PANAMA CITY — The smell of freshly cut grass brings back memories of summers spent running around my neighborhood as a kid climbing trees, chasing lizards, and hoping to get invited into someone's swimming pool. As an adult, that same smell triggers a feeling of accomplishment from finishing a physically demanding and strenuous chore. Usually this is followed by ice cold refreshments on the back porch to celebrate! Mowing seems so simple and you either love it or hate it, but you might not know how important it is to turfgrass health.

I get a lot of calls at my office from homeowners who are struggling with lawn issues and they usually have theories about what caused the problem.


Weeds are killing my grass (Nope — weeds are moving in to fill a void.)
The "spray guy" used the wrong chemical (It could happen, but not common — they are strictly regulated and want to keep your business.)
I’ve got chinch bugs/mole crickets/grubs (sometimes yes, sometimes no)

Regardless of what the caller thinks is happening, there are a list of questions I ask to try get the whole picture — just in case their theory is not on point. After doing this for six years, I can tell you there are two things that playing a major role in the demise of turfgrass: improper watering and mowing.

I could write 1,000 words about watering, but instead I’m going to focus on mowing because I think most people miss the importance of doing it properly. Here are some quick tips:


Mowing height is critical and differs between turf types. Mowing too short, "scalping," can cause dieback in the lawn which creates a place for weeds to move in.
Bahiagrass and St. Augustinegrass should be cut at 3.5- to 4-inches tall
Zoysiagrass 2- to 2.5-inches tall
Centipedegrass 1.5- to 2-inches tall
Bermudagrass 1- to 1.5-inches tall
How much is cut off per mowing event is important. Like all green plants, turf needs green tissue to make its food through a process called photosynthesis. If you remove more than 1/3 of the leaf blade per cut, you are reducing the grasses’ ability to support itself. In addition, if you don’t bag you may create clipping drifts on top of the lawn which also blocks sunlight.
A sharp blade is essential to reduce moisture loss. When you cut a blade of grass, it is going to lose some moisture. If the cut is ragged and splits the blade, you lose more moisture causing unneeded stress. Excessive wounding of grass also increases susceptibility to disease and insects.
Mowing patterns and timing is important, too. Repeatedly mowing in the same direction can cause ruts and compaction in tire tracks. Cutting in the heat of the day increases moisture loss and, if the tires have gotten hot, you can actually burn the grass blades. Try to mow in the morning or evening and change directions each time you mow if possible.
Keep mowers clean. Just like you can spread disease by not washing your hands properly, mowers can help to transport weed fragments and seeds and fungal disease. If you have a problem area in your yard, mow it last and be sure to blow off and/or rinse mower before putting it away. Be conscious of where your rinse water goes. Yard debris and clippings from mowers should never be washed down sewer drains!

You might be wondering why I called this "How to kill your lawn." Take a moment to think about your mowing practices. Most people I talk to are just trying to check a chore off their to-do list and it goes something like this: I’m so busy that I only want to cut my grass once a week. I put my mower on the lowest setting and get it done as quickly as possible. … No, I’ve never sharpened or replaced by blades, and I don’t clean my mower…

If this sounds like you, congratulations — you’ve already figured out how to kill your grass.

 

Julie McConnell is the horticulture agent with UF/IFAS Extension Bay County in Panama City. Reach her at 850-784-6105 or juliebmcconnell@ufl.edu. To learn more about these topics and upcoming events. visit http://bay.ifas.ufl.edu or follow UF IFAS Extension Bay County on Facebook.