A good lawn starts with a good cut

Lawns can be one of the most work intensive items you will have in your garden and in order to develop and sustain a quality lawn you need to know your lawn type, when and how often you should mow the lawn. Mowing too often, too little, at the wrong height or at the wrong times can seriously degrade the condition and vigour of the lawn.

I see more lawns that have been damaged by poor mowing practices than lack of or over dosing with chemicals or soil structure problems.

Mowing correctly isn’t of course the only task but it should be the single most important regular activity you can do to maintain a beautiful lawn. Whilst lawn treatments (chemical or mechanical) could be considered the icing on the cake, if a lawn is mowed correctly you will hopefully only have to look at selective remedial and or preventive action. Good mowing will improve the grass sward, stimulate growth and help to manage thatch.

This isn’t intended to be a complete guide to lawn mowing and it only just lightly touches on the subject. Lawn mowing and care is a science as well as a labour of love Just see how many books there are on the subject!

Now anyone can cut a lawn but mowing a lawn correctly is a different ball game. It is like comparing the local café against a Michelin star restaurant – both may well fulfil their purpose but it is the finer attention to detail that will shine.

Most households would have or should aim to have a good second to first rate utility lawn which will stand up to the rigors of everyday life and able to withstand some lawn care neglect. I know a lot of us crave for the prefect first rate luxury grade lawn but be warned this is very labour intensive and more for show than being used and enjoyed.

I can’t recommended what type of mower you should use as there are so many factors to take into consideration and if you asked 100 professionals you will get a complete mixed of views. However it can not be disputed that for the luxury lawn a cylinder mower would be the best bet with it’s sharp scissor like cutting and ability to cut low (below 35mm).

A pedestrian rotary mower is probably the safest bet for most lawns, it is just a question of rear roller or not. My personal preference would be roller, not only does this produce the classic striped lawn but it also helps “split the sward” which would encourage grass to thicken out and believe it or not will create less compaction than a four wheel mower. A striped lawn is also more forgiving as it can hide some of the lawns imperfections.

Before being let loose on your lawn with the mower, I must stress the Health and Safety considerations.
Mowing should be classed as high risk! With more than 20 percent of lawn mower injuries involving the hand, fingers or wrist, make sure the engine is switched off and the lawn mower blade has completely stopped rotating before attempting to remove any debris from the mower or make adjustments to it!

Before you fire up your lawn mower it is a sensible idea to walk around your garden and pick up any loose objects or debris in the lawn to prevent objects from projecting out of the mower not only could this be dangerous to anyone nearby or damage your property but also your blade. Golf balls and stones in lawns probably cause more broken windows than anything else.

Check over your mower – are the safety guards in place?, Is the oil level sufficient? If you are using either a rotary or cylinder mower, make sure your blade(s) is sharp and not chipped. A sharp, clean blade will give a better quality cut else you risk tearing the sward.

Once you are happy that everything is in order and that you are wearing eye protection, ear plugs and sturdy shoes the mower can be manually pushed on to the lawn before starting her over.

The lawn should be mowed regularly and to the correct height for the season and grass species.

During the peak growing season they may need cutting at least once a week.

Don’t be tempted to cut your lawn too short. This will reduce the sward ability to retain moisture and may start to go brown / yellow. It will also leave the lawn open for weed evasion.

As a good general rule of thumb, never take off more than a third of the height of the grass sward in any one cutting.

At the start of the season set the mower at its highest setting - the aim is to just “top” the lawn for the first cut and gradually reduce the height of the mower blades over the next three to four cuts.. And similarly towards the end of the growing season, gradually raise the cut height.

If you have an uneven lawn be careful about cutting too short in order to reduce the likelihood of scalping the lawn.

You should mow your lawn in different directions each cut this is particularly important if you have a roller mower but still good practice for four wheel mowers as well. By changing your mowing direction will prevent the grass sward from curving in a particular direction after numerous cuts.

Ideally you should only mow your lawn when dry but this isn’t always possible so if the lawn isn’t too wet and you do need to cut it, raise the mowing height to reduce the load on the lawn mower, empty the collector bag more often and by keeping your mower speed down slightly will also help reduce the load on the mower blade .

Mulching (rather than collecting the clippings) is good for the lawn as it recycles the nutrients back to the soil but only do this if you have a mulching mower! Leaving the collection bag of your non mulching mower just causes clumping and will have the adverse effect as the clumps will block the sunlight from reaching the lawn

Personally, I would only recommend mulching a lawn during the drier months and contrary to the popular myth it will not contribute to a build up of thatch.

Many lawn owners like to achieve the classic striped look. Mowers that have a rear roller will produce the best striped effect but you must follow a systematic cutting pattern.

I believe that all lawns have their own personalities and unique characteristics once you have worked out what type your own lawn is it will become easier to maintain but a word of warning, lawns are crafty and they do change over time so just when you think you have it cracked you may need to rethink your plan of attack.

As stated earlier, mowing your lawn correctly will help reduces weeds, thickens the sward and improve the lawn's appearance and vitality and when you do manage to get that “prefect cut” it makes all the effort worthwhile. The lawn will really set off the rest of the garden and even reflect the eye away from perhaps the neglected borders.

We cut 1,000’s of lawns each year and if I am honest whilst every cut is a really good cut, and we do try to raise the bar each time to see if the next cut could be better than the last and when you get it right it I still causes me to stand back and take a few minutes to really admire that prefect cut .

For a lawn fanatic that “perfect cut” is the Holly Grail but be warned it becomes an obsession!

So before you next cut your lawn, see if you can identify what grass species you have, how many lawn weeds, and how healthy the sward is. Think about how you will mow the lawn and you will be on the road to being a member of the lawn fanatics club but once a member there is no escape!
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  • excellent piece and just goes to prove your point that anyone can cut a lawn, but to mow it properly takes that bit more knowledge and practice. I was with a new client at the weekend, and he said he was quite happy mowing the lawn, but could I give advice as to why it was a bit patchy and scrappy. When I asked to look at his mower (decent 4 wheel rotary) I found each wheel was set to a different cutting height, - and it hadn't been serviced since new (5 yrs before)
  • PRO
    Thanks for your kind comments Claire.
  • First time I've read this Graeme - an excellent introduction to the skills required to cut a lawn properly - and great photos too. The sort of lawns to be really proud of having produced. Thank you and well done!
  • PRO
    You are too kind Andy. Thank you
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