regular cutting is high on the agenda. May is the window to summer and the point at which the once-dormant grass starts to shoot up in earnest and mowing traditionally gets under way. Most gardeners are desperate to get out and start chopping, and Plantlife’s 2019 survey of 2,000 gardeners revealed that most of us mow once every two weeks.
No Mow May 2023
The reason for thinking twice about our mowing habits comes down to stark facts. According to a report in the journal Biological Conservation, 97 per cent of British wildflower meadows have disappeared since the 1930s. A study published in the journal Nature Communications shows that many British pollinating insects are in decline, with rarer species, such as the red-shanked carder bee, really struggling. Between 1980 and 2013, every square kilometre in the UK lost an average of 11 species of bee and hoverfly. The reasons behind this are the use of insecticides, habitat loss and an overall reduction in biodiversity. Plantlife believes that people’s gardens can play a vital part in reversing this trend.
Mowing tips for encouraging wildlife
Cut once every four weeks Cutting just once a month encourages the maximum number of flowers to grow in your lawn. Ideally, leave around three to five centimetres of grass length.
Leave areas of long grass The experiment also resulted in greater diversity of flowers in areas of grass that were left completely unmown, with oxeye daisy, field scabious and knapweed offering up important nectar sources.
You don’t have to stop mowing completely Some species, such as daisy and bird’s foot trefoil, are adapted to growing in shorter swards. Cutting flowers from these plants once a month stimulates them to produce more blooms.
And it’s not just a belief: there’s now proof. Following the launch of No Mow May in 2019, figures show that if you mow less, the pollen count on your lawn can skyrocket. The charity’s citizen science experiment asked people to leave their mowers in the shed for May and count the flower species that subsequently popped up in a one-square-metre patch of their lawn. The results are indisputable: changing the way we mow can result in a tenfold increase in the amount of nectar available to bees and other pollinators. The new mowing regime saw an increase in the growth of daisies, germander, speedwell and creeping buttercup. And the species that benefitted changed each month – after stopping mowing for another month in July, participants saw a resurgence of white clover, selfheal and bird’s foot trefoil. The average square-metre patch of lawn surveyed after the experiment produced enough nectar to support almost four honey bees per day.
For botanist Trevor Dines, it’s a case of changing the way we all think about how we control our gardens. “It’s time for people to relax a little bit,” he says. “Avoiding mowing in this way means that instead of a dull monoculture of green concrete, your garden will be thriving and full of interest. I don’t think people realise how diverse our lawns can be.”
And the option to continue as we have been is not really a viable one. “The statistics for wildflower meadow loss are shocking: around 7.5 million acres have gone,” says Trevor. He describes how a colleague’s grandfather used to walk from Stratford-upon-Avon to Birmingham as a boy and not leave a wildflower meadow. “The loss of this landscape means a loss of food source for pollinators, which is one of the key drivers of their decline.”
It’s not necessary, either, to simply leave your garden to the elements. The ultimate concept of No Mow May is not really to stop mowing in May specifically, or to leave whole swathes of your lawn unmown. Behind the catchy title is a simple concept: get people to change their habits so that they mow less – ideally once a month – and possibly even leave a patch or two of grass to grow long. Gardens can really make a difference to the number of wildflowers in this country. As Trevor says: “We’ve lost the mosaic of meadows from the countryside but at least within our gardens we can do something in response to that.”