Mowing Your Lawn? Skip One Week, but Not Two. (2024)

Ecologist Susannah B. Lerman believes most homeowners fall into one of three groups when it comes to lawn care. Group #1 includes “lawn people,” who covet the perfect lawn and “spend thousands of dollars each year to have a lush, green, weed-free lawn,” she said. Group #2 is made up of “neighbors of lawn people,” who are clueless, but watch what their neighbors do with their lawns, and follow their lead. “They figure that they, too, should irrigate, fertilize and mow,” she said. Group #3 are those who just don’t care, and “do the minimum to keep the lawn alive,” she said.

Which group are you in?

If you picked #3, or feel like you fit somewhere between #2 and #3, then give yourself a pat on the back. Believe it or not, by not doing much, you’re doing a lot. Mowing every two weeks — instead of weekly — and not dousing grass with chemical herbicides and fertilizers, helps the environment and supports the health of bees, which are among the world’s most important pollinators.

“Group #3 can feel vindicated, and can let their neighbors know that they don’t mow frequently, because it’s for the bees,” said Lerman, a scientist with the U.S. Forest Service and adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who conducted a study to see which lawn-mowing schedule was best suited for bees. The research recently appeared in the journal Biological Conservation.

Mowing Your Lawn? Skip One Week, but Not Two. (1)

“I don’t think households in group #1 will change too much, but I do think the research provides a nudge for folks in group #2 — and I think this includes a significant number of Americans, but I don’t have any data to back my hunches — yet,” she said. “The beauty of the study is that we can do something for conservation by doing less.”

Furthermore, unless you’re one of the few who still uses a manual mower, you’re also fighting climate change by saving energy, and curbing emissions of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. The early results of another Lerman study currently underway suggest that “lawns mowed every three weeks emit significantly less CO2 [than lawns mowed more frequently], so this can be part of the ‘package’ or message to mow less,” Lerman said.

Pollinators such as birds, bees, butterflies, moths, flies, wasps, beetles and bats are critical for agriculture and food production because they transfer pollen between seed plants, affecting a vast number of the world’s crops. Moreover, they have a role in maintaining biodiversity by helping to keep ecosystems in balance.

Buzz Kill

Climate change threatens coffee-pollinating bees.

But climate change has been disrupting the work of pollinators in recent years, especially troubling as bee habitats and populations also are continuing to decline. Bees are important pollinators and they have been suffering under a warming planet. Rising temperatures have threatened any number of bee species, including bumblebees. Shoring up bee habitats could slow this decline, and that’s where lawns come in.

While pollinators typically are found in more wild settings than lawns, Lerman’s research demonstrates “that areas previously dismissed as ‘non-habitat’ — and the loss of habitat due to urban development has huge implications for bee declines — actually support a surprising number of bees.” She added, “Lawns, when not fertilized or sprayed with herbicides, have the potential to provide habitat.” That could provide a lot of bee habitat. In the United States, lawns cover an estimated 63,000 square miles, roughly the area of the state of Florida, according to the study.

Mowing Your Lawn? Skip One Week, but Not Two. (3)

Lerman and her colleagues — including Joan Milam, also of UMass, Alix Contosta at the University of New Hampshire and Christofer Bang of Arizona State University — recruited 16 homeowners in Springfield, Massachusetts, and in 2013 and 2014 assigned each yard one of three mowing schedules: weekly, every two weeks or every three weeks. They then examined the bees’ response. The lawns were not watered or fertilized or had herbicides applied during the course of the study.

The scientists counted yard flowers — decorative flowers that homeowners avoid when mowing— and lawn flowers — weedy plants that are the target of lawnmowers. Researchers also measured average grass height and counted and identified bees. Lawns mowed every three weeks had more than twice as many weedy flowers as those mowed more frequently. Lawns mowed every two weeks, on the other hand, had the greatest number of bees, but less diversity among bee species than the other two intervals.

