Shoreline Friendly Lawn Care: Cut it High and Let it Lie

Lawns and lawn care can damage water quality. Reduce pollution and get a better lawn using these tips:

Why cut it high?

  • Taller grass retains moisture and slows the runoff of rain water. Letting your grass grow longer is a great way to soften’ your property to make it more shoreline-friendly.
  • When grass is cut short the roots become shallower. This makes the plant weaker and less able to tolerate drought.
  • Taller grass exposes more leaf blade to the sun and, since each leaf is like a solar collector that delivers energy to the rest of the plant, more exposed leaf means healthier grass.
  • Taller grass shades out sun-loving weeds and keeps the soil cool and moist.
  • Allowing the grass to grow taller means you will need to cut it less often. In most cases, mowing frequency can be reduced by half.

How long should grass be?

  • The healthiest height for a grass lawn is about three inches. To maintain a lawn at 3 inches, mow when the lawn reaches a height of around 4 inches.
  • In shady areas the grass should be left a little longer to make up for the lack of sunlight. Cut it to 3 1/2 inches and mow when it reaches 4 1/2 inches.
  • Never cut more than one-third of the grass height in one pass because cutting off more causes stress. If you need to reduce the height by more than a third, cut once and wait a couple of days before cutting the rest.

Why leave the grass clippings?

  • Grass clippings are a free source of nutrients for your lawn. Leaving the clippings is preferable to applying an artificial fertilizer.
  • Raking up clippings does not reduce thatch, it contributes to it. Grass clippings decompose quickly and are food for the natural organisms that feed on thatch and keep it thin. Thatch is most often caused by cutting the grass too short, and the application of pesticides and fertilizers.
  • Each time you mow, alternate the direction of cut to reduce the build-up of grass clippings on the lawn. Exception: mow across slopes, not down them.

What is the best mower?

  • Reel mowers do less damage to the grass because they slice the leaf blades. Note that reel mowers are most often used on golf courses.
  • Rotary mowers are convenient and are easily motorized, but they cut by impact and leave a ragged edge on the leaf blade.
  • The blades of rotary mowers should be sharpened at least once each season to reduce damage to the grass plants. Dull blades tear the grass and increase the risk of disease and infestations.
  • Reel-type push mowers are the most environmentally friendly because they don’t burn fossil fuels, don’t make noise and they are natural mulchers. Push mowers are most suitable for small lawns.
  • Electric mowers, both corded and cordless, are quiet and effective. You can choose from either reel or rotary electric models.
  • Of the gas-powered mowers, four stroke engines are better than two strokes because they are more efficient and don’t pollute as much.

Other tips

  • Never use pesticides or fertilizers anywhere on your shoreline property because they all end up in the water. Natural methods work better anyway.
  • Control erosion by leaving a buffer of at least five feet at the shoreline to allow natural plants and shrubs to grow.
  • The best lawn is a small lawn because it needs less human and mechanical energy. Perennial beds and naturalized areas mean less lawn, less work and more birds and butterflies in your yard.