Lawn Mowing and Care Tips for Beginners. Cutting grass lawn mower

Lawn Mowing and Care Tips for Beginners

David Beaulieu is a landscaping expert and plant photographer, with 20 years of experience.

lawn, mowing, care, tips, beginners

Along with snow shoveling, mowing lawns is one of the more tedious aspects of yard maintenance. Still, it has to be done, but there are some perks to mowing your own lawn. For one, you can keep your grass exactly how you like it and take pride in maintaining your property. You’re also not at the mercy of a lawn service’s schedule and can save money in the process.

If you’re new to lawn mowing or just want to brush up on the basics, follow these tips for lawn maintenance.

When to Mow the Lawn

Avoid mowing the lawn when the grass is wet. The period just after a rainstorm or the early morning when the grass is still covered with dew wouldn’t be good times to mow. The grass is heavy from the weight of water, and this causes uneven terrain for mowing. If you want to get the most clean cut, mow mid-morning when conditions are dry.

In addition to holding out for dry conditions, you also might need to wait for some shade. Mowing when the sun is pounding down on your grass, especially during a hot summer afternoon, can put stress on the lawn. It’s not an easy physical task for your body either. So waiting until the late afternoon or early evening after the heat of the day has passed would be a better choice. Just don’t cut the grass too late in the day after darkness falls, as reduced visibility increases the chance for a mowing mishap.

Choosing a Lawn Mower

There are three main types of mowers to choose from.

Reel Mowers

If you consider yourself an environmentalist, a reel mower could be the right choice for you. Reel mowers, or push mowers, don’t have a power source other than the muscle of the operator. This makes them quiet and eco-friendly. And the modern versions contain lighter materials that make them easier to push than reel mowers from decades past.

However, there are limitations to these mowers. They’re not good for mowing tall grass. And rather than chopping up twigs like other mowers do, the twigs can get lodged in the blades; you must rake your yard prior to mowing if there are any twigs or sticks in it. Still, if you have a small urban lot, a reel mower could be the ideal option. One important note is the blades must be sharpened regularly for this mower to be effective.

Cordless Electric Mowers

Another popular type of lawnmower is a cordless electric mower. Along with its lack of exhaust fumes, an obvious benefit to this mower being cordless is the freedom of movement it provides. Dragging around the cords of corded electric mowers can be a nuisance. There’s also the risk of accidentally running over the cord with the mower. Fortunately, “electric” is no longer synonymous with cumbersome cords. The modern cordless models are safer and more flexible.

Cordless electric mowers run on rechargeable batteries. They’re not as quiet as reel mowers, but they’re still less noisy than gas-powered mowers. They work best for lawns that are around a third of an acre or less. A larger lawn or mowing lots of tall grass can strain the battery. Also, pushing them up hills can be difficult, so make sure you purchase a self-propelled model.

Gas-Powered Mowers

Gas-powered lawn mowers can be divided into two categories: walk-behind rotary mowers and riding mowers/lawn tractors. The walk-behind rotary mowers can further be classified according to whether they’re push-type mowers or self-propelled.

Purchase price varies greatly among gas-powered mowers, with riding mowers and lawn tractors being the most expensive, followed by self-propelled mowers. The push-type gas-powered mowers are the least expensive because they require you to provide the muscle to make them move. Overall gas-powered mowers do well for large areas, and they can tackle long grass. But with their gas-powered engine comes noise and exhaust fumes. Plus, there’s the hassle of making sure you have gasoline on hand to fill your mower.

How to Sharpen a Mower Blade

Sharpen your mower blade every month or two. Dull blades have a tendency to rip grass instead of making clean cuts, which leaves the grass damaged.

Here are the general steps to take to sharpen a lawnmower blade:

  • Remove the spark plug wire to ensure the machine doesn’t start up accidentally.
  • With a wrench, remove the nut that holds the lawnmower blade against the deck, and then remove the blade.
  • If you own a vise, stabilize the blade by securing it in your vise.
  • Use a file to do the sharpening. Follow the angle of the cutting edge that’s already there. Pass the file the same number of times on each side to keep the blade in balance.

