Cutting High

raymondo17(z9 Sacramento)May 24, 2011

Following the advice of experts, I cut my front lawn at the highest deck setting on my mower, and it looks great. However, the highest deck setting leaves my back lawn (which may be a different fescue type and was planted several years earlier) looking a bit shaggy so I usually lower the deck at least two notches. My question is whether some lawns should just be cut lower, or whether it'll eventually get to the point where mowing high will look more manicured if I continue to cut it high?

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I am one of the few who don't recommend "mowing at the highest setting." First of all, that is meaningless dimension, not every mower is the same. One mower's highest setting might be 3 inches, while another one's is 4 inches. Second, seed producers give a recommended mowing height. For most tall fescue cultivars it is 2-3 inches, KBG and PR is generally recommended a bit lower. The seed producers aren't going to recommend a mowing height that makes their product look are perform poorly. Third, I don't think it looks that good. The higher you let your grass grow, the stemmier it becomes and like you said it tends to flop over on itself. Fourth, in hot humid weather, the higher you let your grass get, the more you increase your risk for fungal diseases. Fifth, mowing a bit lower increases tillering, leading to a thicker lawn. True you sacrifice a little root depth, but a thicker lawn crowds out weeds better than a taller lawn in my opinion. Whatever height you do decide to mow to, just make sure you stick to the 1/3 rule. That is, only cut 1/3 the length of the blade when you mow. So if you want to cut your grass to 2 inches, mow it when it's 3 inches. If you have a lot of rain, and it's 4 inches, don't cut it to 2. Mow it to around 3, wait a few days, then mow again, especially in times of stress.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2011 at 8:50PM
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jdo053103(7b - NC)

I agree with tiemco, I live in Concord NC and everyone here thinks they have to mow fescue at 4 - 4.5 inches. I find that when I mow at 2.5 - 3 it looks better and gets really thick and is softer. I have a good sod quality fescue that does great in our hot summers even when mowed at 3in in the hottest months. My back yard gets alot of shade...4 hrs of sun from 11-3pm. I mow 1/2 lower in my back yard due to the shade.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2011 at 8:53AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Mowing height depends on grass type/variety, sun/shade, heat, and other factors. I am a big proponent of growing grass at the 'highest setting,' regardless of your mower. However, I always caveat that suggestion with the correction that centipede, bermuda, and bentgrass should be mowed at the lowest setting. Although I know better than to make these sweeping generalities, the problems many people have is they are mowing tall grasses at 1 inch or letting the short grasses grow without mowing at all. The 'highest setting' and 'lowest setting' should really be starting points for individuals to adjust from. Kentucky bluegrass apparently performs best (becomes most dense and happy) when mowed at 3 inches.

What I really disagree with is the seed producers adamantly recommending that their variety be mowed at 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 inch. As soon as you get into fractional grass heights, you find the consumer's eyes glazing over and rolling back into the back of his head. Why not change to millimeters if you want it to be that precise? In my opinion those of use who write lawn advice need to MAKE THIS SIMPLE so the consumers are not afraid of it. This is no more than a hobby you do out in front of the neighbors. Keeping it simple is what I try to do with my recommendation to mow at one extreme or the other. If you want to mow at 2.657823 inches high, go for it, but I will guarantee you that people who mow at 2 and 3 inches will have just as nice looking lawn.

This next part is not trying to pick tiemco's opinions apart, but he wrote some generalities that do not always apply.
Not all grass grows stemmy when it is tall. Some grasses just have longer blades. You have to try it to see if it works for you.

Hot humid weather is its own animal. If you are talking about the few days a year in the north when it gets into the high 80s, then I would suggest letting it get tall and stop watering. In the south, we have had hot humid weather since late March. The St Aug really does thrive being very tall as long as you don't over water it.

Tillering is a feature of bunch grasses like fescue. I don't read the research on that but for the sod forming grasses, mowing lower does not affect growth of stolons across the surface.

