JoAnne Skelly: Mow like a pro

A beautiful velvety lawn is the ideal for many homeowners. This is possible with some mowing tips that will help you mow like a pro. There is more to mowing than going back and forth with an old lawn mower. Grass is a plant, or rather a multitude of plants, so plant science is involved and, since a well-tended lawn requires equipment and irrigation, there is also mechanics involved.

A healthy lawn needs sunlight, nutrients and water to thrive. A good lawn fertilizer contains mostly nitrogen, some phosphorus, potassium and sulfur. Weed killer-fertilizer combinations are usually inadequate with little fertilizer. In addition, the herbicide they contain damages or kills trees and shrubs.

In this arid environment, an efficient irrigation system is the only way to grow healthy turf. It goes beyond just adding water; you have to add the right amount of water for the time of year. Water requirements for grass vary through the growing season depending on temperature, humidity, wind and solar intensity. A lawn often needs over two inches of water per week when the temperatures are at or above 90 degrees. Yet, during the cooler seasons, three-quarters of an inch may be more than adequate. Adjust timers often according to the temperature.

To get a professional look, mow in alternate directions every week. Mow often, removing only one-third of the grass blade length each time. Mow at three and one-half inches to four inches long for the healthiest turf.

Dull blades rip the grass rather than cutting it cleanly, leaving ragged edges on the tips of the grass that turn brown and ugly. My husband was a professional golf course mechanic so I asked him how often he sharpened the blades on the mowers. “It depends” was his response. “Greens mowers are reel styles and I would touch those up daily, but do a thorough sharpening once a week. For fairways, whether a reel type or rotary type mower, I would sharpen the blades every two weeks.” He recommends that home rotary mowers be professionally sharpened at least twice per year, ideally before doing the first mowing in spring and then mid-season. For bigger lawns or heavy mow situations, three sharpenings or more might be needed. When sharpened, blades have to be rebalanced to give an even crisp cut. Most homeowners don’t have the tools necessary to do this, which is why you need a professional.

Think like a pro, grow like a pro, mow like a pro.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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