If your blade is bent or nicked, sharpening won’t be adequate. You will need to replace it with a new one. Consult your owner’s manual to ensure that you purchase a suitable replacement.

How to Change or Clean a Mower Air Filter

Before changing or cleaning the air filter, first, determine whether your lawn mower has a paper or foam filter. Paper air filters are replaced while foam ones are cleaned.

To change a paper air filter:

  • Unscrew the cover, and remove the paper air filter.
  • Insert a new paper air filter with the pleat facing out.
  • Screw the cover back on.

To clean a foam air filter:

  • Unscrew the cover, and remove the air filter.
  • Wash the foam in hot water and dish soap to remove as much grease as possible. Rinse thoroughly, and squeeze out the excess water.
  • Soak the foam in clean engine oil. Squeeze out the excess oil using a clean rag.
  • Replace the foam in the air filter unit.
  • Screw the cover back on.

Tip

Every spring before you start mowing for the season, check all the nuts and bolts on your mower and tighten them when necessary. Periodically recheck them for tightness thereafter. The lawnmower’s vibration loosens nuts and bolts more than you might think.

When to Fertilize Warm- and Cool-Season Grasses

Among the common warm-season grasses are Bermuda grass, buffalo grass, zoysia grass, Bahia grass, centipede grass, and St. Augustine grass. The best time to fertilize these warm-season grasses coincides with the time when they grow most vigorously: late spring. Fertilizing again in the summer and early autumn will keep them vigorous. However, avoid fertilizing warm-season grasses late in autumn. That’s when they are winding down their growing season, and fostering new growth would only make them susceptible to winter injury.

Cool-season grasses include Kentucky bluegrass, bentgrass, and ryegrass. Fescue also is frequently part of grass-seed mixes for lawns. The best time to fertilize these grasses is also when they grow most actively: in spring and autumn.

Using Shade-Tolerant Grasses

Shady areas are generally inhospitable to grass. For instance, if you have large shade trees on your lawn, you might have trouble getting grass to grow underneath them. Instead, you might find moss growing.

But there are shade-tolerant grasses suitable for such areas. In warmer climates, St. Augustine grass is often used. And in cooler climates, tall fescues are often the best solution for shady areas.

Alternatives to Cutting Grass

You don’t always have to fill your property with grass that needs continual mowing. Ground covers, wide walkways, and flower beds are attractive landscaping alternatives to the traditional lawn. Even vegetable garden beds can be aesthetically pleasing.

Two “anti-lawn” movements that promote low-maintenance and eco-friendly ideals include:

  • Native plants: Growing only plants native to the area, which generally thrive without much care
  • Xeriscaping: Using garden plants and materials that don’t require much water

Grass is often one of the worst offenders when it comes to water conservation. So in addition to saving yourself some mowing time by choosing lawn alternatives, you’ll also likely save some water and money.

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.

  • “How to Mow the Lawn. Lawn Mowing Tips Tricks.” Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.scotts.com/en-us/library/spreaders-mowing-tools/how-mow-lawn-lawn-mowing-tips-tricks.
  • “The Best Time to Fertilize Your Lawn — Yard Garden Report.” Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/yardandgardenreport/2014-09-08/the-best-time-to-fertilize-your-lawn.

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.

Reasons Why Mowing Wet Grass Is a Bad Idea

David Beaulieu is a landscaping expert and plant photographer, with 20 years of experience.

Andrew Hughes is a certified arborist, member of the International Society of Arborists specializing in tree heal care, and reviews tree content on The Spruce’s Gardening Review Board. He founded and runs Urban Loggers, LLC, a company offering residential tree services in the Midwest and Connecticut.

lawn, mowing, care, tips, beginners

There are many reasons why mowing wet grass is a bad idea, and it’s not only heavy rainstorms that pose a problem. Lighter rains are enough to create conditions less than ideal for cutting lawns. While early-morning mowing may be a great fit for your schedule, the dew on the lawn is enough to make it a big mistake for your landscaping.

