March Is Not The Time To Start Mowing The Lawn
I continue to find magazines, newspapers, and even books too frequently giving out bad advice about growing plants. Nancy reported reading in the book Month to Month Gardening In Michigan the advice for March to begin mowing the lawn. To make matters worse the author advised lowering the mower one inch lower than normal mowing height to supposedly cut off winter injury on the grass blades.
Last year there was an article in the Detroit Free Press about a new lawn care book just published. Again, this author recommended beginning the lawn mowing season in March.
Why is this very bad advice? First of all, the soil under the turf is still soaking wet during March. Walking behind a lawn mower, or worse riding on a riding lawn mower, over wet soil seriously compacts that soil; soil which is usually already badly compacted.
Mowing the grass so early in the season, especially at a low mower setting is going to put that grass into survival stress. In March, unless it is incredibly warm in late February and into early March, the grass is still dormant or just beginning to awaken from its winter dormancy. The blades of grass plants are the means for that plant to generate energy from the sun. By cutting the blades back, just when it is starting to grow causes that plant to have to put maximum energy into growing more blades quickly, cutting off almost all energy going into the roots.
So mowing the grass in March throughout most of Northern U.S. will cause serious soil compaction and put the grass plants in serious stress right off the bat. Why would anyone make such a recommendation? The answer is that both writers got their information from sources dealing with the care of turf on golf courses and athletic fields. In those areas, it might very well be okay to mow early as March. The techniques used for commercial turf management have nothing to do with the techniques appropriate for the home landscape.
The general rule of thumb is to mow the grass in the spring when it gets to be about 3 to 4 inches tall. Then you mow it to 2 to 2 ½ inches tall; never lower than 2 inches. That situation will generally occur about when the soil has warmed up and dried out enough so walking on that soil will not cause so much compaction damage.
So instead of rolling your lawn, or overseeding, or mowing your lawn in March, get your lawn mower blade sharpened so you will be ready for the first mowing job in late April.
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