“Cut it low!”
Over the three decades we have been maintaining lawns and landscapes, I think we have heard this plea more than any other. I even hear it — usually indirectly — from my own mother. My mother wants the grass cut a bit shorter so that she can play croquet with her grandchildren. One customer wanted to eliminate white clover flowers because he was allergic to bees. Still other customers think cutting lower will eliminate dandelion flowers.
But in none of these cases, will cutting shorter completely satisfy the complaint. Ideally, grass for croquet is best mowed at much less than an inch, so cutting it low is not the answer, because cutting that low for the varieties of grass in normal lawns would eliminate the lawn altogether. And, since I have seen both white clover and dandelions growing in golf putting greens — which are mowed at less than a quarter of an inch — to eliminate these “weeds” by mowing, you also would be eliminating your lawn. So these customers will never be satisfied by low mowing.
There is another unspoken reason for asking for lawns to be mowed low. These customers see their lawn and landscape as a problem that must be addressed. Instead of looking at the beauty and other benefits of their lawn and landscape, these people see the burden of maintenance.
From this perspective, they are correct: The value that landscapes provide requires regular maintenance investment. But they are incorrect to fight their properties.
If these people really see their landscapes as problems, then they have other, more practical solutions. They could relocate to condominiums, where the landscaping is a community, rather than an individual burden, or they could relocate to an urban high-rise apartment, where they might choose to go visit a park maintained by the municipality. For people who want to fight, rather than embrace nature, how high the grass is cut is the least of their concerns.
For everyone else, I want to make the case for cutting the grass as high as possible. Why cut high? I suggest high cutting for the following reasons.
First, tall grass shades itself. This shade keeps much of the plant and the soil underneath cool. This cool temperature conserves moisture and helps to prevent weed seeds from sprouting.
Second, tall grass has more surface area. This surface area collects more dew, easing irrigation needs, and helps the plant better feed itself through photosynthesis.
Third, taller mowing heights reduces competition from weeds that thrive at shorter mowing heights.
Fourth, biologically speaking, it is healthier for the grass to be clipped in the blade as opposed to the sheath or below. The rule of thumb is never remove more than a third of the grass height. Finally, due to the health of the grass, grass mowed tall looks greener.
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business.