lawn care help please
March 11, 2010 12:13 AM   Subscribe

[lawn care filter] I'm new to the world of lawn care. If I use a manual push mower (without a grass catcher) to cut my grass - would I need to rake and bag the cut grass afterwards or can I just leave it where it lies? (more inside)

Additionally, does anybody have any recommendations on which manual push power I should get? Previous related post is 2 years old and I am curious if things have changed.

-Vancouver, BC lawn
-front and back yard combine to around 5000 sqft (or is this too big for a manual push mower?

posted by cheemee to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It depends on how tall the grass is. If it's too long and you leave it the living grass that remains doesn't get sufficient sun and water. And the cut grass will dry out and turn gray and ugly.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 12:24 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I always just leave the cut grass where it lies.

As a warning, my experience with a push mower was terrible... it sucked at cutting tall overgrown grass and it would start sliding if the grass was even slightly wet. It ended up being a real workout too. Not in a good way.

I finally bought an electric mower then prompty kicked myself for not doing it years earlier.
posted by gnutron at 12:26 AM on March 11, 2010

If you rake and bag your grass, you're constantly taking organic material out of your lawn. Besides, you'd then have to get rid of the grass. I would let it lie.

If you're going to be using a manual push mower (you do mean non-motorized, right?) I can't imagine it would even be able to handle grass tall enough to kill your lawn when you mow it. Of course the mown grass will turn gray, but as long as you're not the kind of homeowner who thinks bloody dandelions are unsightly, you should be all set.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:38 AM on March 11, 2010

I don't have a push mower but Cool Tools recommends the Brill Reel Mower.
posted by sharkfu at 12:46 AM on March 11, 2010

If it doesn't make any difference to you whether the cut grass is there or not, then leave it for the above stated reasons. The neighbors I know that do this seem just to be anal retentive about how "clean" their lawn looks and they have the time to waste.
posted by thorny at 12:57 AM on March 11, 2010

gabrielsamoza is right. If the grass is longer than a two inches you're going to end up with a load of dry grass blowing around on top of your lawn; it'll take a good long while to break down and provide any benefit to the lawn. And even worse, if it's wet grass, it'll sit in clumps and prevent light and air getting to the living grass underneath.

Also, what tends to happen, especially if you cut it regularly, is that the cut grass works its way down into the lawn and forms 'thatch', a layer of dead material around the grass stems which can cause lead to fungal diseases as well as the growth of moss.

A healthy lawn needs air movement around the grass blades. Rake it up and compost it in layers with vegetable waste and shredded paper or dry leaves. That way you'll get all the nutrients back to use whererever you need them. Feed the grass with an organic liquid lawn food.

A push mower is for regular use, as in weekly. It'll handle grass up to about two inches. If you're doing it for the exercise, raking and moving the cut grass is good exercise too.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:52 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

'cause lead to'? Just pick one. Compost the 'cause'.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:53 AM on March 11, 2010

In areas of your lawn that get full sun most days, it's OK to leave clippings of fescue and bluegrasses lay where they fall; they'll be dried by the sun within a day, and (mostly) rot within a few weeks, returning some small quantity of organic material to the soil. But in areas of your lawn that are heavily shaded, if any, you need to be careful that clippings don't mat and provide a medium for growth of fungus and mold spores. These can quickly take over in all but the very best drained heavily shaded soils, killing off grass, and even creating bad smells. If you happen to have some of the runner type grasses as your predominant lawn, like creeping red fescue, or zoyzia, or some of the newer cold tolerant bermudas, you may also want to remove clippings by bagging at least, because runners can become dense enough that clippings never fall through to ground level, and mat, effectively shading the underlying grass into brown spots.

Of course, if you have runner grass types, a hand powered reel mower is pretty frustrating to try to use on their thick runners and blades. Best for fine fescues and bluegrass strains.

The real key to effective use of a reel mower is frequent mowing, and keeping the reel blades sharp and the cutter bar properly lubricated and adjusted for cutting pressure. Typically, you'll want to mow at least twice a week in early spring and late autumn, and in full summer heat, probably 3 or 4 times a week, because you never want the grass to get tall enough to be bent away by the reel, instead of being pulled in, and cleanly cut. If your lawn goes heat dormant in July and August, you can cut back your schedule to twice a week again, until fall growth resumes. Fast growing weeds are also not readily cut by most reel mowers, for that same reason. If you miss a mowing, on the next one, you may find yourself going over the lawn 4 or 5 times, trying to get all the tall sprouts to get into the reel and be cut cleanly, which is pretty time consuming. 5000 sq. ft. of a healthy lawn of fine fescue or bluegrass blend shouldn't take more than an hour to mow and another half hour to edge, if you keep up with it. So, twice a week, 3 to 4 hours of lawn/mower maintenance in spring and fall, and in summer, maybe 7 to 8 hours a week.

