Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
July, 2007
Regional Report

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Keep your mower blade sharp to avoid shredding the grass leaf tips and to insure a greener lawn.

Lawn Mowers Spread Natural Fertilizer

Good nutrition is key to a healthy green lawn. Did you know you apply more nutrients every year with your lawn mower than with a fertilizer spreader?

You see, every time you mow and mulch those clippings back into the turf, the clippings begin to decompose, and they slowly release the nutrients your lawn needs back into the soil that feeds the turf. Grass clippings contain about a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively, and thus they are nature's own perfect slow-release fertilizer blend. So, in many ways, your lawn mower is the best fertilizer spreader you can use.

In fact, if you were to gather all the clippings over a season, weigh them and have them analyzed in a lab, the total nutrient weight would exceed several times that of a spring and fall application of store-bought fertilizer.

A mulching mower is ideal for turning turf into lawn fertilizer. It's designed to chop those clippings up into very fine pieces so they drop down in the turf and decompose quickly. You also can use a standard-type mower. You just want to close off the discharge chute and set the front wheels a little higher than the back wheels. That way, the front of your blade clips once, and as you pass by, the back of the blade clips a little bit lower. That way the blades chop the clippings into finer particles.

But either way, every time you mow, you return those clippings to the lawn. Clippings don't cause a thatch buildup because they break down very quickly. Thatch is really caused by overwatering and overfertilizing your lawn, which causes an increase in runners and rhizomes that break down very slowly.

The single most important way to build a beautiful lawn is to mow it frequently. Infrequent mowing intervals are more stressful to the turf and leave the lawn unsightly after each mowing. The more often you mow, the less is "pruned" off with each mowing. This minimizes stress and causes the turf to fill in nice and thick.

Professional turf fields are mowed every day or two, while golf greens may be mowed daily to attain the short, dense top-quality turf. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, this is nowhere near practical for most of us weekend warriors. Therefore try to aim for a five- to seven-day mowing schedule to keep your lawn looking great.

Set the lawnmower a little higher for summer mowing. Short mowing heights result in turf that has a more limited root system. Such turf is more dependent on frequent watering. Turf mowed at a taller height will develop deeper roots and will be more resilient.

So consider your mower the best fertilizer spreader at your place, and the key to creating a healthy, green, beautiful lawn.

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