Some tall grasses will flop over on themselves. Creeping red fescue is one of them. It looks amazing when that happens but if that is not the look you want, then don't do it. St Augustine will grow erect up to 30 (thirty) inches high. And yes, it does get stemmy at that height ;-)

Some grasses tolerate mowing more than 1/3 of the height. My lawn mower is broken so my lawn is about 9 inches long now. When I get it back I will mow it down to 4 inches and expect to have no problems. I've purposely cycled my lawn from 9 to 4 inches over entire seasons and saw no ill effects. I believe that might be a feature of St Augustine.

So, having said all this and all that went before...I agree that mowing height is not as simple as mowing one way or the other, but for many it is the quick, simple solution to the problem of mowing the complete wrong way. For those looking for the best possible lawn, I would expect them to experiment with all the variables they have at their disposal.

I'm finally getting to raymondo17. Sacramento is a hot place. I thought there was only one variety of fescue that would survive there. I suspect you have that variety in both front and back. The difference is probably the soil fertility and ability to provide proper nutrients to the grass. This may come down to getting NPK right but also the micronutrients that the big fertilizer companies simply ignore. The only way to tell is to get your soil tested by a professional company who specializes in micronutrient testing. The state colleges just don't do that. Here is a link to Logan Labs. For $20 they will tell you everything you need to know about your soil. When you get the test, come back here to find out specifically what you need to adjust the micros. I will not be the one to help you but others here can.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 12:10PM
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The bottom line is if you want to mow at the lower end of your grasses minimum recommended mowing height, it's your lawn, and this is America, so you can do what you want. Likewise if you want to grow your lawn to 9 inches, you can do that too, who cares what the neighbors think.

If you want to read a bit more on mowing height and tillering (for all grasses not just bunch type), here is a good article:

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 6:46PM
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garycinchicago(Z5 Chicago IL.)

>"Tillering is a feature of bunch grasses like fescue.

>"for the sod forming grasses, mowing lower does not affect growth of stolons across the surface."

Wow, Dave! ... you just lost many a fan with those two very ignorant (in the literal way) statements.

+1 and right on to Tiemco! May I copy those statements and use them later (giving you credit) when the time is right?

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 12:52AM
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Of course, my agent will send over the paperwork.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 1:21AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Hi Gary. I looked at tiemco's link. I've never seen an article that so clearly identified stolons and rhizomes as a form of tiller. If I had to read that somewhere, I am not surprised it comes from TAMU. The articles I remember reading clearly distinguish stolons, rhizomes, and "air tillers" as distinct and different parts of grass plants. The only similarity is they all are forms of self propagation. Now as I look up the topic again, I see articles all over the board on the topic. Some include stolons, rhizomes, and air tillers all falling under the heading of tillers. When I think of tillers, the only part of any grass plant that comes to mind is the air tiller.

On lowering the mowing height to improve spreading: I don't see consistent evidence or anecdotes one way or the other. I believe that to be a myth for the time being. If not a complete myth, I believe there are too many factors involved to make the claim that mowing lower improves spreading. At least the southern grasses will send out stolons wildly at any mowing height. Currently my St Augustine is nine inches long (broken lawn mower) and the stolons have never been longer or more abundant.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 2:16AM
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Sounds like Gary has 'little man' complex. You about 5'5" little guy. Tough on the internet.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 9:55AM
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@dchall: Since your lawn is already at 9" height, let it go for the rest of the season without a cut. You will provide significant contrast to the neighbor's lawns, and you'll be the talk of the neighborhood. If anyone asks, just tell them you are conducting research. Dare to be different!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 10:16AM
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garycinchicago(Z5 Chicago IL.)

Yup, that's me, Neil ... and you are giving me too much credit actually!
In fact, I'm only 5'4" but still the starting center for my current 3th grade basketball team.

