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Mowing high...?

Margaret Yoder


Joined: May 12, 2010
Posts: 7
What's the best way to figure how high you're mowing? We have an ancient riding mower with 5 settings. Say we mow it at the highest setting... then would I just go around the lawn with ruler, and shove it down into the lawn and measure?

My real problem is that we've been mowing pretty high ( I think) but then throwing the clippings out into the woods. We've found that if we let them lie, the grass under the piles of clippings dies. We have a huge lawn (30,000 square feet I guess), and don't mow very often. We have to wait until the grass is dry enough and how often does that happen? Especially in a spring like this one. Even if it were dry, it's hard to want to mow twice a week with busy lives and small children.

So the soil is eroding away down to the clay, getting worse and worse. We live in the country in Ohio. Sigh. I guess there's no good answer short of (a) spending LOTS of money on stuff like compost to add, or (b) spending all our free time mowing. I don't really want to fertilize even, as that seems like it would only make the grass grow faster.

I guess I'm just complaining, and know the answer... which is wait about 2 years until the child is old enough that I have more free time, and then start working to repair the damage we're doing. 
duane hennon
volunteer

Joined: Sep 23, 2010
Posts: 404
Location: western pennsylvania zone 5/a
    
  13



  hi Clarabear

do we need to mow 30,000 sq ft?
is it used as a playfield?
can some be put into wildflowers (not mowed)
unless you have a restriction (homeowners ass'c, township ordinance, etc) the line between "yard" and "not yard" is yours. when someone asks "why aren't you moving over there?,,you can say "because that's not yard"
Margaret Yoder


Joined: May 12, 2010
Posts: 7
Sadly, my husband wants the lawn to look perfect all the time - even though our neighbors actually sort of make fun of us for keeping it so nice! They're all more permaculturally correct  than we are. I feel I'm doing well to keep him from poisoning the weeds - an argument we have every summer, it seems. So unless I had the time to replace the lawn with something even fancier (perennial beds?) and more pretty, I'm sort of stuck with it.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15607
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Yes, I would take the ruler out there after mowing and see how high it is.

If your mowing leads to big clumps of grass on the lawn, then you are probably mowing too low. If you are getting big clumps while mowing high, then you are probably not mowing often enough.


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Diane Lewis


Joined: Oct 13, 2014
Posts: 17
    
    4
Hi Margaret,

Let your lawn grow to 4" and cut it back down to 3". That leaves only 1" clippings which can be left in place and return nitrogen to the lawn. They are all the fertilizer an established lawn needs. The longer blade gives the plant more room for photosynthesis, and the roots will be as long as the blade so the plant will be stronger and withstand drought better. Consider aerating and overseeding once a year in the early fall.
Duane makes a good point-maybe let some of the area grow into meadow, or plant some native plants.
Your children will love the wildlife that will be attracted. Echinaccea and Bee Balm attract lots of honey bees, butterflies, dragonflies, hummingbirds and goldfinch.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15607
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
From the article ... weeds tend to be happy with mowing low:




And grass tends to be happy with mowing high:




For people with acres of pasture, I think mowing at 6 inches might be best (depending on grass species).

For people with urban lawns, I think mowing to 3 inches is usually good enough, but for some cases, mowing to four inches is even better.

I agree with Diane that you would usually cut when your lawn is about an inch taller than you mow. Of course, it's a difficult thing to measure since a few blades of grass will get to be an inch taller in a few days and other blades might take months. But the key is that when you mow high, you don't get the clumping globs of grass nearly as often. And if you do get clumping globs of grass that will smother other grass, then you did wait to long between mowings.

If you mow low, you might have to mow every week, or even more often. If you mow high, you often mow about half as often.

I wish to express a school of thought that is different from Diane: I suggest that folks not do overseeding, but, rather, build their soil so that the turf will become thicker rhizomadously (a grass plant will shoot out a rhizome which creates a new grass plant).

And as for aerating: I worry about turf that benefits from aeration. I think it is a sign of a deeper problem. Further, I think that some lawns have such a thin soil, that aeration might actually make things worse. Consider this: if your lawn is loaded to the gills with happy earthworms, then wouldn't that suggest that you don't need aeration?


paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15607
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I read stuff about "native plants" so many times this morning I felt it was time to start a new thread on the topic. It turned out I had a lot more to say on it than I originally thought: the dark side of native plant enthusiasm
Diane Lewis


Joined: Oct 13, 2014
Posts: 17
    
    4
You are raising some really great points.
I think part of why we look at this differently is the difference in living in Missoula verses living in New York. I agree that if you have a good, established soil culture or if your native soil is a rich loam, you will not need to aerate regularly. On the other hand in many areas aerating can really help establish a good soil culture. I live in New York where the native soil is mostly clay-like.
Most turf grass here is a combination of Kentucky Blue grass, Rye, and Fescue-so both bunch grass and rhizomatous, all cold season and none of them native. Some people will add warm weather grasses like Bermudagrass to outcompete the weeds when the cold weather turf is dormant, but many people don’t love the way it looks and it can be aggressive.

Over a decade ago I spoke with the soil scientists at Cornell’s Soil Center in Amenia New York, and they suggested aerating and leaving the grass longer. This helped tremendously. So did adjusting the pH with lyme in some areas.

