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How high do you mow?

The grass is finally green and its time to start mowing! If theres one thing I could change about homeowner lawn care practices it would be the height at which they cut their lawns. The higher the better, within reason of course. Lawns mowed to three inches tall will be more thick and lush, better able to crowd out weeds and prevent new weed seeds from sprouting. Think of a dollar bill folded in half lengthwise, thats three inches. The bigger the grass plant the bigger the root system and the more resilient the plant will be. Grass kept at three inches will tolerate stress better and stay greener longer during dry spells than shorter grass. But theres more to mowing than just setting your mower at three inches. The key to healthy grass is to never remove more than a third of the grass blade at a time. This means if youre cutting your grass at 3 inches you can wait to mow until it gets 4.5 inches tall. But if youre cutting your grass at 2 inches you need to cut it when it reaches 3 inches tall. So by cutting your grass high youll end up mowing less often, saving yourself time and money! One of the worst things you can do for your lawn is to let it grow long then cut it very short. Some people seem to think this will mean less work for them, but actually this method causes you more problems because it stresses the grass plants tremendously and gives weeds an easy way in. If you insist on a 1 inch or 2 inch high lawn it can be done, but youll need to mow a lot more often to keep the lawn healthy. To measure grass height just stand a ruler in the turf. You can also just use your fingers as a gauge. Stick them straight down into the sod and see how far up the grass blades reach. On most push mowers, the highest setting is usually 3 inches. Some riding mowers can be set even higher. If your mower doesnt have a gauge thats easy to read, try setting it at its highest setting, mow a patch of lawn and see how high the grass is. Lastly, the best place for clippings is right back on your lawn where they will contribute nutrients and organic matter to your turf. Clippings do not promote thatch build-up in fact, they help reduce it. Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. CCE offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450 and Essex County at 962-4810. More information may be found on-line at ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or by sending an e-mail to a Master Gardener volunteer at askMG@cornell.edu.

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