Perhaps you missed my use of the word "literally" above?

ignorant - adjective
1. lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned:
2. lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact:
3. uninformed; unaware.

Dave knew that.

Say Neil, since you are in AZ and obviously not ignorant of cool season grass, maybe you could also speak about it like Dave sometimes/often does.

>"Tillering is a feature of bunch grasses like fescue.

Whatcha think Neil, do rhizome turf grasses tiller also or only the bunch type?

>"for the sod forming grasses, mowing lower does not affect growth of stolons across the surface."

Neil, tell us, is sod forming turf grasses exclusively stoloniferous?

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 12:19PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Continuing my re-research into mowing lower to promote spreading: It is pretty easy to find information on that topic. There are plenty of writers (lawn people, not professional writers) who believe that, so I'm modifying my stance. I also found articles on improving fertility to promote spreading. Those articles are completely focused on fertility and do not touch on mowing height. I was unaware of the fertility aspects, so I'm glad I searched that topic out. I also found articles on watering and spreading. For lack of any definitive, comprehensive, or particularly authoritative articles (but I'm still looking - Cornell will be my next stop), I'm going to modify my stance to be more wishy-washy. It seem that the care necessary for promoting grass to spread is more complicated than simply mowing low. It looks like improved fertility is a factor, keeping the soil slightly wetter at the surface is a factor, and mowing height (lower) is a factor. For my own lawn, I mentioned it was 9 inches high and sending out stolons like crazy. Well I have never dumped this much fertilizer on it as I have this season, so I'm thinking that might have been an issue in the past. Anyone who has read my thoughts over the years knows I only apply 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet of low grade (corn) fertilizer. This year I have been applying CGM at 20 pounds per 1,000. The lawn has really responded and the added fertility might be the cause of the 'crazy' stolons this year. Other than the amount and quality of fertilizer, my lawn is under the same watering and mowing program as years before.

Hopefully raymondo17 has his answer because we're drifting away.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 2:40PM
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A portion of my experience with the development of stolons and rhizomes involves the planting, grow-in, and maintenance of Tifton hybrid bermudagrasses on golf course greens, tees, fairways, and roughs. These bermudagrass varieties include Tifway 419, Tifway II, Tifgreen 328, and Tifdwarf.

Prior to planting, we would apply a 1-2-3 ratio fertilizer. After sprigging and initial green up, we would apply a 1-1-1 ratio fertilizer followed by an agressive program of high nitrogen fertility using 34-0-0 and/or 46-0-0 at 435 lbs./Acre every 7-10 days.

The sprigs would grow, but spread very little until the first mowing approximately 14 days after sprigging. After that first mowing, stolons start moving laterally and continue this movement as mowing frequency increases. Once we see stolon development, an agressive spiking and slicing activity is performed everyday and continuously for 2-3 months until the area is fully covered in dense turf. Every time you cut a stolon you are creating a new point of growth, and in essence, are starting the creation of a new plant. As these new points of growth develop and are mowed, they begin to send out their own stolons for development. Without a doubt in my experience, an increase in mowing frequency and a lower mowing height on bermudagrass increased the development of stolons and rhizomes. However, the quantity of stolons and rhizomes produced is greatly increased by the addition of spiking or slicing. And to be fair in comparison, this mowing was accomplished using regularly sharpened reel mowers at one half inch height of cut (0.500"). Most homeowners do not have this option available to them.

It is the combination of adequate temperature (air and soil), water, fertilizer, mowing, spiking, and plant physiology and genetics that assists hybrid bermudagrass in its growth and reproduction through the agressive development of stolons and rhizomes.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 8:14PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

That is an aggressive program. And I assume it is based on considerable USGA experience. Excellent information, thanks.

I wonder how spiking or slicing would work with St Aug? I also wonder if they do that on the bentgrass golf courses in the north?

