The long and short of mowing

How often you mow and how short you cut the grass can determine how much water you save — or waste.

With the recent warm-up, summer turf grass is officially growing in south central Texas. If you haven’t started mowing yet, now is a good time check the height of your mower blades.

That’s because unless you’re trying to get rid of the grass, you never want to remove more than one third of a grass blade in a single mowing. Otherwise, you’ll scalp it and leave the lawn with nothing but yellow stalks showing.

If your grass is looking healthy right now, one way to keep it looking that way is to raise the blades and leave them that way throughout summer. Higher grass better retains moisture and nutrients (and helps prevent bald spots and weeds). Adjusting the mowing height helps keep turf dense without having to increase the mowing frequency.

How do you adjust mowing height, you ask? Many mowers have latches at each of the wheels, with notches in ½-inch increments. They may or may not be labeled, but most standard mowers accommodate from 2 inches to 4 inches of mowing height. Start by raising the latches at each wheel to the top and then lower each until they’re all at the same height.

The recommended height varies between grass species.

  • Bermuda grass: Mow weekly at 2 inches.
  • Zoysia: Mow weekly at 2 ½ inches depending on variety.
  • St. Augustine: Mow weekly 3 inches to 3-½ inches; extra height supports its deeper roots.
  • Buffalo grass: Mow infrequently, twice per year, 3 inches to 4 inches depending on variety.
  • Turf sedge: Can be mowed 2-3 times per year at 4 inches.

Again, if you’re not sure — or you have a healthy mix of grasses and mowable groundcovers —err on the side of caution and use a higher height.

Remember, it’s important not to cut off more than 30 percent of the grass length at any one time. If your Bermuda grass has grown to 5 inches and you cut it down to 2 inches, you may end up with yellow bases and weeds spreading in the newly exposed areas.

Should rainy weather ever occur in summer, most experts advise mowing warm season grasses more frequently. That can mean once a week or even more often. The ease of applying these recommendations depends on the size of the grass area.

As always, there’s a decision to be made about how much lawn you really need and how much can be easily maintained. If you’re looking to remove grass, scalping it is a great way to start.

SAWS WaterSaver programs can help you convert unnecessary grass areas to hardy landscaping or easy outdoor living spaces.

Picture of David Abrego
David Abrego
David Abrego is a conservation consultant for SAWS. David, a native of Panama, likes to spend his time surrounded by plants and fruit trees. So if you can’t find him at home, he’s probably working in a greenhouse. David is also an arborist and an irrigation technician.
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