How to Mow a Lawn Like a Pro

Kaitlyn Pacheco
Written by Kaitlyn Pacheco
Updated May 2, 2022
Father and son mowing the lawn
Photo: Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock

With these tips, the grass can be greener on your side

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Not only does keeping the lawn cut at a proper length throughout the mowing season look good, but it keeps your grass lush and full. While mowing the lawn takes some time out of the weekend, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to complete the job efficiently—and may even look forward to it. Use this guide to discover how to mow a lawn like the pros do, and check out some hacks to create a healthy lawn that you can enjoy throughout the entire outdoor season. 

Difficulty: Easy (1/5)

Mowing a lawn yourself is a relatively easy project; however, the difficulty can increase if you have uneven terrain or if you want to create mowing patterns.

Total Project Time: 30–60 minutes for a standard suburban lawn or 45 minutes per acre

The amount of time it takes to mow a lawn largely depends on the lawn mower you’re using. For example, it can take upward of two hours to mow an acre of lawn using a push mower, but closer to 30 minutes for the same lawn using a 42-inch zero turn riding mower.

Cost: Under $10 

The cost to mow a lawn yourself provides substantial cost savings compared to hiring a company to do it for you. Expect to pay under $10 in fuel for a medium to large-sized yard. Take into consideration the cost of maintenance each season, as a tune-up can cost $25 to $50.

Materials

Note: Some materials are only required once a mowing season to tune up the mower.

  • Penetrating spray (optional)

  • Oil (for gas-powered machines)

  • Lubricant (optional)

  • Fuel line cleaner (optional) 

  • Safety goggles

  • Heavy-duty work gloves

  • Protective clothing

  • Protective footwear

Tools

  • Lawn mower

  • Wrench (optional)

  • Pressure washer or garden hose

  • Bristle brush (optional)

  • Weedwacker (optional)

How to Mow a Lawn in 4 Steps

Cleaning lawn mower with a hose
Photo: Robin Gentry / Getty Images

1. Prepare the Mower and the Blades

While it may be tempting to start up the mower and get straight to work, it’s important to make the necessary preparations first to get the best results. The good news? Certain steps, such as cleaning the filter, changing the oil, or keeping the mower blade sharp, only need to be done once or twice a season for maintenance. However, cleaning the grass clippings from the blades before each run is recommended. 

  • Start by wearing the appropriate safety gear, such as heavy-duty work gloves, safety goggles, and protective footwear and clothing before you start the project. 

  • It’s imperative to remove the spark wire from the spark plug when washing the mower and adjusting the blades to ensure the mower won’t accidentally turn on. Depending on the model, you can either directly pull upward on the wire or use a wrench to disconnect it.

  • Use a power washer or garden hose and pressure nozzle to wash the housing of the lawn mower. Then, turn it on its side to hose off the blade and remove any old grass clippings. If there are remnants of debris on the blades, you can use penetrating spray and a bristle brush to clean them off.

  • Replace the paper filter, or rinse out the old foam filter at the beginning of each mowing season.

  • For gas-powered mowers, change the old oil once each mowing season by draining the old oil into a container and then refilling it with new oil, per the manufacturer instructions. 

  • To maintain the blades, you will need to sharpen them one to two times a year. You can bring them to a professional shop or sharpen the lawn mower blades yourself

  • Lubricate the moving parts to protect the metal components and keep the machine running smoothly.

  • Once all preparations and maintenance have been completed, plug the spark wire back in.

2. Set the Mower Height

Man setting the height on the lawn mower
Photo: ArtMarie / Getty Images

Next, set the height of the blades based on the specific grass in your yard (usually between 2 and 3 inches; more on that below). It’s recommended to trim the grass according to the higher end of the recommended range. While this means you may need to mow more often, it helps healthy grass grow by retaining water and nutrients that may otherwise be stripped away if you cut your grass too short. 

Remember to stick to the one-third rule of mowing by never trimming more than one-third of the grass blade each time. This will not only result in the grass being softer to walk on, but also can help the roots develop so they can remain healthy even during periods of dryness. 

To set the height, locate the adjustment lever. Most gasoline-powered mowers will have levers on all four wheels, whereas electric mowers usually have one adjustment knob that raises and lowers the blade.

3. Prepare the Yard

Raking a lawn before mowing
Photo: PhotoAlto/Michele Constantini / Getty Images
  • Before you start mowing, ensure the yard is adequately prepared as well. 

  • Clear the lawn from debris, rocks, and branches. 

  • Keep pets contained, and ensure kids are in a safe space while you’re completing the job, as rocks and debris can fly out from under the blades at fast speeds. 

  • Move patio furniture, toys, and other outdoor accessories to a designated area. This way, your yard is free from obstructions and you can continuously work throughout the space. 

  • If you are mowing in the early spring, use a flexible-leaf rake across the entire yard to loosen clumps of matted grass and thatch (a layer of leaves, dead grass, and roots) from the fall and winter months. This will help water and air reach the grass and lay a healthy foundation for the remainder of the mowing season.

  • Trim the edges of the yard with a weedwacker before mowing so you don’t need to cut in too close with your mower. 

  • Also weed whack around other obstructions and structures in your yard, such as trees, garden beds, sheds, fences, mailboxes, and patios.  