This finding surprised scientists, who had assumed that the longer time between mowing, the better it would be for bees. They speculate that bees have a tougher time reaching the flowers when the grass is very high. “We thought that the number of bees would match with the number of flowers,” she said. “However, the three-week yards had a lot more flowers, but also taller grass. For some of the really small bees — about the size of a grain of rice — it might have been too much effort to get to the flowers. And these small bees really dominated our study.”

Mowing Your Lawn? Skip One Week, but Not Two. (4)

Allowing dandelions, clover and other “weeds” to bloom — and not poisoning or whacking them — provides a source of pollen and nectar, two things bees need to survive, she said. “We refer to these ‘weeds’ as the unsung heroes for bee conservation,” Lerman said. “One thing we hope to do in future work is to start measuring the quality of these flowers and see how they compare to other types of flowers people plant in pollinator gardens. This will allow us to assess whether the dandelions and clover are ‘junk food.’ Other research has shown that the clover provides important food sources for bees, so perhaps the weedy flowers are ‘good enough.’”

The homeowners, for the most part, loved being in the study “but mostly, I think they loved the free lawn mowing we provided for the entire two years,” Lerman said. “The homeowners who received weekly mowing enjoyed the constant attention to their lawns, though when we arrived to mow, there were some weeks that the lawn didn’t really look like it needed a cut.” They mowed anyway to stick to the study protocol.

“The two-week yards usually looked ready for a mow and the homeowners from this group were also happy to see us,” she said. “When we arrived at the three-week yards, we had to convince ourselves that the lawns didn’t look that bad, but they did look messy. These homeowners…told us that their neighbors kept asking when the lawn was going to get mowed, or even offered to come over and mow the lawn for them, or at least dig up the dandelions. The householders resisted, proudly stated that the yard was part of a science project…All yards had lawn signs that explained the study but also — I hoped — let the neighbors know that, particularly for the three-week yards, that the ‘messiness’ was intentional.”

Mowing Your Lawn? Skip One Week, but Not Two. (5)

Lerman thinks people are obsessed with their lawns because “a lawn is considered an extension of the home and a status symbol,” she said. “The lawn or yard is a way for self-expression and how you present yourself to your neighbors.” Some spray and fertilize and mow weekly “because they think it’s expected of them to be accepted by their neighbors, and not always because that is what they really want to do.”

For these and other reasons, it may take a lot of persuasion to get them to change, she said. “But I think the bee issue is a hot topic, and really relevant, so letting society know that they can help bees might be a good message. I think stressing that they don’t have to do anything, but rather less of what they are already doing, might resonate with many.”

It certainly resonates with Lerman. “My time is precious and although I’ve dedicated my career to studying how birds and bees and other wildlife respond to the way we take care of our yards, I do the very minimum in my yard,” she said. “I don’t have time to plant a pollinator garden. And I know, for many folks, they might not have the time, the money or a green thumb for pollinator gardens. Hence the ‘lazy lawnmower’ message really speaks to me — and many others.”

Marlene Cimons writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture.

Mowing Your Lawn? Skip One Week, but Not Two. (2024)

FAQs

Mowing Your Lawn? Skip One Week, but Not Two.? ›

Failing to mow properly, including on the right schedule, can be impactful to your lawn's health and performance. The truth is, even if you feel like you can live with your lawn a little taller, mowing every two weeks as opposed to weekly mowing is not ideal for the overall health of your lawn.

Is it OK to cut grass every 2 weeks? ›

The rate of grass growth and desired height of your lawn determine how often you need to mow. Typically, mowing once a week during the growing season should suffice to keep your lawn healthy. The rest of the time, you can reduce the frequency of cutting to every other week, as necessary.

How many days should you wait between mowing? ›

You can mow your lawn more than once a week if you have received a lot of rain or fertilized your lawn. The trick is waiting until the grass is dry before mowing. Otherwise, stick to the seven to 10-day rule.

How long does grass get if you don't cut it? ›

How Long Grass Grows by Type
Type of GrassHow Tall It Can Grow
St. Augustine grass6 – 12 inches
Fine fescue8 – 12 inches
Perennial ryegrass12 – 24 inches
Kentucky bluegrass18 – 24 inches
4 more rows
Jan 12, 2022

Is it okay to mow a lawn once a month? ›

In the Summer, you should be cutting your lawn every two weeks unless temperatures exceed 120 °F. In this case, the grass is unable to grow due to the intense temperatures. When fall comes around, you can get away with mowing your lawn once a month, as there is less sunlight.

