How to Mow a Lawn

A beautiful, lush lawn can greatly enhance the curb appeal and value of a home. However, maintaining a healthy lawn takes time and effort. Learning how to properly mow a lawn is an essential skill for any homeowner. With the right techniques and tools, you can keep your lawn looking pristine all year long.

Select the Right Mower

Choosing the appropriate lawn mower for your yard is the first key step. Consider the following factors:

  • Lawn size – For small to medium sized lawns (up to 1/4 acre), a walk-behind push mower typically works best. Larger yards over 1/4 acre will benefit from a riding mower.
  • Terrain – A push mower handles flat, even terrain well. For slopes and hills, a self-propelled mower or riding mower is a better choice.
  • Grass type – Standard rotary mowers work for most grass types. Reel mowers provide an exceptionally clean cut for select grasses like fescue and Bermuda.
  • Power source – Gas mowers are ideal for large yards. Electric and battery powered mowers are more convenient for smaller spaces.
  • Features – Look for useful features like variable speed control, adjustable cutting height, and mulching/bagging capabilities.

Once you determine the best mower type for your specific needs, look for quality and durability in a mower brand. Be prepared to invest in a dependable mower that will last for years with proper maintenance.

Prepare the Lawn Area

Before mowing, walk through the area and remove any debris like sticks, stones, or toys that could damage the blades or be flung by the mower. Overhanging tree branches should be trimmed back to provide clear access.

For maximum safety and efficiency, plan the mowing pattern. Mow up and down on slopes rather than side-to-side to avoid tipping. Divide the yard into sections to keep track of what has been cut.

Adjust the Cutting Height

The optimal cutting height for a lawn depends on factors like grass variety, season, and weather conditions. Here are some general cutting height guidelines:

  • Fescue, rye, bentgrass – 1.5″ to 3″ high
  • Bermuda, St. Augustine, zoysia – 1″ to 2.5” high
  • Cool weather – Slightly taller height
  • Hot weather – Slightly lower height

Adjust the mower cutting deck lever or wheel to the desired height. Raising the height just a notch higher under hot, dry conditions helps the grass conserve moisture. Be sure to only cut off the top 1/3 of the grass blades at most for healthier growth. Never cut the grass too short.

Use Proper Mowing Techniques

Apply these techniques for the best cut quality:

  • Mow frequently, cutting no more than 1/3 of the total grass blade length per mowing session. This prevents scalping the lawn.
  • Alternate the mowing pattern from week to week. Change direction or mow north to south one time then east to west the next time. This helps prevent ruts and a grainy appearance.
  • For a reel mower, overlap each pass slightly to ensure no uncut strips of grass remain. Or use a grass catcher to avoid overlaps with other mower types.
  • Maintain a constant walking pace, neither rushing nor dragging. Slow down on curving passes.
  • Disengage the mower and lift it over concrete or rocky areas to avoid damaging the blades.
  • Avoid mowing wet grass which clumps and leads to an uneven cut. Let grass dry out after rain or morning dew before mowing.
  • Use the side discharge feature while cutting dense or tall grass. For average conditions, mulching plugs work well. Bagging works best for neatness with less dense growth.

Mow With Care On Slopes

Exercise extra caution when mowing hilly areas:

  • Always mow across the face of slopes, never up and down. Maintain a slow speed.
  • Avoid using riding mowers on steep slopes greater than 15 degrees to prevent tipping. Stick with a walk-behind self-propelled mower.
  • Watch for ditches, holes, rocks, or other hidden obstacles in the lawn. Keep a firm grip on the mower.
  • When using a walk-behind mower, mow sloped areas in strips, starting at the bottom area and working up section by section.
  • Use a low center of gravity and wide stance when operating a walk-behind mower on hills for optimum stability.

Perform Final Inspection and Cleanup

Finish strong by conducting a final walk through after mowing. Look for any missed patches and go over them again. Use a stick or rake to dislodge any grass clumps of debris left behind.

Remove all grass clippings from sidewalks and driveways. Blow or sweep stray grass clippings back onto the lawn to recycle nutrients. Properly clean the underside of the mowing deck.

Apply any needed weed control or grass fertilizer after mowing. Aim to have freshly cut grass 2-3 inches tall for optimal health and appeal.

Tips for Specific Grass Types

Cool season grasses like fescue and bluegrass thrive when cut to 2.5-3.5 inches high. Cut frequently, removing no more than 1/3 of total blade length.

Warm season grasses like Bermuda and zoysia prefer slightly lower mowing heights of 1-2 inches. Cutting too short causes damage.

Weedy lawns may need frequent mowing at lower heights to discourage weed seed production. But raise the height once weeds subside.

New sod should have its first three mowings done gently with a hand-held mower set at the highest setting. Then gradually lower to the desired height.

Overseeded lawns require extra care not to cut too short until new grass is established. Wait until overseeded areas reach 3 inches before mowing.

Signs It’s Time for a Mower Tune-Up

Routine mower maintenance ensures optimum performance all season long. Watch for these signs it’s time for a tune-up:

  • The mower is struggling or bogging down in thick grass.
  • You notice a decrease in cutting power. The cuts seem less even.
  • The engine runs rough or makes sputtering noises.
  • Excessive vibration develops while operating the mower.

Take the mower in before each mowing season starts for a tune-up. Sharpen or replace dull blades. Change the oil, spark plug, and air filters as needed.

Safety Tips for Mowing

  • Wear eye and ear protection along with closed toe shoes when mowing.
  • Keep hands and feet away from moving parts. Never attempt to unclog or clean a mower while the engine is running.
  • Refuel mowers only when the engine is cool to prevent fire hazards. Wipe up spills.
  • Set the mower engine speed at full throttle for the best cut and safe operation.
  • Never leave a running mower unattended. Disengage the blades if you must step away.
  • Watch for vehicles, pedestrians, pets and debris when mowing near roadways or paths.
  • Do not allow children to operate ride-on mowers. Keep kids and pets at a safe distance from mowing areas.

How to Mow a Lawn FAQs

Below are some frequently asked questions about properly mowing a lawn:

How often should you mow a lawn?

Most lawns need mowing every 4-7 days during peak growing seasons. Mow more frequently when grass growth is rapid to prevent getting too tall between cuts.

Should you mow wet grass?

It’s best to avoid mowing damp grass which can clump and interfere with an even cut. Let the lawn dry out completely after rain or morning dew before mowing.

When should you cut grass the lowest?

Cutting grass too short causes weak, thin turfgrass. It’s best to cut cool season grasses like fescue no lower than 2.5-3 inches high. Warm season grasses can go slightly lower, around 1-2 inches.

What time of day is best for mowing?

Aim to cut grass when it’s as dry as possible. This is often early evening when dew has dried and temperatures are cooler. Avoid mowing at the hottest part of the day.

How short can you cut St. Augustine grass?

St. Augustinegrass thrives when kept 2-4 inches high, with 3 inches being ideal. Never cut below 2 inches as this causes damage. Dull mower blades will shred and brown the lawn.

Should I bag or mulch clippings when mowing?

Mulching plugs work well for most mowing sessions, recycling nutrients back into the soil. Bag clippings if the grass is overly long or dense. Discharge clippings for very thick, tall grass to prevent clumping.


Following proper mowing techniques helps keep a lawn healthy and attractive. Be sure to select the right mower for your specific lawn size and terrain. Always sharpen the blades regularly, adjust the cutting height appropriately for the season, and maintain a constant mowing pattern. Safety should also remain top of mind when operating any lawn mowing equipment. Taking the time to mow carefully makes a big difference in achieving a lush, green lawn all season long.