Professional's guide to a good looking mulched lawn. Part 2
In part 1 of this post, I discussed what is needed to get that mulched lawn looking great. In part 2 I will go into more detail the challenges and techniques to accomplishing just that.
In an ideal world
You may have noticed in part 1, that I explained four of my top “have to’s” for a great looking mulched lawn. Of those four, two started off with the word IDEALLY, grass height and grass moisture. As anyone over the age of four has probably figured out, we do not live in an ideal world. In fact, when it comes to lawn mowing, whether you are a commercial mower or a homeowner do it yourself type, something always seems to come along and completely disrupt your well laid plans.
I am going to address the commercial mower side of this today. When it comes to grass height , there are two major deciding factors as to why grass height may not be ideal, economics and weather.
1) Economics: As I stated in part 1, in Duncan Oklahoma, within the growing season, the ideal grass height for mulching is usually reached within a week of mowing. There are a lot of customers who just can’t afford within their budget to have weekly lawn care. These customers, in my opinion, still deserve to have a nice looking lawn.
2) Weather: As we have already seen this summer, precipitation and moderate temperatures really gets all of nature growing, and grass is no exception to this. Even consistent scheduled mowing still gets interrupted by days of heavy rain. Rain not only prolongs the days in between mowing, it is the catalyst for excessive growth. It’s the ultimate “catch-22” for the lawn care industry, we need the rain for the grass to grow, and the rain is our biggest obstacle in keeping us on our work schedule. Words from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow come to mind, “The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” So true!
The best technique for mulching higher than ideal grass height is “multiple” cutting. Usually, on my Bi-weekly mowing customers, I proceed with a “double cut” technique every time I cut them. When grass is high the initial cut or “first pass” cuts the grass to the correct height and partially chops the grass to the desired sized pieces. There is usually so much grass within the mower deck, that even my commercial ztr riders can not chop it all. The clippings are larger than the target sized pieces and lay on top of the grass blades. I then do a second pass in the opposite direction that I mowed the initial time. This crisscross technique helps evenly distribute the now smaller more ideal clipping pieces throughout the yard. In excessive growth lawns sometimes a third or even fourth pass is needed.
Because of the time and extra fuel cost, a lot of lawn care companies refuse to employ this technique. They have the mindset that if the customer truly wants to have a nice looking lawn, they will have their lawn cut weekly. They will leave the unmulched clippings lay making the yard look less than desirable to try to “push” the homeowner into going to a weekly cut. As for me, the extra time and fuel cost is worth the customer satisfaction and the nice looking lawn that ultimately reflects on me and my company.
The other hindering factor to an ideal mulched lawn is grass moisture. There are a myriad of reasons why there may be too much moisture present in the lawn. For simplicity reasons I have narrowed it down to two categories, mother nature and human nature.
1) Mother Nature: This one if pretty much self explanatory. In our region a lot of times when we get precipitation it is accompanied by strong thunderstorms that can deluge our lawn with excessive amount of rain in a short period of time. The soil in our region is primarily made up of clay which is not conducive to good drainage. Water can set upon the yard for hours on end.
2) Human Nature: I lump pretty much everything else into this category. Let’s face it we are not perfect beings! Whether it is forgetfulness in leaving the garden hose running, or human error in not setting the sprinkler timer right, we have all been there. I have even had customers affected by bad driving, a fire hydrant was hit by a car once and flooded a customer’s yard, it took days for it to dry out! I throw mechanical failure into this category too, I mean after all someone has to be responsible for that water main break! Am I right?
Most lawn care companies, if they are truly blessed, have very full schedules, and at times need to get their customers mowed as soon as possible or risk falling too far behind and alienating those customers they have worked so hard to attain in the first place. This means sometimes wet yards have to be mowed.
With gator type mulching blades, which I recommended in part 1, they do an excellent job of chopping the grass into small pieces. However, because they DO an excellent job of this, it can lead to excessive clumping of the clippings when the grass is wet. I have two approaches to alleviating this problem, using only half of the decks cutting width and using a powerful commercial leaf blower.
The first approach is to not take full cutting widths with my mower, I usually take half a deck’s cutting width, this helps reduce the clumping because the clippings have more space inside the deck to disperse. Half of the deck is used for cutting and gathering the clippings, the other half of the deck basically “airs out” the clippings causing more moisture to be released. thus reducing clumps.
The second approach is the commercial leaf blower. No matter how much care and technique is used to reduce clumps, you will inevitably have some clumping. Using a commercial grade leaf blower, which can have wind speed between 150-200+ mph, can disperse the clumps back into the finely chopped clippings that fall down to the soil layer. This can be a very time consuming process, because it requires, at times, walking the entire yard, However, it is a very necessary process in giving your lawn a nice clean look.
As with the multiple cutting technique that I explained above, using the techniques of half width deck cutting and power blowing clumps technique is a time and fuel consuming process, that a lot of lawn care companies just will not do. In the end, however, the consumer has the ultimate power. If your lawn care company is not making your lawn look the way that you want it to, insist that they do! If they still can not provide you with the results that you want, find a company that will. There are good companies out there and you can find one to fit your needs!