The Quintessential Guide for Grass-Cutting Tips That’s a Cut Above the Rest

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Updated March 24, 2022
Person mowing lawn from behind
Photo: Kativ/E+/Getty Images

Highlights

  • Cut grass when the lawn needs it, not when it’s convenient.

  • Don’t trim more than one-third the length of a blade at a time.

  • Different grasses have different ideal mowing heights.

  • Change direction each time you mow the grass.

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If you’ve been cutting grass at home for most of your life—and you’re not as obsessively devoted to yard care as Hank Hill—you probably don’t think about your lawn-mowing technique. You learned how to do it once and have been doing it the same ever since. 

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. If you want to promote healthy growth and achieve the kind of visual appeal with your lawn that can boost curb appeal, adhere to some specific methods and strategies. Learn how to give your yard a professional look. 

Benefits of Cutting Your Grass Regularly

Wait too long to mow the lawn, and your yard will quickly become a dense thicket that can’t be used for recreation, prompting endless complaints from neighbors. But regular grass cutting isn’t just a grim necessity; it promotes healthy growth, eliminates pests, and wards off invasive species. Plus, the more frequently you mow the lawn, the easier the job is to do each time. 

The Grass Sets the Schedule

Many people mow the lawn as they perform other household chores at a time convenient for them. It’s something to cross off the to-do list once Saturday afternoon rolls around. However, cultivating a beautiful lawn means cutting the grass when the time is right, not when it works with your schedule. 

Wait for the grass to reach the right height, which will happen over varying lengths of time depending on the combination of your grass type, local climate, growth pattern, and time of year. Though the lawn is likely to occupy more of your mind just after planting it, force yourself to hold off on that first haircut before the time is right. 

Grass needs time to settle in and take firm root before being cut without risking damage. If you’ve got fresh seedlings, wait until it reaches the ideal mowing height before putting blades to it—and cut no more than one-third the length of the blade. If you’ve laid sod, wait two to three weeks and test if it’s firm enough to walk on. If so, you can cut it but no shorter than 2 inches long on the first trim. 

Mowing the Lawn When It’s Cool and Dry

The ideal time to cut your grass is early evening on a clear day. If you cut it too early in the morning, you risk doing so when it’s still wet with dew. If you cut it midday, the sun will be at its hottest and temperatures at their highest.

Mow the lawn when the grass is dry. If you cut the grass while it’s saturated with moisture, you risk compacting the soil and ending up with an uneven lawn after it dries. Heavy, soggy clippings can clog and damage your mower, and the accumulation of wet clumps will create damaged, yellow patches on the lawn. 

Also, avoid cutting grass at high temperatures or under harsh sunlight. Mowing the lawn in such conditions dehydrates and stresses the grass, inhibiting healthy growth. Plus, it’s a sweaty, unpleasant experience for you.

Mowing Pattern Techniques

Aerial view of lawn mowing pattern
Photo: boumenjapet/Adobe Stock

One of the most common mistakes homeowners make with their yard is cutting the grass the same way each time. This hinders the growth of a healthy and attractive lawn in several ways. Allowing the wheels to roll over the same grass again and again will compact it. Repeating the same pattern also trains the grass to lean in one particular direction, creating ruts or the appearance of bald patches. 

Avoid trimming the grass in the same direction twice in a row. Mix things up as much as possible, challenging yourself to find a new method every time. To keep yourself entertained at the same time as you encourage your grass to stand up nice and tall, you can even get fancy and teach yourself to create different visible mowing patterns like the pros do.

The process of creating visible patterns is known as "striping." The effect is produced by the different reflections created by grass bending in the viewer's direction (which looks lighter) and grass bending away (which looks darker). You can achieve more elaborate patterns by making additional passes after cutting the initial stripes. The design will be more prominent if you add a weighted lawn roller attachment to your mower, which mats down adjoining grass in the direction you're mowing.

Follow these steps if you want to make your own striping shape:

  • Simple alternating stripe: Push the mower in one straight line across the length or width of the lawn, depending on whether you want vertical or horizontal stripes. Make a sharp 180-degree turn at the end. Then, cut a parallel line the opposite direction, repeating until the whole lawn is trimmed.

  • Checkerboard stripe: Make a second pass of the whole yard, and cut a second set of alternating stripes in a perpendicular direction. 

  • Diamond stripe: Make your second pass by cutting lines in a horizontal direction rather than perpendicular.

Setting the Mower Blades High

Another common error happens when homeowners set their mower blades as low as possible since a more dramatic cut will prolong the time until you need to do it again. Unfortunately, this shortcut can harm the grass and tarnish your lawn. 

Cutting too much at once can stress the plant. When grass blades are too short, the plant devotes all its resources toward growing taller instead of strengthening and deepening the root system. Giving your lawn a buzz cut also makes it more vulnerable to infiltration by weeds. 

To promote the healthiest grass, set the mower blades high. However tall the grass, avoid reducing its length by more than one-third in a single cut. The ideal length depends on the type of grass. In more stressful conditions like dry summer heat, stick to the highest end of the recommended range. You can aim for the low end in cooler times of the year. 

Grass growing around the base of a tree also faces a precarious situation since it must compete with the tree's root system for nutrients. Give it a hand by allowing the blades in those shady patches to remain longer than the other parts of the lawn. Longer blades mean longer roots. 

Benefits of Distributing Grass Clippings

An erroneous yet popular idea is that bagging and removing grass clippings promotes healthy growth. Instead, it robs your yard of water and nutrients that can return to the soil if you allow the clippings to remain in place to break down and act as mulch. Among the other benefits of grasscycling, a thin layer of clippings also works to maintain a lower soil temperature.  

Aim the mower to shoot the clippings over previously cut areas, and cut the grass frequently enough that you get short clippings that don’t pile too much. Or, invest in a mulching mower, which cuts the clippings multiple times before ejecting them. Allowing clumps to form will slow the breakdown of clippings and smother the grass below. 

If you’re not able to let the clippings sit on the grass—and you don’t use any chemical pesticides or weed control products—compost or mulch the bagged clippings to help your local ecosystem.

Keeping Your Lawn Mower Battle-Ready

Woman with dog checking lawn mower
Photo: valentinrussanov/E+/Getty Images

Cutting your yard the right way means using the right tools and keeping them in tip-top shape. 

  • Sharpen the blade at the first signs of wear or once every year, if not sooner. Allowing the grass to get banged around while flailing through dull blades will damage it and fail to reduce it to the desired length. 

  • Perform an annual lawn mower tune-up or hire a lawn mower repair company near you to do one. Do this in combination with sharpening the blade to keep the machine running better for longer.

  • Fill up the gas tank every time you use your push or ride-on mower. It’s not only irritating to run out of gas halfway through the chore, but you’ll have to wait until the engine fully cools before topping off. 

Being Thorough With Mowing the Lawn

Let's be honest: You'd rather be doing almost anything else than cutting the grass. But absentmindedly rushing through this chore will only make things worse in the long run, lengthening the time it takes you to finish and shortening the time that passes before you have to do it again. 

Before starting up the mower, make sure to search the grass for any debris that might damage the blades. After you begin cutting, work patiently and deliberately not to miss patches or allow clippings to bunch in dense piles. 

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