4. Mow the Lawn

Mowing lawn mower with push mower
Photo: Brain Jackson / Getty Images

Wearing the proper safety equipment, you can begin to mow the lawn.

Start by mowing around the perimeter of the lawn and around obstacles in the yard. Then, mow the lawn back and forth in straight lines, slightly overlapping each run as you work throughout the yard. If you have a slope or hill in the yard and are using a push mower, mow side-to-side rather than up and down. If you’re using a ride-on mower, mow up and down, rather than side-to-side.  

Moreover, you can upgrade the look of your yard by creating mowing patterns to bring neatness to your outdoor space. 

  • Stripes: Stripes are a classic mowing pattern that can make it look like you hired a professional mowing company to care for your yard. To create stripes in the lawn, make each subsequent run in an alternating direction as the first.

  • Checkerboard: Bring a sense of regality to your yard by creating a checkerboard pattern. To get the look, start by making regular stripes in the lawn. Then, create a second perpendicular set of stripes over the first run.

  • Zigzag: Start by making the first run in a zigzag pattern across the length of the yard. Then, go in the alternating direction following the same zigzag pattern for a pronounced design.

  • Waves: If you have curves in your yard, follow the natural contours of your property by creating a soft wave pattern. Make the first run in one direction, then make each subsequent row in alternating waves.

When to Mow Different Types of Grass

While 2 to 3 inches is the general guide to follow for mowing heights, other types of grass can be cut shorter. Remember, if you are planting new grass, wait until it reaches its mature height before mowing. 

Yards in different geographic regions will have different needs based on the area’s climate and weather conditions. The two main types of grasses are cool-season grass (Northeast, Pacific Northwest, and Midwest regions) and warm-season grass (Southern and Southwest regions). Here are some recommended heights for the specific grass types in various regions.  

Cool-season grasses:

  • Bluegrass: 2–2½ inches

  • Fescue: 2–3 inches

  • Perennial ryegrass: 2–3 inches

Warm-season grasses:

  • Bahia: 2–2 ½ inches

  • Bermuda: 1½–2 inches

  • Centipede: 1½–2 inches

  • Zoysia: 1–2 inches

Keep in mind, you may need to cut the grass at different heights throughout the year depending on the season. For example, it’s helpful to cut the grass shorter in the early spring to prep it for the mowing season and to eliminate damage from the winter months. In the summer, keep the grass taller—following the one-third rule—and mow often for a healthy lawn. Cut the grass at a mid-length in the fall to protect the roots during the cold months.

How Often Should You Cut Your Grass? 

Creating a lawn-cutting schedule might make sense on paper but, in practice, you don’t get to call the shots for how often you should cut your grass: your lawn decides when it’s ready for a cut.

For the greenest, lushest lawn, wait until your grass reaches the best height for its type and your climate. In most cases, the best height for grass sits between 2 and 3 inches, though some warm-season grasses prefer a shorter snipping.

Still, for most grass types, a weekly cutting during the growing season is a good estimate—not a rule—for how often you should mow your lawn.

Types of Lawn Mowers

  • Electric push mower: You can choose between battery-powered or plug-in electric push mowers. Electric push mowers are lighter than their gas-powered counterparts, are more eco-friendly, and have a less expensive price tag. However, they are usually not as powerful as gas-powered push mowers, and they have shorter run times, making this a less desirable option for large yards.

  • Gas push mower: Compared to electric push mowers, gas-powered mowers are more durable and can cut through tougher grass. They also are appropriate for larger lawns, as you don’t need to stop midway through mowing to wait for it to charge back up. However, they usually cost more than electric push mowers, are louder to run, and require more maintenance.

  • Riding mower: A ride-on mower is a larger machine, with two main types to choose from—zero turning radius mowers and lawn tractors. Zero turn mowers are agile and efficient, whereas lawn tractors are suitable for heavy-duty mowing conditions. Either type of riding mower will significantly cut down on the mowing time compared to push mowers, but will come with a higher price tag.

  • Manual reel mower: Manual reel mowers may not be the first choice when selecting a new lawn mower, but they can still have a place in certain scenarios. Manual reels don’t have an engine and can mow the grass using only a few moving parts. Compared to the other types of mowers, they are the least expensive option, they require less maintenance, and they don’t emit any fumes or noise. However, mowing over thicker grass can pose a challenge, the mowing job will take longer, and sharpening the blades can be difficult. 

Mowing Tips and Lawn Care Tricks

  • Avoid mowing over wet grass to avoid clogging your blades.

  • Make sure the engine is cool when you’re refueling it.

  • Stay cool and hydrated when mowing in hot weather. Also, remember to wear sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat to provide protection from the sun.

  • Keep limbs away from all of the moving parts of the mower. 

  • While it may be tempting to teach kids how to mow the lawn from the driver’s seat, it’s recommended to have them learn from afar as mowing with a passenger can be dangerous. 

  • Alternate directions each time you mow so the grass doesn’t get pushed over.

  • If your gas-powered push mower won’t start or has problems when running, it may be because the fuel line is dirty or clogged. Clean out the line with fuel cleaner to potentially help fix the problem.

  • After you have finished mowing, you can save grass clippings to add them to your homemade compost pile

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