Guidelines for properly watering and mowing your lawn

Adventures in Gardening: Lawns

by David Soper

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For most people, lawns represent their largest gardening effort. Mowing, watering, edging and maintaining take up a lot of time and expense.

Just in watering alone, your lawn is a major user. In fact, studies have shows that the average homeowner uses as much water outside as they do in.

Those studies also point out that people typically apply at least twice the water their grass needs. The easiest way to conserve lawn water is to do your watering at night when the air is still and cool. Evaporation from heat and wind can consume a lot of the water you think is going to your lawn.

Invest in a rain gauge. Gauges are pretty inexpensive and will give you a wealth of information. You should always water to supplement rain. Since your lawn, typically, needs only one to two inches of water a week, you can only guess at the watering you need to do without that information.

The second part of the equation is to measure the amount of water your sprinkler is cranking out. Put several flat pans around your lawn and water for a half hour. Measure the depth of the water in the pans, average the number and you'll get a pretty good idea of how much water per hour you are laying down. From there it's simple math to figure how long to water after subtracting the week's rainfall.

The second biggest labor factor in lawns is mowing. Mowing achieves three things. It encourages the grass to grow on a diagonal rather than straight up. This gives you a thicker, more resilient lawn. Mowing also cuts down on weeds because weeds normally don't thrive when their heads are cut off on a regular basis. Lastly, mowing removes the natural seed heads your turf produces.

When to mow used to be a matter of some discussion in my house before we converted our lawn to berms and flowers. Here is a rule of thumb. You should mow when your grass is about one-third taller than the recommended height. Waiting longer will weaken the grass and the clippings are too much to leave as mulch. Short clippings will decompose, adding nitrogen to the soil.

What is the recommended height? Here are some guidelines: hybrid Bermuda 1/2 to 1 inch tall, bahia, tall fescue and bluegrass 2 or 3 inches; fine fescue 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches; perennial rye 1 1/2 to 2 inches and St. Augustine 2-3 inches.

David Soper, The Garden Guy, writes and lectures on gardening topics. Check out his books at

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