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4 things you may be doing wrong when it comes to lawn care

(NEXSTAR) — While some parts of the country could still be seeing snow this month, it’s safe to say that most of us are fully experiencing spring. Among the many things that come with spring (have you noticed your allergies acting up again?) is many a dad’s dream — the return to lawn care.

Unless you’re a lawn-cutting pro, there may be a few aspects of yard maintenance in which you can grow. If you have dreams of turning your neighbors green with envy over your finely manicured lawn, here are four things you should know first.

When is the best time of day to cut your grass? 

Maybe your neighbor is an early riser who likes to start cutting the grass before you’ve even gotten out of bed. Or maybe you have someone who likes to mow in the evening when you’re trying to enjoy the twilight hours.

If either of those mowers annoys you, we have some unfortunate news: depending on where you live and the weather, those may be among the best times to tend to the yard.

“There’s probably no right or wrong time,” Dr. Bryan Unruh, a professor of environmental horticulture at the University of Florida’s West Florida Research and Education Center, told Nexstar. Instead, he explained, it’s often best to avoid the heat of the day when your lawn may be under “a drought condition or drought stress.”

This could cause heat or tracking injury, Unruh says. You’ve likely seen a tracking injury before — it’s when the lawnmower leaves behind tire tracks, like this: 

A man sunbathes amidst patches of dried-out lawn from a lack of rain in Atlanta, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Heat tracking occurs when the turf is “near the wilting point” and is lacking water, according to Michigan State University Extension. Mowers are frequently the culprit, but people walking across the lawn can also create this damage. To avoid such damage to your lawn, experts urge against mowing during the hottest time of the day.

If you go too early though, when the lawn is wet, you may encounter another gaffe: clipping clumps. While not a major problem, wet clipping clumps may be annoying to deal with for some.  

Don’t cut the same way twice

Your yard is like a blank canvas, and you can cut it in any pattern you can think of, whether it’s simple stripes or checkered, flannel- or argyle-like, an American flag or the logo of your favorite sports team.

Regardless of how you want your lawn to look, Unruh says it’s best to change your cutting direction every time. Think of it like a clock. Let’s say you cut your lawn in a vertical pattern, pushing or driving your mower from 12 to 6, then 6 to 12 as you go row by row. On your next mowing day, you may shift to go horizontally (3 to 9 on your lawn clock) or diagonally from 1 to 7 or 11 to 5. 

This, according to Unruh, allows for your grass’ vertical growth, which can keep it from laying down or becoming matted. It can help prevent tire tracks from forming due to soil compaction.

Blade height matters

Before you become the Van Gogh of lawn mowing, you’ll want to consider your blades.

The species of grass you have can influence blade height, but in general, you’ll likely want to keep your lawn about 3 inches in height or higher, experts from the University of Minnesota Extension say. You’ll also only want to trim about an inch at a time.

“Generally, regardless of what species is grown, we say never to remove more than ⅓ of the leaf blade in a given cutting,” Unruh says, noting this can also influence how frequently you cut. Trimming too much off can put stress on your lawn, while setting the blades too high could lead to root mass loss.  

However, if you’re experiencing a drought or dry spell, Unruh recommends raising the blades to support the root system.

Later this year, you’ll want to cut back on your cutting and maintain a height of roughly 2 ½ inches until it stops growing. Once temperatures stay below 55 degrees Fahrenheit consistently, you can park the mower for the year, Alex Lambert, manager of Lambert Tractor and Machine Sales in Riverton, Kansas, told Nexstar’s KSNF.

You’re probably over-watering

Sure, a nice, green lawn may be ideal, but there’s a chance you’re overwatering as you try to get to that level.

“Most people — and I think most of my colleagues around the country — would tell you the number one problem in the lawn is over-irrigation,” Unruh says. This can cause increased issues with weeds and disease, which can spark increased use of pesticides and fertilizer. “I think most people just do way too much.”

It’s best not to have an irrigation system set on a schedule, the University of Florida recommends. Instead, you should focus on “watering as needed,” watching for one-third or half of your lawn to show at least one of three signs: folding leaf blades, a blue-gray color, and footprints that stay visible in the grass. 

When it is time to water, experts recommend the morning hours (4-8 a.m.) and giving each part of your lawn (whether you’re doing so by hand, with a sprinkler, or using an irrigation system) ½ to ¾ inches of water. If you’re forecasted to see rain within 24 hours, experts say you can skip watering. Before watering, check if your municipality has any restrictions.

If you haven’t done the first cutting of the year yet, you may want to check your mower. That could include sharpening your blades (something you likely only need to do twice a year, Unruh says), checking the oil and gas, replacing the air filter and cleaning the bag.

Happy mowing — unless you’re participating in No-Mow May, of course.

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