Mowing Your Lawn in the Fall

Submitted on October 8, 2015

Weed Man has all kinds of tips on how to properly mow your lawn. But what about this time of year as the weather really starts to drastically change? How long do you continue to mow? How do you deal with leaves getting in the way? This week’s post will touch in these subjects. First, as a general rule of thumb let’s review the main points of proper mowing procedures:

  • Mow high! Most lawn mowers are manufactured to cut your lawn too short! When setting your lawn mower height set it on the highest setting possible; or 1 setting down from the highest setting. At minimum set it in the “middle” height position. Don’t go below this!
  • Mow with a razor-sharp blade. Too many homeowners forget this crucial step. Even a brand new lawn mower will typically come with a factory-sharpened blade. This means it’s inherently too dull for proper mowing because it can’t be too sharp for shipping. Mowing your lawn with a dull blade is like playing ice-hockey or figure-skating with dull skates. Instead of falling at every turn, your dull mower blade will rip and shred your grass blades; making the whole lawn look unhealthy and more susceptible to diseases. A good practice is to keep 2 blades on hand. Start the season with 2 sharpened blades . Then just alternate back and forth throughout the season. You should change /sharpen your blade about 3 times throughout the year.
  • Alternate Mowing Directions. Each time you mow your lawn, you should make a conscious effort to mow in the opposite direction that you did at the last mowing. Alternating your mowing patterns will keep the grass growing straight. Over time, mowing repeatedly in the same direction will cause your grass to become slanted. This can cause problems at the “crown” of the grass plant. The crown is the part of the grass blade closest to the soil surface. It is most sensitive part of the plant. A slanted lawn will typically not allow for proper light and air circulation because one side of the crown will always be sheltered while the other is over exposed to the elements.
  • Mulch your Clippings. Weed Man always encourages customers to mulch their clippings. If you work hard at growing a healthy lawn, the last thing you want to do is remove a beneficial layer of nitrogen and other very healthy nutrients that are supplied to the lawn by grass clippings. The key to this of course is to mow often enough to ensure the clippings are not so thick that they smother the lawn. If this happens, or perhaps there is a certain disease plaguing the lawn you may be far better to bag clippings. Your local Weed Man can provide specific recommendations on when to use your mower bag.
  • Mow using the ⅓ Rule! Once again, too many homeowners restrict their mowing routines to once/week no matter what the weather is doing! During cooler rapid growth periods like spring and fall, mowing once/week is not enough. Ideally you should be mowing your lawn enough to remove only the top ⅓ of the grass blade. If you remove ½ or more; especially in the hotter months, you will “scalp” your lawn which can cause it to yellow-out within a day! Mowing properly means mowing 2-3 times per week in spring/fall and conversely once every 7-10 days in very hot/dry periods. If the grass goes dormant from heat/drought, stop mowing completely until the grass recovers.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, what about fall mowing? How long do you continue mowing? The answer is mow until your grass stops growing. In some parts of Canada, this can mean you are mowing into the month of December! The key here is that you don’t want to leave your grass too long prior to snowfall. Heavy snow cover will press grass blades down on their sides. The longer the blades are when this happens, the slower your lawn will be to green up next spring. There are a few types of snow mold diseases that wreak havoc in the early spring. Grass that’s left too long will typically experience more severe instances of snow mold. Now let’s compound snow mold issues with heavy leaves! How many times have you said to yourself when you are doing your spring raking, “I should have cleaned this up last fall. It would have been much easier than now”. And guess what, you’re right! If you go into the winter with long grass smothered in heavy leaves, you will almost certainly have to re-seed areas that will die off due to “winter-kill”. So, how do you deal with all those leaves? Frequent mowing! As mentioned in cooler high-growth periods mowing often is good for your grass. Your mower can actually double as a leaf vacuum at this time of year. If you visually monitor the leaf coverage on your lawn, depending on how well you know the capabilities of your lawn mower, there will usually be a point when you can still mow and mulch the leaves back into the soil. Typically this is a fairly light layer of leaves. This scenario is the healthiest for your grass because; once again your lawn gets the benefit of all those delicious recycled nutrients provided by the grass clippings and the leaves. Of course if the leaf coverage is at the point where the clippings are smothering the lawn, once again it’s time to use the lawn mower’s bag. If the clippings are so heavy that even the mower and bag can’t remove them effectively, then it’s time to break out that old trusty rake! Keep in mind that in theory at least, the more often you mow to keep up with the leaf coverage, the less often you will have to rake. Very often Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate when a whole tree’s worth of leaves seem to fall in a day or two. The final Mow! So you have diligently kept up with mulching, bagging and raking. Your lawn is clean of excess debris. Now it’s time to start up that mower for one last mowing before you hibernate your lawn mower for the winter. This is the one and only time of the season that you can mow your grass a little shorter! Set your wheel height to the middle, or even 1 below the middle setting for that last mowing to reduce the amount of foliage exposed to the harsh winter conditions.

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