Growing pretty turf grass is hard, especially in warmer climates. Everything hates it – bugs, fungus, weather. However, in all my years of property maintenance and landscaping, I found that the most common enemy to a lush, healthy lawn is…the average home owner.
You probably didn’t even know you were doing it, but it is rampant. And worse still, this #1 mistake leads to all the other most common problems people have – and spend fortunes to fix – with their yards.
You are cutting your grass too short.
If you’re struggling to keep your grass alive and healthy, this is the likely culprit. Here’s why.
Grass is, of course, a plant like any other. All plants (all living things, for that matter), have an optimal size to which they are programmed to grow in order to thrive. Likewise, each variety of grass does best at its ordained height.
For instance, in my area, Bermuda grass actually likes to be short, 1-1½ inches. No problem, cut it short. But then there is Centipede, which likes the 2-3 inch range. The tallest of all is Augustine, a giant at 4-6 inches.
Each of these grasses must be kept at its preferred height to be healthy. Fight nature if you like, but if you cut Augustine to Bermuda height, it will certainly suffer and likely die.
Think of it like this. Say you have a lovely shrub or tree in your yard that needs a prune. You ask me how much you should cut and I say, “Chop it in half.” Would you do it?
Of course not, because you intuitively know it would hurt your plant. But we do it weekly to our grass.
So first thing, research to find the height at which your grass wants to grow, raise your mower deck to that height, and never lower it again. No kidding, do this and your grass will instantly be healthier.
Here’s another rule of thumb – Never cut your grass by more than 1/3 of its optimal height at any one time. More than that and it stresses.
How does cutting my grass too short hurt it?
A grass blade, like a tree leaf, is a solar panel. It absorbs sunlight and magically turns it into food. When you cut your grass too short, you cut off each blade’s food supply. It’s like covering half of a photovoltaic solar panel with a burlap sack and expecting it to perform at maximum capacity. Won’t.
Too-short grass causes other common problems.
When you starve your grass (which is what happens when you remove too much of the blade), it obviously becomes hungry and thirsty. So, you end up watering and feeding it too much to compensate. It looks bad, so you dump a bunch of fertilizer on it. That doesn’t work, so you water the heck out of it, which washes the fertilizer away. Now you’re back to square one with tired, sick grass.
Oh, and watering too much also leads to fungus, another common lawn scourge. Bugs too; they like the steady water supply. And weeds.
Did I mention weak roots? When you water too much (because you cut too short) to keep your sick grass alive, it keeps all of its feeder roots at the surface of the soil, where the water is. Then, if there is the slightest drought, it withers because it has not set deep feeders.
Bottom line: Cutting your grass too short sets the stage for every other problem you are likely to have with your yard.
How do I know if I’m cutting my grass too short?
If cut at its proper height, there should be no significant color difference in your lawn before and after you cut it. If, after a mow, your grass looks dull and lighter in color (even a little gray), you’ve cut it too short.
Visible grass clippings
If your yard looks like a freshly mown hay field after cutting, raise the deck or cut more often. If done properly, there should be no visible clippings on top of the grass when you are done.
I know it sounds simplistic. That’s because it’s simple. But please just cut your grass a couple inches higher for a few weeks and see what happens.
The bugs won’t like it but you will.