Posts Tagged Grass
Mowing offers some interesting conundrums for an eclectic dinner party conversation. It is a bit like folding the fitted sheets when you take them down from the clothes line. Do you fold the corners first or fold in half and then try to tuck in the corners nicely? Do you mow in ever-expanding circles around your trees, crop-circle style?
The previous article in this 2-part segment gave an overview of basic mowing strategies pertaining to how often to mow and how short to cut your grass. In this part, we will explore the science behind mowing patterns as well as basic safety considerations. We have not yet resolved whether there is a reason to mow in one direction or another, so let’s begin with this.
Lawn maintenance experts advise to change directions about every other time you mow. Thus there is a science to the perpendicular and parallel lawn mower choreography. They also recommend adjusting your lawn mower to alternating cutting lengths. Both strategies will ensure a more natural looking lawn. Varying the length, ever so slightly, compensates for the inevitable scalping of uneven lawn sections. Linear mowing also cuts down on your mowing time.
We each have our own style when we do yard work and with tasks that present some challenges we tend to let our ego get in the way ever so slightly. Take the inclined lawn, for example. How do you tackle that hill with grace? The neighbors or occupants of cars passing by may have an opinion about your lawn mowing style. You must appear confident and sure-footed. Not only that, but at some level we all have a natural inclination to approach nature as an adversary we must conquer. We will not let that hill defeat us! Confidence begins with safety, hence the science of hill mowing.
Mow across hills; never up and down, not even if you have come up with a clever contraption to allow you to stand at the top of the hill and hoist the mower up and down with a pirate ship’s pulley (I confess that I have done this in my youth and it was more struggle than it was worth). Have you ever noticed the moisture bead that forms on the surface of a fresh cut when you trim a house plant? It is the same with grass. For this reason, freshly cut grass can get rather slippery. Add the incline, and you have all the ingredients for a slip of the foot right into the lawn mower blades.
Furthermore (Granny is not done… “listen to your Granny” once said Goatman Dave at Emerson’s Acre), take a stroll around the yard before you begin mowing to remove any object or obstacle, including the sprinkler head, even if the hose is not attached to it and you were going to mow around it. A moment of distraction and that little device will send you to the emergency room.
Mowing is not rocket science, but there is a science to it nonetheless. As for the science of folding fitted sheets… someone should invent Velcro corners that open up flat for storage. We’ve got gardens to tend and a lawn to mow and little time to fight with the sheets.
Diagonally would make an interesting pattern, but parallel to the house would be easier. Then again, perpendicular to the house would create depth. How short should it be? Is it a matter of preference or is there a scientific reason behind the golf green, besides accommodating the game? Should I mow every week whether it needs it or not or should I wait until the grass has reached a certain height? Is a rotating blade better than a reel blade?
As you might have guessed, we may be trading the lawn mower for a baler before we answer all of the above questions and finally take action. As with most everything in life, a balanced mixture of knowledge, gut feeling and personal preference is the proper way to go. So here is a bit of knowledge to consider. I leave the gut feeling and good taste to you.
Lawn mowing is a Cartesian activity, so let’s ponder logical questions. First, what sort of grass do you have around your property? Different varieties of grass thrive at different cutting heights and intervals. Experiment, but there are general rules of “green” thumb, so to speak: Grass grows healthier root systems the taller it is allowed to get. Taller grass also creates more shade for itself, which preserves moisture and further helps nourish your lawn. When the grass gets to the point where it is not unsightly, yet generates shade for itself, cut at 1/3 its height.
Once you have experimented with this approach, decide how high you are willing to let your grass grow between trimmings. Consider how healthy it appears. A mowing schedule will emerge naturally after just a few weeks. Remember, however, to always cut at 1/3 the general height. Do take into account your lawn mower‘s abilities and shortcomings. If it struggles in longer grass, then you must take this into consideration. Like any other yard work, if lawn mowing turns into a struggle, you are not going to enjoy your time taking care of the property and maintaining the beautiful environment for which you work so hard. Make it easy on yourself. Use the right equipment and use it smart.
How often do we turn a normal yard maintenance task into a nightmare? We curse our equipment or the task itself, forgetting that changing the situation may be as easy as changing our process. I used to have a neighbor who hated to mow his lawn because it took too long with his old mower and too much time after his work day. Someone suggested he do it on weekends. He responded that weekends were for playing. Someone suggested that maybe he could turn lawn mowing into something fun. He doubted that, but at about that same time he ended up deciding to purchase a new lawn mower because he had had it with the old, stubborn one.
The new lawn mower ran as smoothly as a chef’s whisk in light whipped cream (never thought you could compare a lawn mower to a whisk now, did you?). The next time said neighbor was seen mowing his lawn, on the weekend thank you very much, and the next time after that and the next, he was observed making a “vrooooom” sound with his lips has he walked up and down his front lawn with a light, cheerful spring to his steps.
In America, we have been more concerned with the aesthetics and perfection of the grounds around our homes since the 18th century than at any other time in history. Grass is the carpet nature provides to soften our steps and our falls. So why do we not plant luscious flowers everywhere, for extra cushioning?
