Mowing Your Lawn: A Step-by-Step Guide

Being one of the most fundamentally crucial practices for the health of your lawn, its essential for any homeowner to know how to properly mow a lawn. Proper mowing ensures that you have a lawn full of grass plants that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also highly resistant to the stress from drought, frost, and pests. 

There are several steps involved in mowing a lawn, from the preparation of the mower and mowing area, to the method you use to cut the grass. You can also mow in specific directions to create different patterns on the lawn, a process known as ‘striping’.

We have discussed everything you need to know about why, when, and how often to mow a lawn. We have also included step-by-step guides on the best mowing methods and how to create some common striping patterns.

Why Is Mowing Important?

Mowing is one of the most important practices you must carry out to maintain a healthy, thriving lawn. By mowing the lawn, you stimulate the growth of the grass’ blades and root system by triggering its process of photosynthesis.

When you cut the grass shorter, the grass plants are stimulated to grow more. They do this by a process called photosynthesis, in which they draw energy from the sun, water from the soil, and carbon from the air to grow blades and root systems. Regular mowing supports this process, resulting in a lawn full of stronger and more resilient grass plants. A well-mowed lawn is, therefore, more resistant to stress from environmental factors like drought, frost, weeds, and pest infestations. 

With that said, knowing when, how often, and to what height you should mow your lawn is crucial for success. Mowing at the wrong time of day can leave your lawn vulnerable to the elements, like morning dew or the midday sun. Mowing your grass too often or to the wrong height for your turf species can also cause it to become stressed. We have explored these topics in more detail in the following sections. 

a lawn mower mowing a lawn

When to Mow a Lawn

The best time to mow a lawn is in the mid-morning. You should avoid mowing any earlier in the day than this as the grass will be covered in morning dew; dewy grass is harder for your lawn mower to get through and may cause your mower to die if the wet clippings get stuck in its mechanisms. Also, wet clippings left on the lawn can smother the grass and encourage the development of fungal disease.

If you miss the mid-morning slot, the next best time to mow a lawn is in the late afternoon, after 4pm. The hottest part of the day is over at this time and the grass is less vulnerable to becoming stressed under the sun’s rays. You should avoid mowing at midday for this reason, as the high sun will likely damage the freshly cut grass. Avoid mowing in the evening too, as the lawn needs time to recover before nightfall. 

How Often to Mow a Lawn

During its period of active growth, you will likely need to mow your lawn about once per week. However, your schedule will vary depending on several factors, including your grass type, your location, and the current weather conditions you’re experiencing. For instance, many lawns in the US only require mowing during the spring, summer, and fall, while some southern lawns require mowing all year round. 

Therefore, instead of deciding your mowing schedule in a timed sense, you should base it on the length of your grass. This involves following the ⅓ rule; this rule dictates that you should only ever remove ⅓ of the grass blades’ total height at a time. Removing any more of the grass blade in one go shocks the roots and limits the grass’ ability to photosynthesize. In turn, this prevents the grass from recovering properly, leaving the plants more vulnerable to weather conditions, disease, and pests.

Following the ⅓ rule, you should mow the lawn when your grass reaches about 1⅓ times taller than the ideal height for its species. With that in mind, it’s crucial to know the ideal height range for your grass type; recommended grass heights vary between species depending on the grass’ growth habits and blade width. We explain this further in the next section.

Best Height to Mow Your Lawn

As we’ve just mentioned, the best height to mow your lawn depends on the type of grass you have. Grass types that have narrow blades and a horizontal growth pattern typically thrive at a shorter height than those with wider blades. 

For this reason, recommended cutting heights vary between species. For example, grasses like creeping bentgrass and bermudagrass can be mowed at a lower height due to their narrow blades and tendency to grow low to the ground. Contrastingly, grasses such as St. Augustinegrass have wider leaf blades, and can therefore be cut to a taller height. We have listed the ideal mowings heights by species in our article on the best height to cut grass.

Can You Mow Wet Grass?

It is possible to mow wet grass, however this is highly inadvisable and you should avoid it unless absolutely necessary. Mowing wet grass is a bad idea for a number of reasons, for the sake of you, your lawn mower, and the health of your lawn. 

