It’s important to ‘mow’ how to cut your grass

Published 7:40 pm Friday, April 12, 2019

By Terry Rector

A guy once gave me his logic for not following the advice I passed on from university turf folks about mowing his St. Augustine lawn. When I told him to set the mower blades at three inches high, he said he would have to mow more often if he cut it that high. Duh, no; he’d just be mowing taller grass, not more often. Some people just like to cut their grass way down low. That’s okay if they have common bermudagrass lawns because bermuda is best cut short, a half to one and a half inches high. In fact, bermuda will develop a dull brown zone right above the ground if it is left too high for very long. Centipede, the other common lawn grass around here, is best mown to heights somewhere between the other two; from one and a half to two inches tall.

It shouldn’t be difficult to accept there are differences in needed mowing heights among St. Augustine, bermuda and centipede. None of them are native plants in this immediate area. Each developed naturally elsewhere and was introduced here. St. Augustine was brought up from coastal Florida. Bermuda grass got here from Africa via bedding on slave ships. Centipede was the latecomer, brought over from China in the early 1900s.

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So while all three were found to grow well here, they do come with their individual tolerances of soil types and soil acidity, drought, shade and mowing heights. Of all of these limitations on lawn grasses, mowing height is the easiest for us to manage, i.e. to get right.

Similar to us not getting to dictate the mowing height that is best for each turf species, the amount of direct sunlight each one needs is not left up to us. It would be nice if that were so, but it’s not. Now, all three of the grasses will look their best with full, all-day sun. And none of them will make it in pure shade. Just because St. Augustine will do okay in part shade, or half-day shade or direct sunlight filtered through thinned tree canopies does not mean it will grow in the shade. It won’t, but it will tolerate less sun than the others. Centipede is in the middle of the three in sun hours necessary. Bermuda is the no-brainer; all sun or no green. Well, any green will be weeds.

Zoysia grass was always the turf curiosity for me. There is just hardly any around. Allegedly it chokes out weeds, can tolerate as much shading as St. Augustine and can be grown from sod or seed. Another advantage of zoysia for people who use herbicides is the same wide range of products safe for bermuda are labeled for zoysia. Evidently though, the thick and tough turf of zoysia grass is a challenge to mow.

There are not many reel-type power mowers around in homeowner sizes and that’s what is recommended for zoysia. But it can be mowed way on down to one inch high.