Is it bad to cut the grass once a week? ›

Normally, weekly mowing is the rule, but some lawns need cutting more often. Other lawns will grow more slowly and might need cutting only once every ten days or two weeks. Generally, don't cut off more than one third of the grass blade. More than that may harm the grass.

Is mowing lawn once a week too much? ›

Why is Weekly Mowing the Optimal Choice? The main reason why weekly mowing is a best practice is that it doesn't put as much stress on the lawn's health. After all, you have to remember that your lawn is made up of all these different grass plants, and as with any plant, cutting it can cause stress.

Does frequent mowing thicken grass? ›

Mow Properly

Using best practices for mowing helps your grass grow thick and stay that way. Rather than mowing based on your weekly calendar, mow according to grass needs. Mow often enough to maintain your grass type at its recommended mowing height without removing more than one-third of the height in a single mowing.

How often should I cut grass in summer? ›

One of the most common questions we hear is, “How often should you mow your lawn in the summer?” Over the summer you'll generally mow your lawn every 4 to 6 days. If there is a lot of rain or if you fertilize heavily, you'll want to mow every 4 days to keep your grass from getting too long.

Should you mow once or twice a week? ›

When the grass is growing rapidly, you will need to mow more often. Mow less often when the grass is growing slow. Cool-season lawns, like Tall Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass should be mowed about two times per week in the spring and fall, and about one time per week during the summer.

Why only cut 1/3 of grass? ›

By following the one-third rule for grass-cutting, you leave sufficient foliage to overcome the stress caused by cutting and to power the lawn's healthy growth via photosynthesis.

Does grass spread faster if you don't cut it? ›

The speed that your grass spreads usually depends on your type of grass. Some grasses spread quickly by sending out runners. Other types of grass don't spread as fast. Either way, cutting grass encourages it to put it's energy into roots and new shoots instead of height.

What happens if I never cut my grass? ›

There are practical, financial and legal consequences if you don't mow your lawn as required by local ordinances or homeowners' association covenants. You could be fined. A lien could be placed on your property. In extreme cases, you could be foreclosed on or even go to jail.

Is 4 inches too tall for grass? ›

For this reason, some people prefer to mow at 3 or 3.5 inches. For the healthiest and most sustainable approach, Michigan State University Extension says 3.5 to 4 inches is most desirable. Lawns mowed at 3.5 or 4 inches out-compete weeds, tolerate grubs and look just as good as lawns mowed at 2.5 inches.

Is it good to let your grass grow long sometimes? ›

A longer grass blade will shade the ground underneath, keeping it cooler, meaning it won't dry our as quickly as when the lawn is mowed short. In other words, the lawn does not have to receive as much supplemental water. Reduces weed growth.

Is it OK to mow every 3 days? ›

In the warmer months, grass should ideally be mowed every three or four days. Doing so increases the chances of a green and dense lawn, even in hot temperatures.

How often is too often to mow your lawn? ›

Many homeowners want to know, “How often should you mow your lawn?”. That answer depends on the season and the weather conditions, but generally you'll want to mow your lawn every 4 to 10 days.

What happens if I cut my grass too often? ›

Mowing too often, especially if you remove the grass clippings, runs the risk of depleting nutrients and can increase the build-up of thatch – that spongy layer that can cause issue with the health of the lawn.

Can you mow your grass too often? ›

Mow your lawn too often, and the lawn looks bare and scalped. Mow too infrequently, and the lawn looks overgrown and messy. Not to mention the possibility of weeds taking over an overgrown lawn – mowing does not just keep your lawn looking tidy; it can also keep your lawn healthy.

Does grass grow better when cut often? ›

It's easier, feeds the grass and leads to a better-looking and healthier lawn. "Frequent mowing, about once a week during the growing season, will have a greater impact on turf quality than any other lawn care practice except irrigation in the summer."

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