For most homeowners, mowing the lawn is a necessary chore. It is the most frequent landscape maintenance activity, and if done incorrectly, the area where homeowners make the most frequent mistakes. Mike Goatley, turf specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension and associate professor of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences in Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, offers simple tips for homeowners to manage their lawns this summer.

One of the easiest ways homeowners can better their lawns is to sharpen their mower blades. "I recommend homeowners sharpen the blade at least three times per growing season," Goatley said in his recent Turf and Garden Tips podcast called "Mow Like A Pro." "Start the year off with a sharp blade. Perhaps you can do this when you put the mower away for the winter. Sharpen it again in late spring, and then once more in mid to late summer."

This will not only improve lawn quality and turf health but also decrease fuel use and extend engine life. Of course, this only works for rotary motors. Homeowners who want to conserve fossil fuels might consider another, more environmentally friendly option: the reel mower, a cutting unit that features a stationary bedknife and a spinning cylinder of blades.

"I see many of these units in the lawn and garden centers of many of our major discount stores each spring, usually in the $100 price range," Goatley said. "These self-propelled units are certainly environmentally friendly because you provide the horsepower."

This cheap alternative works well on "relatively small, flat, and intensively maintained lawns," Goatley added. Although reel mowers are ideal for grasses kept under two inches in height, they are not suitable for taller mowed turfs. Whether using a reel or rotary mower, homeowners should match the mowing height with the grass species and landscape situation.

"If your lawn has a white hue rather than a green color after you mow, it is a good bet that you are cutting too low," Goatley said. "While there are some differences in tolerable cutting heights between the various species of warm and cool-season turf grasses, a general rule of thumb is to clip them in the two- to-three-inch range. And for those managing cool-season grasses like bluegrass, fescue, or ryegrass, it is appropriate to raise the mowing deck to its highest cut possible or not mow at all during extreme periods of heat and drought in the summer."

As standard practice, homeowners should never cut more than one-third of the leaf blade at a time. "Removing most of the foliage in a cutting event shocks the plant, forcing it to redirect its food resources from roots and stems towards new leaves," Goatley explained. "If the turf has gotten away from you, resist the temptation to scalp it in a single mowing event."

Listen to the Mow Like A Pro podcast to learn more about special equipment for reel mowers, matching grass species with an appropriate mowing height, the "one-third" rule of mowing, and what to do with lawn clippings. The Turf and Garden Tips website also has more research-based information from Extension about gardens, lawns, and ornamentals.

About Virginia Cooperative Extension

Virginia Cooperative Extension brings the resources of Virginia's land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, to the people of the commonwealth. Through a system of on-campus specialists and locally based agents, it delivers education in the areas of agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, community viability, and 4-H youth development. With a network of faculty at two universities, 107 county and city offices, 13 agricultural research and Extension centers, and six 4-H educational centers, Virginia Cooperative Extension provides solutions to the problems facing Virginians today.