Cutting Wet Grass Can Hurt Your Lawn

For an ideal cut, grass blades should be standing up off the ground. Wet blades of grass are heavier than dry ones. For this reason, such blades hug the ground. As your turf starts to dry after a rain, some of the blades will, indeed, resume their upright position and be chopped off when you mow, but the rest will not be standing at attention and your mower will pass right over them rather than cutting them. When they do pop back up, your lawn will be riddled with “cowlicks.”

The resulting uneven look would be bad enough, but when you try to cut damp grass—the result is a tear rather than a clean cut. These tears open the door for fungus and moisture provides a medium for fungus to spread, so when you mow a lawn that’s wet, you’re creating a perfect storm for fungal infestations.

Fungal diseases can also develop on a lawn that has been cut after a rainstorm through the grass clippings, which form bigger clumps under such conditions. These clippings mat down, restricting healthy airflow. An excess of grass clippings that fall on your lawn can lead to a fungal disease known as “brown spot.” Meanwhile, the wet grass clippings that stick to the underside of the mower deck—if allowed to remain there—invite mold, which can then be spread to your turf.

Finally, even the simple act of making passes up and down a wet lawn with your machine can hurt your lawn. The wheels sink down into a moist surface in a way that they won’t when the ground is dry. At worst, the wheels will form ruts in the surface, directly damaging the grass. At best, they will cause the soil to become compacted, which causes damage over time.

It’s Not Good for Your Mower, Either

Though it is okay to run a gas-powered mower in the rain, you should avoid storing the mower outside in the rain. Moisture is problematic for the gasoline in the mower’s fuel tank, its metal parts, and, indirectly, its engine. If you don’t mix a stabilizer into the fuel tank, intruding moisture and condensation causes corrosion. Fuel contamination happens when the gasp cap is opened while the mower is outdoors when it’s raining.

Moist grass clippings that cake on the metal underside could eventually cause rust. Even in the short term, the presence of this caked substance stresses the engine—

Warning

Use extreme caution with both corded or cordless battery-powered electric mowers in wet weather. Do not use electrical equipment, such as a corded electric mower, to mow wet grass or you run the risk of serious injury to yourself. In addition, mowing a wet lawn with a cordless electric mower (battery only) can potentially harm the battery and internal wiring if water leaks inside.

Most Importantly, It’s Unsafe

Your personal safety must always come before getting work done in the yard and you’re at greater risk of injury when mowing wet grass than dry grass. There are two factors that can escalate the risk:

One way to eliminate the latter is to grow ground covers on slopes instead of grass.

Regardless of the terrain and the type of mower you use, there’s some danger of slipping on slick turf. It could easily cause you to pull a muscle, but even breaking a bone isn’t out of the question. The worst possible scenario is that, in losing control of your body in the slippery conditions, one of your limbs falls into the path of the rotating blade.

Mowing a Wet Lawn Causes You Extra Work

It takes more time and effort to mow a wet lawn, and because your lawn still won’t look very good afterward, you’ll want to mow all over again as soon as possible. In addition, wet grass stains your clothes, shoes, and every surface your shoes touch, so cleaning up afterward is worse. However, all of this is just the beginning of the added work, which comes mainly in the form of all the adjustments you’ll have to make compared to normal mowing.

In Case You Must Mow When the Lawn Is Wet

Sometimes, you’ll feel compelled to cut the grass despite its being wet, and with full knowledge of all the reasons why mowing at such a time is problematic. For example, maybe:

  • There has been an extended period of rain in your area, with even more rain forecasted, and you know waiting longer to mow would mean the grass would get much taller than it’s supposed to.
  • You have put your property on the real-estate market and are showing it today, and your yard has to be at its aesthetic best.

