Mowing Lawns Efficiently
a fine art and some science
by Ruth S. Foster

Mowing Faster There have been some studies about mowing efficiency . The fewer turns one makes and the longer the straight stretches are, the less time it takes. As an example, in an area 8 x 12, if one mows lengthwise in 12' strips, only 7 half-turns are needed. However if one mows in 8' strips, then l2 half-turns are needed. Another option, mowing inward from the perimeter requires 13 quarter turns.

Mulching Mowers are definitely recommended. Mulching mowers leave tiny chopped up grass clippings which quickly dry up and disappear. These clippings can provide 30% of the nitrogen fertilizer requirement for the lawn. For mulching of grass clippings to work properly mowing has to be often enough so the grass is not too long and the cut pieces are not too big.

Thatch Buildup Mulch clippings do not increase thatch. The latest treatment for thatch is organic fertilizer in late fall, which helps decomposition. What if you don't own a munching mower? You may be able to have the blade changed on your existing mower. Or you can approximate the effect by chopping the clippings as fine as possible. This is done by mowing over the clippings again and again as one cuts the lawn. Mowing twice, in two different directions, also can accomplish this and criss-cross mowing makes for a finer lawn cut as well.

How to Mow and Mulch Quickly With a right hand discharge mower, start at the outside and travel inwards in a clockwise direction, going over and over the previously mowed clippings to the inside. Eventually, this will make a thick row. When it gets too thick, or the mower sputters, rake and pick up that row and then continue inward. There may be a pile in the center to pick up, depending on how long the grass is. The more often the grass is mowed, the better this works.

Another alternative, if you have big shrubs or a wild area, is to start in the center and work out. This also mows each successive row and the final row is thrown into the bushes. It's easier than mowing into the center. However grass seeds are deposited in the bushes, where you may not want them. Outward mowing does not work around walks or driveways, because grass clippings thrown on them just make a green mess.

Mowing Height In temperate and northern areas summer mowing height should be between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 inches to keep the roots cool, shade out crab grass and weed seeds and give the grass plants some chlorophyll tissue to make carbohydrates. In late fall, when growing has ceased, the final mowing can be shorter to carry the lawn through the winter and deter fungi like snow mold. Self propelled mowers cost a little more than pushmowers but are worth it unless one likes the exercise. (To prevent backache, try to stand up straight, which is not easy going uphill.)

Riding Tractors The ultimate macho mowing machines, starting well over $1000 and on up to about $2500 or more. When buying mowers, check to see whether it's easy to change the cutting height. Is the mulching attachment factory installed? If not, how clumsy is it to install or change. Keep the blade sharp especially for perennial rye grass and fescue, to prevent shredded edges.

SAFETY IS IMPORTANT! Never go under the mower when it's running. Wear hard toe shoes not sneakers. Also safety glasses to protect from flying wood chips and stones. Most important, never leave the motor running when children are nearby, and don't ever allow children to run tractors, no matter how much they beg.