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 10:12PM
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I have also grown-in many creeping bentgrass putting greens and yes, spiking does benefit creeping bentgrass with stolon development and density while lowering heights of cut. However, it is the combination of spiking AND light, frequent sand topdressings that promote a more vigorous density for putting surfaces.

I would be interested to know how St. Augustine is affected by regular slicing or spiking.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 11:55PM
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WestchesterGrower(Lower NY)

After following some of Dchall's advice, along with some of my own ideas, I have the best grass on the block yearly...Yes, I would like a prize :)

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 3:27PM
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westchestergrower: would you care to share some of the details of your program so that others of us may learn from your success? Thanks, and congrats on your lawn success!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 12:13PM
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WestchesterGrower(Lower NY)

Of course, nearandwest.

Keep in mind, my comment was more so to show respect to dchall, who of course needs no endorsement.

Overall, I used to use chemicals, as directed, and it was really brutal on the grass. Terrible results and of course long term it is not good for the grass. A quick fix, if anything, that really does not foster healthy soil or grass itself. A few yrs ago I knew I wanted a change, so I checked out this forum and started to incorporate some of the ideas, especially from the organic forum. My yard was full of weeds at this point and really weak in the Summer, etc.

I believe I started in the fall, probably 07'. First, I did the thatching and aerating. (I now do that every fall, and only thatch in the Spring). I also put down fresh quality seed, after the thatching and aerating process. I do the seed every Fall as well, none in the Spring. Whenever I put down seed (early sept), I put down milorganite as well. In the first week of November, I put down the corn meal, which is mixed with many other types of natural meals such as bone, feather, blood, etc. I also put this down in the early Spring (when the forsythia starts to bloom (2 times a year for this fertilizer). Between these two shots of fertilizer, I'd say I use milorganite around 4 times from April through September, just to keep things rolling).

Other than that, I've started cutting at a higher level. Probably an average of 3.5" or so, a little less during the cooler months and a bit more during the Summer. I only water the grass when the seed is down and growing(seed is put down first-second week of September).

Things have improved to a level I could never imagine. Now our grass wakes up the earlier and is going strong well into November. Unfortunately, the grass seed I used last Fall had issues and didn't work, but luckily the old grass was healthy and it did not make a difference. Still, I like to do the fresh seed in the Fall.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 10:11PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

nearandwest posited: I would be interested to know how St. Augustine is affected by regular slicing or spiking.

That's the first thing I thought of when you mentioned it for bermuda. In the general population, the idea of slicing the runners on St Aug is sacrilege and a short cut to killing your lawn. But now you have me wondering. Could it be that under the wrong circumstances it kills but under the right circumstances it heals? I was a victim of the myth of chemicals for so long and like to think I have unlearned all I need to unlearn, but there always seems to be a "new" idea that hits the right brain cell at the right time. What does the slicing tool look like? I assume it is a machine and not hand held. Is it a vertical mower type device.

And congratulations to westchestergrower! You have clearly turned the corner on your lawn hobby.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 10:50PM
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Thank you for sharing. I completely understand the respect to dchall. Even though I do not always agree with everything he says or advises, as a general rule his advice is usually solid. He has been around this forum for much longer than me or most others, but what is most important is that he is sincere about the help he is offering. Like you, I was a synthetic applicator of pesticides and fertilizers. Then one day I decided to read the FAQ section on the organic lawn care topic. It was written by dchall I believe, and what was written was so interesting to me that I decided to try some of it on my own lawn. I have been rather pleased with the results to date. In fact, here in central N.C. we have already had days with highs in the 90's and my lawn has only been watered with rainfall. I seeded it late last fall (TTTF/KBG) and it looks fabulous. I topdress with compost and fertilize with Milorganite. I did not use a pre-emerge because I didn't need one. There are a couple of areas where I will not be organic (Ex: aeration, soil surfactants and post-emerge weed control) but I am much more organic than I used to be, and will become more organic in the days ahead. I have to thank dchall for that. Truth be known, I imagine many people owe it to dchall for their improved lawns. Thanks, dchall!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 11:03PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

I imagine many people owe it to dchall for their improved lawns.

