Soon, the grass will become green and start growing. Like it or not, the season of mowing has begun. Learning the basics of proper mowing and mower maintenance will help keep you, and your lawn healthy. Healthy lawns have fewer weeds, and sturdy, well-nourished grass plants.

First, ensure that your current mower is tuned up and the blade is sharp. You may want to visit your local small engine shop for a professional tune-up. Always refer to your owner’s manual for tips for your particular brand of mower. Gas mowers require special maintenance. Replace the gas with fresh gas, as old fuel may lose octane and be full of deposits and moisture. Change the oil if necessary and replace the spark plugs. Dirty air filters need to be changed at least once a year. Check worn belts and replace as needed. Gas and electric mowers need to have a clean mower deck, so be sure to remove all the grass debris and gunk that’s built up on the undercarriage. Do-it-yourselfers will discover a wide array of belts, blades, filters and accessories at Fleet Farm to keep the mower running all season.

Keep sharp

Sharpen or replace your blade. When your mower’s blades are dull, the grass gets torn and stressed, making the jagged grass blades more susceptible to disease and drought. A clean-cut lawn doesn’t require as much water. Mower blades should be sharpened every few months to every 2 years, depending on use. Considering keeping a spare, sharp blade at hand so you’ll always be ready to mow when needed. If you want to sharpen your own blade, always remember that safety first is the most important consideration. Disconnect the spark plug wire to keep the mower from accidentally starting.

Wearing heavy-duty work gloves, remove the blade from the mower. To prevent the blade from turning, use a wooden block to keep the blade in place while you loosen the nuts. Safely fasten your blade into a clamped vise and file one edge of the blade with a metal file, following the bevel on the original blade. Then reposition the blade and file the opposite end. You can also use a bench grinder. To check to see if the blade is balanced, use a blade balancer. Return the blade to the mower, making sure the nuts are firmly tightened.

When to cut

Mow the grass only when it’s needed, rather than insisting on maintaining a regular schedule. Cool spring weather is likely to stimulate growth and you may need to cut a few times a week. Dry, hot weather slows growth, and you may need to be cut every 10 days, or even less frequently.

Try to mow on days when the grass is dry. Dry grass won’t form clumps on the lawn and is safer and less slippery for the person doing the mowing. Try to mow during cooler parts of the day to minimize damage, and to keep you from becoming overheated. In times of drought, allow the grass to go dormant.

Keep mowing until the grass stops growing in the fall. In the Great Lakes area, that time is usually mid-late October. To help prevent disease in long, damp grass and minimize rodent damage, do let the lawn sit all winter with long, matted areas.

How to cut

Ideally, you should aim to maintain a grass height of at least 2½ to 3 inches. This height will shade out weed seeds (decreasing germination), cool the soil, and allow the lawn’s roots to grow deeper. Deeper roots absorb more water during drought, and are able to soak up more nutrients in the soil. When you mow, do not remove more than a third of the height of the grass each time. (For example, 4-inch high grass can be cut to a height of 2½ inches). Grass that is cut too short becomes weakened, and requires a longer time to recover. Scalping a lawn makes the grass plants more inviting to pests and disease. Short grass exposes the soil to light, encouraging weeds to take over. When you remove only a third of the grass, the clippings will decompose quickly and add nutrients to your lawn. In fact, leaving clippings on the lawn can cut down on the need to fertilize once during the summer months.

Mowing in the same direction every time may cause ruts to form. Try alternating the direction of your cut with every mowing. The soil will be less compacted, and grass will stay more upright and healthier. In shaded areas, like those under trees, leave the grass a little higher. Longer grass there will allow it to absorb more water while competing with the roots of the tree.

Make sure to clear debris out of the area before you mow. Remove twigs, rocks, garden stakes and hunks of dirt from the area to avoid damage to yourself and your home from flying objects. Always wear appropriate footwear, and never stick your hand into the discharge chute.

Determining the right mower for you

Choosing the right mower for your lawn depends on the size of the lawn, your physical ability and the condition of your grounds. Your Fleet Farm associate can assess your needs and assist you to make the right choice for your lawn. There you’ll find the top brands in push mowers, such as Honda, Husqvarna, Troy-Bilt and Ariens. The wide variety of riding mowers and lawn tractors will make short work of big lawn chores, with prices to fit every budget.