Yes, you can mow in such cases if you truly must, as long as the ground isn’t downright soggy—you shouldn’t be sinking down into it or standing in puddles—but you should make some adjustments:

  • Add stabilizer to your gasoline.
  • Safely sharpen your mower blade.
  • Raise your mower wheels; mowing higher than normal will put less stress on the engine.
  • Don’t try mulching or bagging the grass (with a wet lawn, mulching doesn’t work as well, and the inside of your bag would get terribly dirty): Just discharge it out the side chute.
  • On each pass, you make while mowing, cut only half the swath you normally would. This way, the engine doesn’t have to work as hard.
  • Safely clean the underside of the mower’s deck and the discharge chute as you go, so that fewer clippings cake onto them (spraying silicone onto a clean deck beforehand may make the scraping go easier).
  • Rake up those clippings afterward and move them to your compost bin.

You can also take a proactive approach. Listen to weather forecasts to stay informed about approaching rainstorms. When you know one is coming, mow your grass before it can get wet even if it wouldn’t normally be time to mow yet.

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.

  • Mowing and Trimming Safety. Kansas State University Extension/ Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor.

What Is the Best Time of Day to Cut Grass?

lawn, mowing, care, tips, beginners

Cutting the grass is one of the most routine jobs you complete in the yard during the warm seasons. Not only does regular lawn mowing help ensure a strong root system, but it can also encourage more growth and create better tolerance for drought-like conditions.

But is there an optimal time of day you should cut the grass to maintain a lush, healthy lawn?

The Best Times to Mow

If you have some flexibility in your schedule, your lawn can really benefit from a well-timed cut. Mid-morning (between 8 and 10 a.m.) tends to be the best time of day for mowing your lawn. It allows enough time for dew to dry, resulting in strong, perky blades of grades, while avoiding the hottest periods of the day.

You can also opt to mow during the late afternoon (between 4 and 6 p.m.), as this avoids the main heat of the day but allows time for your grass to recover before nightfall. Cooling temperatures during this time of day will reduce stress on you and your grass. It also allows your grass a few hours of post-cut recovery time. However, be mindful that mowing too close to nightfall (between 6 and 8 p.m.) will not give your grass enough time to recover, making your lawn more susceptible to fungus and turf disease.

The Worst Times to Mow

It’s recommended to avoid cutting your grass in the early morning and midday. Even though heat and humidity are typically reduced at daybreak, mowing too early on wet grass can leave ruts and cause grass to clump, settle, clog your mower and damage your lawn’s roots. Meanwhile, mowing your lawn during the hottest part of the day, under the beating sun, can be tiring for you and for your grass, as it can accelerate moisture loss.

Regardless of when you cut the grass, make sure your mower blades are sharp and in good condition to deliver the cleanest cut to your lawn. Also be mindful of the cutting height of your mower, as cutting your lawn too short can expose new grass shoots to direct sun and deter growth.

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Why You Shouldn’t Mow Wet Grass

lawn, mowing, care, tips, beginners

Can you cut grass while it’s wet? Short answer: No. Whether it’s early morning and the lawn is still dewy, a rainstorm just ended, or you just ran your sprinklers, you should skip the mow for now. This article will explain all the reasons why you shouldn’t mow wet grass.

Mowing the lawn while it’s wet can cause:

Uneven cuts

For a clean, even cut, grass needs to stand up straight as the blade slices through it, rather than bending over limply. Think of it as the difference between cutting a string that’s pulled taut vs. a loose one.

But when the grass is wet, the water weighs it down, so it can’t stand up straight. The result is that the mower blades tear through the grass messily rather than cutting it cleanly.

Another potential issue is that the mower might miss some of those blades of grass hanging low to the ground. Then, when the grass dries, you’ll be left with long, uncut patches, and you’ll have to mow again.