The big advantages of rotary mowers (electric or gas) over reel mowers is that they generally get the job done faster, by taking a wider cutting swath on each pass, and by letting you walk faster with good cutting results. They also are much less fussy about lawn height, so your lawn can grow taller between mowings, without costing you much extra time at the next mowing. And rotary mowers can mulch damp grasses of all kinds, or runner type grasses better than a reel mower ever will; rotary mowers in general, are less affected by grass conditions and weather than reel mowers, so you can cut grass after a brief rainstorm, or before morning dew has entirely evaporated, both of which are pretty frustrating conditions in which to reel mow.
posted by paulsc at 2:01 AM on March 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

The thatch layer doesn't happen if it is cut to small enough pieces. (Or, often enough.) With a manual, you have to cut it quite often. More like twice a week. If you are lopping off more than a half to 3/4 of an inch, that's too much.
posted by gjc at 2:03 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

We leave it most of the time, but once in a while we let it go into the attached bag and add it to the growing but never used pile of random organic matter behind the shed compost. We had a push mower but when it came time for a replacement we got a self-propelled one, as the backyard is a big hill.
posted by headnsouth at 3:39 AM on March 11, 2010

I used to use the abovementioned Brill mower and it is fantastic! We now have a much bigger lawn so I will not use it regularly anymore.

5000 sqft sounds doable and - as already mentioned - is a good exercise.
posted by Glow Bucket at 3:57 AM on March 11, 2010

Let me add my 2 cents worth here:

You're never supposed to cut off more than 1/3 of the leaf blade at one time. That's the optimal amount to balance tidiness with the health of the plant. As long as you're not cutting off more than that, then you should let the clippings lie.

You'll have to balance the turf height you want with how often you want to mow. As a general rule, more frequent mowing = better turf.

There's some good general information here.
posted by Shohn at 5:03 AM on March 11, 2010

If you mow when your lawn is too long then you need to bag it. If you mow it regularly and the clippings are not too long then you can let them lay there. However in the summer after rains your lawn can grow over night so you will have to keep up with things.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:55 AM on March 11, 2010

Grass clippings do not form thatch. Grass clippings eat thatch. The extra organic matter you leave on the lawn improves the soil and its breakdown will assist in breaking down of the thatch. Thatch is mostly the tough fibrous runners and roots. To avoid thatch don't over fertilize and cut it regularly. Organic fertilizers are a big help here as they release slowly and as needed rather than adding a big dump of nitrogen which overstimulates growth. They also help breakdown the clippings and the thatch. The clippings actually break down fairly quickly and their breakdown products help to stimulate breakdown of the thatch.

Your lawn is too big for a push mower unless you really want some exercise.
posted by caddis at 10:25 AM on March 11, 2010

It also depends on how you use your lawn. If you like to lounge out in the grass & read a book, or play badminton or croquet, you're going to get grass clippings alllllll over you every time you go out. If you have a dog or cat who uses the yard, they're going to get covered in grass clippings every time they go out. And then it all gets tracked back into the house, the laundry, the carpet...eughh.

But if you just like it to look tidy, then no worries!
posted by Fui Non Sum at 3:59 PM on March 11, 2010

Coming in late on this but: I have a huuuuuuge lawn (we think our back yard is 10,000sqft) that we're just starting work on, and we bought a push manual lawnmower, and it's great but it's not perfect. I completely recommend them if you don't have a regular work out routine and need a little extra exercise! It's not really that much work, I can do half of that picture in less than an hour, and it's quite meditative. And you can pick up attachments that fit on the back to catch the grass.

But. We do need a weedwhacker/strimmer and possibly need to borrow a regular electric mower in the future, because you can't go around edges, and any grass over a foot tall just gets pushed down instead of cut. If you can borrow a neighbour's electric mower to get the grass down to short height and maintain throughout with a manual, then it's 100% doable. 90% of my lawn cutting will be done by me, with a manual lawnmower.
posted by saturnine at 8:38 PM on March 12, 2010

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