Firstly, mowing wet grass is more work for you and your mower. When the grass blades are wet, they become slick and difficult to cut through. To get a clean, even cut on a wet lawn, your mower blades would need to be brand new or newly sharpened. Even then, it would still be difficult to get a good cut and may take several passes to mow the lawn at all. Mowing wet grass results in an uneven cut and may damage the turf too. 

The wet grass clippings that mowing wet grass produces can also pose problems for your mower and lawn. If the wet clippings get stuck on your mower, it could cause the mower to die; even though mowers can get wet to a degree, they are still susceptible to water damage in overly wet conditions. Also, wet clippings left on the grass significantly increase the chances of the development and spread of fungal diseases in the lawn.

On top of all of this, mowing while it’s raining or when the lawn is wet is a hazardous activity for your health. Operating heavy equipment like a mower on the slippery grass may cause you to slip and fall over; there is also the risk of receiving a nasty electric shock if you use an electric lawn mower on wet grass. On all counts, mowing wet grass is a bad idea and should be avoided if possible. 

a lawn mower mowing half cut grass

How to Mow A Lawn

In the following steps, we have outlined the best method on how to mow a lawn, from preparing your lawn and mower to the actual process of mowing the lawn. 

1. Use the Best Mower For Your Lawn

To make the job as easy as possible, you should pick a mower suitable for your lawn. There are several different types of lawn mowers best suited for different lawn sizes:

Very small, flat lawns – manual reel mowers are best suited for very small lawns, as you power them by pushing them manually. They are a cheap and environmentally friendly option for those not working on an overly large space.

Small lawns (¼ acre or less) – for small lawns, the best type of lawnmowers to use are electric push mowers. They are heavier and more costly than gas mowers, however, they’re also quieter and cheaper to run long-term. A corded electric mower will suffice for a lawn this size.

Medium lawns (up to ½ acre) – for medium lawns, you should instead opt for a gas-powered mower. These mowers come as either manual push-behind models or those that are self-propelled for automated mowing. Either type of gas mower is suitable for a mid-sized lawn. 

Large lawns (over ½ acre) – for lawns larger than half an acre, a riding mower would be the best type to opt for. They’re the most expensive type of mower, but the price is worth it if you’re working with a large space. With that said, take note that riding mowers aren’t safe for use on steep hillsides. 

2. Check Mower Blades

Now that you have the best mower for your lawn, the next step is to check the mower’s blades. The blades must be sharp and clean to ensure you get the most even cut possible on the grass.

When you mow grass with dull mower blades, the mower has more of a tearing action on the grass. Rather than slicing them with a clean cut, the mower rips the grass blades, leaving them with rough, jagged edges. In turn, your grass may turn yellow or brown and is left far more susceptible to the development of fungal lawn disease. At the very least, you’ll be left with an uneven, aesthetically unappealing cut throughout the lawn. 

Inspect the blades on your mower and make sure they’re sharp and free of damage and debris. If you’re using brand new mower blades, you won’t need to sharpen them before your first use of the mower. If the blades are used, it’s important to sharpen them after every 20 to 25 hours of usage. You can sharpen mower blades either at home using a hand file or angle-grinder, or take them to a professional for sharpening. Even if the blades are sharp enough, check them for damage and clean off built-up debris such as grass clippings every 3 to 4 times you mow. 

3. Set Mower Deck Height

Next, you’ll need to adjust the mower deck height to ensure it’s set to the right mowing height. The height that you mow your grass will depend on your grass type and the current climate of your local area. 

As we’ve explained in this article, ideal mowing heights vary between grass species. Turfgrass varieties with wider leaf blades can be cut taller than those with more narrow blades. The majority of the best mowing height ranges for common turfgrass species fall somewhere between 2 and 3 inches. It’s best practice to cut the grass to the upper end of the ideal height range; longer grass is better for the overall health of your turf and lawn, protecting the soil and choking out weed growth

To find out your mowing height, use a tape measure to measure the distance between the ground and your mower deck, then from here to the tips of your grass blades. The mowing height is the total of these measurements. Find out the ideal range for your grass type and set the mower deck to the tallest height within this range.

4. Check Fuel and Oil

The last step in the mower preparation is to check the mower’s fuel and oil levels. You need to have enough fresh fuel and oil for the mower to run properly. Otherwise, you run the risk of the mower engine dying, smoking, or failing to start at all.