The answer is rather simple. Flowers are too delicate. No other plant has the resilience of grass; resilience to wind, frost, injury, trampling, burning, drowning, chopping, munching, ripping. No other plant has so many competitors for its ability to provide nourishment. Species across the spectrum of animal and insect life either rely on grass as a main source of food or as a back-up source, or as a host for its actual favorite fare or as a building material for shelter and nesting. And we are not the least of these, for we continually invent new ways to use grass. We even drink it. We turn it into juice with our juicers and we turn it into beer. We cut it when it is tall to provide fiber for manufacturing ventures of all sorts, turn it into art, bedding, fuel for our cars and so on.
Lawn Fact 1 - A 50′ x 50′ (2,500-square-feet) patch of grass produces enough oxygen for a family of four.
Lawn Fact 2 – A dense lawn can absorb rainfall four times better than a hay-field and as much as six times better than a wheat field.
When we think of grass, we think of the lush green blades that grow by the thousands around our homes. In reality, there is no single plant called “grass.” That is just a general term, like “bug’ is a general term. It is estimated that there are at least 5,000 different species of grass. Some grow to a few inches while others, such as bamboo, reach several feet. Specific characteristics unite them. The most outstanding is the fact that unlike other plants, grasses grow from the bottom up, sprouting new leaves from the bottom, not the top. And this is grass’ beauty secret; the reason why we can cut it over and over.
Lawn Fact 3 – A 100′ x 100′ lawn (10,000-square-feet) is actually not a very large area, but if it is covered with grass, it is home to six grass plants per square inch or 850 plants per square foot and its overall grass population is 8.5 million plants.
If you live or have lived in a place where you have lawn around your home, how often have you heard a window suddenly slide open upon a summer afternoon to release the voice of an irate parent ordering the children off the grass and into the flower beds? Trampling the grass is acceptable. Trampling the flowers is not. Yet, beauty attributes aside, grass is more valuable than flowers in many respects.
Lawn Fact 4 – Early lawns were trimmed by grazing livestock. Talk about mowing and trampling! In the early days of The White House, under Presidents Washington and Jefferson, sheep kept the lawns trimmed around the presidential home.
Ever since we have cared for the grasses around our homes, buildings and other structures, we have used grass as a landscaping device. It adds a touch of nature while not hiding the view, it leads to pond and lake shores in a sort of perpetual invitation to play Badminton or have a picnic, and when snow melts it ensures there is something natural and pleasing to the eye to look at, rather than mud. Thus just as we believe we are using grass for its convenience, so are we allowing it to reduce pollution, preserve moisture and provide a natural cooling mechanism in our towns and cities.
Lawn Fact 5 – The grass clippings left behind after mowing are made up of 90 % water.
Lawn Fact 6 – Grasses cool the air by a process of transpiration. As much as 50% of the heat that strikes the ground is eliminated by this process when grass is present. In reality, the plant transpires to cool itself, but it cools its surroundings in the process. There can be a difference of 25 degrees between a sidewalk and the adjacent grass. Thus grass is a natural and very cost-effective air conditioning system.
Lawn Fact 7 – It is estimated that homeowners across America spend at least four hours per week mowing and caring for the lawn around their homes. That time does not include gardening activity. It pertains strictly to lawn care.
It is true that grass requires much maintenance. In this modern age, with plastic bottles recycled into playground equipment and even clothes, why would we not at least reduce maintenance cost and time on surfaces that are not directly connected to our homes, like highway medians and road-sides, for instance? Perhaps partially because we need to see real grass. We need to know that nature is right there by our side. Also, engineers routinely use grass as soil retainers. Grasses prevent and slow erosion. An artificial surface simply cannot take care of itself and its surroundings as grass does. For now. I’ll admit that my secret wish is that it remains this way.
Lawn Fact 8 – Grass roots and the soil in which they rest act as a filter when the water flows through; one that has the ability to break down pollutants and thus purify water on its way to underground aquifers. In addition to this, grass helps control air pollution. It does so by trapping dirt and dust particles from the air. It is estimated that as much as 12 million tons of pollutants are filtered by grasses each year.
Of all the plant life on the planet, grass may be the one we trample and abuse the most, inevitably. It is right there under foot, after all. Yet it is most essential to our well-being. Thankfully, it serves its many purposes through time, in spite of trampled battlefields and cattle drives, industrial revolutions, sidewalks, parking lots, baseball games, busy school yards, playgrounds and shopping plazas.
Gold is more valuable than silver, and it is more resilient and pliable. If grass is the golden mane of the earth, then flowers and trees are precious gems.
Lawn Fact 9 – A 35-year-old, 5 1/2-foot woman weighing about 135 pounds can burn 259 calories per hour while pushing the lawn mower. A man of the same height and weight can burn 280.
PS: I invite you to read the very insightful comments made by readers regarding this article. They are quite thought-provoking and sensible and have inspired me to add the note that follows… Though this article centers on the benefits of lawns and grass, it is not intended to exclude other vegetation. Diversity is the true language of nature.