Even though winter sometimes seems to last forever and we can't wait to see some green again, there is something good that comes from it -- a reprieve from lawn mowing. To keep your lawn mower ready for service there are some things you can do to ensure it starts without issue, even after a long spring thaw. We've included tips for this below, as well as some other little tricks that you can apply while you're in the midst of the mowing season that will help keep your lawn mowing chore as uneventful as possible.
What to Know Before You Mow
Aside from maintenance, which we'll get to next, there's a few things you can do before you mow your lawn that will help keep your lawn mower going for more than just a few trips around the yard, and keep your yard at its healthiest.
Yard Clean Up
This is something you can do yourself in just a few minutes before mowing, or if you have kids you can make it fun by turning it into a treasure hunt. Have them, or you, do a walkthrough before mowing, looking for anything your mower may have trouble chomping up. Pick up any rocks, large sticks, and any debris that may have floated into your yard. Also, look for any tree roots that may now be hiding well beneath the grass -- hitting one of these often means a new lawn mower blade will be needed.
Lawn Mower Check Up
Each time before you mow, give your lawn mower a quick checkup. Make sure it has gas, check the oil, and make sure the undercarriage isn't clogged up. You can just take a broom or a stick to knock out the grass and dirt under it. There's no need to hose it down before or after you mow each time -- just knocking out the debris each time will suffice. Before putting it away each year you can do a more thorough cleaning.
If it looks like it's going to rain, or if its forecasted to do so while you may be mowing, set aside the chore for another day. Mowing your grass while it's wet isn't necessarily bad for the grass, but it's not great for your mower. For extremely hot conditions lawn mowing isn't ideal either, but more so for your grass than the mower. Mowing grass during the hottest part of the day causes heat stress on the grass, and possibly on you as well, so try to mow when it's cooler in the morning or evening hours.
Grass Cutting Tips to Keep It Healthy and Looking Great
- Each time you mow, change the direction. Grass will begin to lean towards the direction you mow if you continue using the same pattern every time, so by switching it up you allow for it to have more upright growth and it keeps the lawn looking nicer.
- Although not pretty, you should leave the clippings on the lawn. This returns nutrients and nitrogen back into the dirt and helps your grass stay healthy.
- When it's hot, you should mow less and set your blade higher. Grass grows slower in hot and dry weather.
- Mow when the grass is dry to prevent your blades from getting clumped up.
- Dull blades make for ragged cuts that damage the grass and make it unhealthy. Unhealthy grass means it's more prone to disease and pests, so keep blades sharp.
- Under trees and in other shaded areas, cut the grass higher. Grass in these areas is prone to thinning out since it's competing with roots and other plants for water and other nutrients.
- Grass length should never be shortened by more than 1/3rd of its height at one time. It's okay to do it occasionally if the lawn is healthy, but if you cut the grass too short on a repeated basis, it will lead to a brown lawn. It also allows more of the seeds from weeds to germinate and your pretty green lawn will soon be overrun with lots of not-so-pretty weeds.
- Keep grass at the height recommended for your type of grass. If it's newly planted, allow it to grow for 3-4 weeks (or when it's about an inch taller than its recommended growth height) before mowing it for the first time because foot traffic and the mower itself could damage the tender new grass blades. *See the recommended turfgrass mowing heights at the end of the article.
Lawn Mower Maintenance 101
If your mower has been sitting for over a few weeks, it's best to start with fresh gas. Preferably before you put it to sleep each fall, you should drain or run all remaining gas from it, but if you forgot, go ahead and get it out now so you can start out with clean fuel.
Tip: If you can't get all the gas out, you can use a water remover additive that you add to cars in the winter to avoid fuel lines from freezing up or rusting.
Check your oil and add more if necessary. If there's any debris in it or it's dark black in color, you'll need to drain and replace it. To do this, remove the drain plug under the mower and allow it to completely drain out. See your owner's manual for more tips, as well as for what type of oil you should replace it with.
Check your air filter for any signs of clogging or dirt. Most lawn mowers have easily accessible air filters, making it fairly simple to change. A clean filter will help the mower run better, and burn gas more efficiently.
The spark plug is one of the most important parts to ensuring you'll have a running lawn mower. They're inexpensive and easy to replace. Replacement should be done each year before you start mowing again. If you forget or don't replace it because it's still running fine and it doesn't necessarily need to be replaced, you should at least keep one on hand because it's definitely one of the more common issues when a lawn mower won't start.
This is the time that you'll want to drag out the hose and clean the undercarriage out well. Before you do so, disconnect the spark plug. You can use a wire brush or stick to scrape out any debris that's caked on. Make sure to clean the discharge chute as well.
Being careful to not run over large objects will help your blade last longer, but sharpening it each season is still recommended to keep it cutting as it should. Sharpening it yourself isn't that easy, so it's best to take it in for a small fee to a local lawn mower repair shop and have it done. Keep the blade number (model, etc.) written down somewhere in case you do need to replace it. This way you can easily order it from the manufacturer if needed.
You can do all of this yourself, or you can take it in at the beginning of the mowing season and have it done by a professional. They normally do all the above things when tuning up your lawn mower. Tuneups are usually under a hundred dollars and should be done before it gets too busy if you want to keep your cost down. Keeping a spare blade around is also helpful if you have a rougher terrain or a lot of roots in your yard.
- Never add fuel to a hot lawn mower
- Wear clothing that protects your legs and body from projectiles shooting out from the mower
- Wear eye gear like safety glasses if there's a lot of debris the mower will be traversing over
- Keep children and pets away while mowing
- If your mower has a key, never leave it in the mower when it's not in use
Following these tips to keep your lawn mower well-maintained, as well as taking preventative measures before you mow, will make the task of lawn mowing a bit less daunting and perhaps even a little enjoyable.
*Recommended Mowing Heights
St. Augustine: 2 to 3 inches
Centipede: 1 1/2 to 2 inches
Bermuda: 1 1/2 to 2 inches
Bahia: 2 to 2 1/2 inches
Zoysia: 1 to 2 inches
Fescue: 2 to 3 inches
Bluegrass: 2 to 2 1/2 inches
Bentgrass: 1/2 to 1 inch
Perennial Ryegrass: 2 to 3 inches