Check the fuel and oil before mowing, making a habit of this every 2 to 3 mows. If you need to add more fuel or change the oil in your mower, do so before starting it up; adding fuel or oil to a mower with a warm engine is unsafe. Every so often, it will also be necessary to clear the fuel lines and change the oil in your mower. You can either do these tasks yourself at home or have a professional do them for you.

5. Clear Lawn of Debris

Before you can get mowing the lawn, you need to prepare the mowing area. The area should be free of debris, furniture, children, and pets before you mow. This is important in terms of both safety to life and protecting your mower from damage. 

Take a walk around your lawn and look for obstructions such as rocks, branches, children’s toys, or pet waste. Remove anything that may damage your mower or cause a mess during the mowing process. As a side note, you don’t have to remove fallen leaves; you can mow over leaves to create a leaf mulch directly on the lawn. Also, make sure your pets and children are indoors, or otherwise far away from the mowing area before you start mowing. 

6. Put on Protective Clothing

The final step before you can start mowing is to put on protective gear to protect yourself during the process. Wear protective goggles to protect your eyes from flying debris, ear protection to prevent hearing damage from the loud mower, and sturdy closed-toe shoes and long pants to protect your lower half. 

On top of the essential gear, we also recommend wearing some sun protection like sunscreen and a hat. This is important even on cloudy days as it’s still possible to get a sunburn. Throughout the mowing process, keep yourself hydrated and take breaks if you start to feel tired or overheated. 

7. Start Mowing At Lawn Perimeters

Now you have fully prepared yourself, your mower, and your lawn, you can confidently start mowing. Start your mower and mow the lawn, beginning with the areas around the lawn’s perimeters and the edges of obstacles. The goal is to create the borders of the mowing area that act as turning points during the mowing. 

Mow along the lawn’s edges and around the edges of any trees or planting beds to create boxed-off sections. You can create an even larger turning area by mowing around these perimeters a second time. 

8. Mow in Overlapping Lines

After you have created a turning space, you can continue to mow the rest of the lawn. Staring at one edge of your perimeter, walk your mower back and forth in parallel lines, overlapping each line slightly as you go. Once you have covered the whole area in that direction, repeat the process, mowing in lines perpendicular to the first set.

9. Finish With Edger if Necessary

You can use an edger or trimmer to finish off the mowing job if necessary. While they aren’t suitable for mowing the whole lawn, these tools can reach the parts that your mower can’t. 

an evenly striped lawn

How to Stripe a Lawn

Now you know the basic steps to mowing a lawn, you can get creative with different striping patterns. These patterns are created by mowing the lawn in specific directions to bend the grass; grass bending away from your perspective appears lighter, while grass bending towards you appears darker.

In terms of patterns, you have the choice of creating basic lawn stripes, or a more interesting checkerboard or diamond design. We have explained the different methods on how to stripe a lawn below.

1. How to Create Basic Lawn Stripes

To create basic lawn stripes, all you need to do is walk your mower in a traditional back-and-forth motion. You can enhance the effect and differentiation of your stripes by flattening the rows using a lawn roller; just make sure to walk the roller in the same direction you used to mow the rows.

2. How to Create a Checkerboard Pattern

To create a checkerboard pattern, start by mowing your lawn in basic lawn stripes in one direction. Then, repeat the process in the direction perpendicular to the first, creating a second set of lawn stripes. Finish off this pattern by mowing the perimeter one final time to fix up any irregular patches. 

3. How to Create a Diamond or Zig-Zag Pattern

For a diamond pattern, the process is simple if you know how to create a checkerboard pattern. All you need to do is rotate your mowing rows by 45 degrees; you’re mowing from one corner of the lawn to the other, rather than edge to edge. Make two passes perpendicular to each other to create the diamond pattern. 

A zig-zag pattern is relatively the most challenging mowing pattern to attempt. Therefore, it may require a diagram and some practice before you get the hang of it. First, create a diamond pattern using the method above. Then, you need to mow another set of rows by making a repeating series of 90-degree turns alternating between light and dark diamonds. For example, if you want 3-diamond-long zig-zags, switch your mowing direction by 90 degrees after passing every 3 diamonds. 

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