Yes I wrote the FAQ. About 5 years ago it was posted on some other websites which had hit counters. I counted 75,000 hits before they redesigned the sites and removed the counters. That was a long time ago. I'm glad I have been able to help. Sometimes I find it hard to restrain myself from suggesting organic fertilizers, but some people will never go for having it shoved down their throats. I firmly believe that many lawn problems can be fixed or greatly improved by throwing organic fertilizer at it. Instead many will throw more and more synthetic fertilizer and make things worse. More organics always helps. More synthetics often does not help and can kill your lawn. One of the gurus on another forum has used more than 1,000 pounds of organics per 1,000 square feet on his lawn over the course of a season. Yes, he might possibly have the best lawn in the country. He's in SE PA and his KBG lawn remains green all winter. That's unheard of.

As far as I know I am the first person to advocate using corn meal (too expensive this year) or other grains instead of commercially bagged organic fertilizer. Some people before me here at GW had been using used coffee grounds, which is essentially the same thing as ground up grains. There were others who hinted at the use of protein sources rather than chemicals, but nobody ever put it into a tight package. I spent hours one day walking around a feed store reading every label on every product. Did you know that dog food is the same as organic fertilizer? I tried it and it worked. Once I realized the cost savings for this approach to lawn care, suddenly an organic approach was on par with the chemical approach. Nobody wanted to pay $75 per 1,000 square feet for compost. And hardly anyone wanted to pay $15 per 1,000 for organic fertilizer. But a lot of people were willing to pay $2.50 per 1,000 to give corn meal (or alfalfa pellets) a try. That was then. Costs have come up for everything since 2002.

Frankly I don't care if my suggestions are proved to be wrong or otherwise misguided. If there is a better solution, I'm going to be all over it. Several years ago I 'invented' a method for softening hard soil using a soaker hose. The problem with it was it took weeks to months to see the benefit. Last year, at the suggestion of some geniuses on another lawn forum, I tried spraying baby shampoo on my hardened soil before irrigating. A few days later the soil was soft. I am not going to cling to the soaker hose method when the baby shampoo is so easy to do.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2011 at 11:21AM
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WestchesterGrower(Lower NY)

Good thoughts, nearandwest and dchall.

BTW- I should have included...Of course I still have lawn issues from time to time. It happens. Right now my back is nicer than my front for some reason, even though I cater to the front more. Some burnt strands in the front- perhaps a fungus from the week long rain we recently had. Just put down milorganite 4-5 days back, so I am thinking it should push it out. But by and large, my lawn and soil is a lot healthier now than it was a few yrs back. My only regret is that I actually wish I could use the corn meal/etc fertilizer more often, but it would be too much $$.

I do spot-treat weeds, so I can't say I am 100% organic, but it doesn't bother me. My neighbor's weeds spread over and I have a stubborn creeping variety myself, so that helps greatly. But I have to say that mowing high does help a lot in regards to keeping weeds down, along with a dense lawn.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   June 1, 2011 at 4:02PM
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I am also not on board to mow as high as you can. Obviously if you di d that with Bermuda, Zoysia, Bent and a few others you would clearly destroy them.

My recommendation is mow at the recommended height the producer recommends for your variety.

Good example of where good intentions can go wrong is with Saint Augustine grasses you will hear the default on this and other boards to mow as high as the mower can go. Well that is appropriate for some of the varieties, but not for all of them, especially the dwarf varieties like Sapphire, Captiva, Delmar, and Seville should be mowed at 2 to 2-1/2 inches. Semi-dwarfs like Palmetto and Raleigh between 2-1/2 to 3 inches and most all the others at 3 to 4 inches.

Any higher and the blades bend over and tend to mat down.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2011 at 4:32PM
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