Aerating helps the roots grow because they aren’t compressed (think a seed starting mix that is loose and loamy), and supplies them with oxygen. It also lets water and nutrients get to the roots more easily. The plants nourish the soil bacteria, building up a good soil culture and a large, productive layer of topsoil. When the blades of grass are longer the roots are longer, there is more photosynthesis and the roots weep carbohydrate that feed the soil bacteria. So longer grass and aeration helps build up the soil. The cores from aeration stay on the lawn, but start adding a looser, loamier layer, especially with clippings, fine leaf mulch, and occasional compost if necessary. If you have great soil, I agree you don’t need to aerate. I also think it is easier to get good soil in a meadow with a variety of grasses and legumes that you let grow most of the season.

Overseeding is suggested by both Cornell and Rutgers organic programs to outcompete weed seeds on mowed turf. An established pasture does not need it. But here we suffer from both Japanese stilt grass and crab grass in turf. The seed is ubiquitous, and overseeding at the right time helps out-compete these weeds. They are both annuals, and mowing before they go to seed is crucial in controlling them.The alternative is just tolerating the stilt grass for a month or so in August.


Then there is the earthworm issue. I’m mentioning this only because I think you might find it interesting, not because I think it is practical, and it only pertains tot he Northeast. I just don’t worry about it, but many ecologists in the northeast consider earthworms an invasive species... Dr. Peter Groffman is a microbial biologist and researcher at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. He says glaciers killed all of the earthworms in the north east during the ice age, and the temporal forests of the northeast developed without them. Forests south of New Jersey developed with them. Why are earthworms bad for temporal forests? He says the forest soil of a northern temporal forest is characterized by a thick forest floor, or duff layer that is 5 or 10 centimeters thick and you can pick it up like a carpet. It is consists of decomposing organic matter and leaves. This duff layer is important in carbon sequestration and water retention, two crucial functions of the forest. Once earthworms are added to the forest, in two to four years the forest floor disappears. This not only leads to diminished ability to retain carbon and buffer floods, but also facilitates the invasion of nonnative plants and invasive species. There is also a loss of spring ephemeral plants and understory growth. The trees then have an increased sensitivity to drought and climate changes with these changes in the forest floor. Soil fauna such as salamanders suffer, but white-footed mice that transmit Lyme disease flourish, leading to an increased tick population. He is studying this in Cornell’s Arnot Forest and Millbrook’s Tompkins Farm. He said that the worms that we see in rich soil don’t make the soil rich, but instead enjoy rich soil. This is different from composting where the worms are clearly wonderful! Anyway, this is just out of interest and I hope not took wonkish!
matt sorrells


Joined: Jan 19, 2014
Posts: 87
Location: Canton, NC
    
    3

Earthworms dont MAKE good soil? I'm not sure how much advice I'd take from that fella. They eat and then they poop. Castings are what people pay big money for at farmers markets because it is so rich and great. We have earthworms and lots of salamanders that are only suffering from our pollution of water sources. Did you know earthworms are a natural food source for salamanders? From my perspective, I'd run from that guy.

Is it possible you can fence off the area and stick an animal in there? Perhaps a pony or something picturesque like that (if someone is requiring it for looks, that is)? That's a whole lot of space that can be very nearly described as wasted by many.

Maybe fruit trees with an understory of something? Community garden?

We have lots of clay around here in NC, and previous to the last year, I would have said "dump tons of lime on it!", but now I see the wisdom of organic matter. mulch, mulch mulch. on the yard. If you dumped a few cm of mulch on the yard every spring, after a few years you'd have thick topsoil with no fertilizer. If you stuck an animal in there, you'd have it mowed for you, and fertilized naturally. Around here, in the woods, you can dig down and for a few feet the soil is BLACK and beautiful, then you get to the natural clay. Just red. This is due to many years and many tons of organic matter dumped on it with lots of worm activity. Although, if you DID have a very thick topsoil layer with great soil and aeration, you'd have to mow more often!

I used to mow my lawn close and twice a week. After reading alot on here, I started mowing high. Like, as high as the mower will go. Still not high enough. Wish I could overinflate the tires and get another inch or so! I almost want to take the bush hog and mow it 8 inches high now!! it's greener, and it has lots more clover (which my bees love). Now when my dad complains about the high lawn, I point out that he mows 3 or 4 times for every time I mow once, and my lawn is covered by honeybees and the grass is greener (no fertilizer). He also carts off his clippings, where mine just disappear into the lawn. I just cant deal with that many clippings at once yet, so they go on the woods.


Peter Ellis


Joined: Apr 04, 2013
Posts: 807
Location: Central New Jersey
    
  26
Matt Sorrells, earthworms make different soil than what happens in the northeastern temperate forests without earthworms.

Not that they don't make good soil, but it is not the soil that those forests are adapted to grow in.

There's some real division about earthworms and whether one should encourage them or not. I think, among other things, it depends upon where you are and what you are trying to do.

I also think that there is probably a rather inevitable process occurring, in which warming temperatures probably play a part, where earthworms are going to expand further and further, producing changes in the character of the soil in areas they expand into and resulting shifts in the overall ecology of the area. Unless there is some sort of earthworm predator that is capable of stopping their expansion, all they have to do is keep moving about the way they do and over time they will find their way into any land that is not physically isolated - and even then, it's just a delay before they get introduced with help from animals.


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Kris schulenburg


Joined: Feb 22, 2013
Posts: 80
Location: Henry County Ky Zone 6
    
    3
My ex-inlaws are in the lawn business. They always say "what is in the top !/2'' of growth would feed the lawn and no one would need us to fertilize". If your husband won't let you implement the other good ideas people have posted, make him get you a mulching rider so at least you are building your soil instead of using time and energy moving valuable nutrients to where you don't need them. (I have a lawn loving husband too) Good Luck
 
 
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