Fungal lawn diseases

Those tears in the blades of grass will leave your lawn more susceptible to infection from fungal diseases. Fungi thrive in moist conditions, so the combination of torn grass and water lingering in the lawn all but guarantees lawn disease.

Some common lawn fungi to look out for (especially if you recently mowed the lawn while wet) are:

  • Brown patch: Causes irregular circles of brown grass
  • Anthracnose: Causes reddish-brown patches
  • Leaf spot: Causes small brown spots with darker brown or purplish-red borders
  • Red thread: Causes reddish threads of fungus on the tips of grass blades

These and other lawn diseases can weaken your grass and even kill large swaths of the lawn if left unchecked.

Suffocated grassroots

Did you know your lawn’s roots need a steady supply of oxygen to grow strong and healthy? Mowing wet grass can cut off that oxygen supply and suffocate your grassroots, leading to thin and patchy growth. Why does that happen? There are two reasons.

Compacted soil: When your grass is wet, your soil is wet, too. Rolling your heavy lawn mower across wet soil causes compaction, which means oxygen can’t reach the roots. The wheels can also cause unattractive ruts in wet soil.

Clumps of wet grass: Cut wet grass tends to clump. Your mower leaves these large clumps of clippings behind in the lawn, where they block airflow, water, and sunlight from reaching the living grass.

Lawn mower damage

Clumps of wet grass not only hurt your lawn. They also clog your mower blades, slowing them down and making the engine work harder to turn them. Electric lawn mowers, which have less torque than gas mowers, often can’t cut through wet grass at all for this reason.

Plus, the wet grass will stick to the underside of the mower, making it much harder for you to clean. And all that moisture can rust the mower’s blades and other metal parts.

Danger for you

Mowing the lawn wet is a lot riskier than it’s worth. The biggest risk is slipping and falling. No matter how much traction your sneakers have, they’re no match for slippery wet grass. Falling on its own would be bad enough, but falling while operating a machine with spinning blades is even more dangerous.

Then there’s the added danger of electrocution if you’re using an electric corded mower. If your extension cord is damaged at all and the bare wiring comes in contact with the wet grass, you’re in trouble.

Mowing a wet lawn puts your clothes in danger, too, because cut wet grass stains much worse than dry grass.

FAQ about cutting wet grass

Wait until the grass is dry, which will usually take at least a few hours. Walk through the lawn before mowing, and if your shoes or feet come away wet, don’t mow yet. If they’re mostly dry, you should be good to go.

In some cases, you have no choice but to mow the lawn while it’s wet – like when it rains for months on end without a break.

If you absolutely must cut wet grass, follow these tips to minimize the damage:

— Sharpen the mower blades right before mowing. Sharp blades are more likely to make a clean cut, and wet grass needs all the help it can get in that department.

— Raise the mower deck to higher than usual so the wet grass clippings are smaller and less likely to form large clumps.

— Discharge the grass clippings instead of mulching or bagging. Mulching doesn’t work well on wet grass, and the wet grass would get caked onto the inside of the bag.

— Stop and clean the underside of the mower periodically as you go so the blades don’t get too clogged and the layer of caked-on grass doesn’t get too thick.

The best time of day to mow your lawn is mid-morning, after the morning dew has dried but before the hottest part of the day.

Late afternoon, after the hottest part of the day has passed but before it gets dark out, is another good time to mow.

No. Mowing after watering is just as bad as mowing after rain. See these other best lawn watering practices to make sure your lawn is never too wet or too dry.

Other wet grass issues

A lawn that stays wet consistently is a problem even if you don’t mow it. Problems caused by wet grass include:

  • Pest infestations
  • Damage to grassroots
  • Soil erosion
  • Plant nutrients leaching out of the soil

Once you’ve handled your moisture problem and your grass is dry, let Lawn Love’s local lawn care pros do the mowing for you.

Main Photo Credit: Ansh Mishra | CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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