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Lawn Care - Fine Art Of Mowing, Rolling, Watering

( Originally Published 1906 )

On the new lawn—Rolling the keynote of success—Winter heaving Springtime repairs—Mowing essential—How often to cut—The clippings—Effects of insufficient cutting—Weather conditions—When to mow and water—The fallacy of sprinkling—How to use the hose.

ROLLING, mowing, and watering are the three essential details which require attention every year, and they must be carried out thoroughly year after year, without any sort of lessened vigour because the lawn is established. The whole object and aim of the after attention is to secure a uniform sod and even texture over the entire surface of the lawn.


A fall-sown lawn will hardly stand in need of mowing the same season. If the seeding was done in the spring or summer the grass must be cut as soon as it has attained a height of about three inches. But don't be in a hurry over this first trim. Use a scythe by preference. You will not then cut too close to the roots. Leave the cut grass on the lawn to act as a mulch.

After the grass has commenced to grow freely it may be cut once in ten days, and also rolled. In its first season the grass will not be rooted very firmly and the pulling of the knives of the average lawn mower will not tend to help things along. If a lawn mower is used see to it that the knives are set high, and keep the grass about two inches long all the season. In extreme hot weather the cutting may be lighter; rolling would be of more service.

The new lawn needs rolling frequently to make the roots as firm as possible, and the heavier the roller, the better. One man cannot be expected to haul a roller heavier than three hundred pounds, but a thousand-pound machine would be none too heavy.

As the fall approaches the mowing machine may be set to cut closer than it was in the summer, but cutting must cease for the year about the middle of September.


Nothing conduces more to the maintenance of perfect condition in the lawn than persistent and early rolling each year; not that rolling should be omitted any time during the season, but it is especially necessary in the early spring. Just as soon as the ground becomes workable and the grass starts into growth the whole surface should be thoroughly rolled again and again to effectively overcome the loosening effects of the freezing and thawing of winter.

The heavier the land, as a rule, the more necessary does rolling become. Everyone is familiar with the manner in which the plants in the herbaceous border are heaved out of the ground by the alternate thawing and freezing of winter. It is also one of the most potent sources of trouble in the strawberry patch, and is one of the strongest arguments advanced against fall planting. The same thing happens to the grass plants, the opening of heavy soils is persistent and continuous, and will play havoc even with a well made lawn unless persistent steps be taken each spring to counteract it.

Top dressings of good garden loam—rich fertiliser is not indicated—and rolling again and again will accomplish wonders. It is hardly possible to make the surface of the lawn too compact by this process. A roller which will exert a pressure of a thousand or even fifteen hundred pounds will not be too heavy. Therefore use as heavy a piece of machinery as you can comfortably handle. What is known as the water ballast roller, which consists of two hollow cylinders into which water or sand can be poured to ballast and attain the necessary weight, should find a place in the equipment of every country estate where a lawn of any large dimensions is to be maintained in good condition. These rollers are made on what is called the sectional pattern, that is, they consist of two or three distinct cylinders by means of which the machine can be turned without tearing the surface of the lawn; the two sections operate in different directions.


Mowing is necessary inasmuch as it pre-vents the plants from going to seed; and the prevention of seeding encourages vigorous vegetative growth, which means abundant foliage and bright healthy green colour. Nothing will work greater injury than seed formation. It exhausts the plant, and with many of the grasses which are included in lawn mixtures will inevitably result in their dying out.

If a lawn mower of the ordinary rotary knife type is used there is a tendency (especially in the younger age of the lawn) to set the knives so as to cut too close to the ground. This is trying in a variety of ways. Depriving the plant of nearly all its foliage taxes its vitality until it shall have made another start. In the meantime, as frequently happens in the early days of spring, there is a likelihood of the weather becoming suddenly hot and dry. The surface of the ground being exposed to the direct action of the sun's rays, and especially if there has been any large degree of feeding during the winter, the tax on the plants' constitution, as may be easily realised, is very severe. It is quite possible, indeed, to burn out some of the grasses in this way in the very earliest days of spring.

But frequent mowing is necessary owing to the vigorous growth that the grass will make, and it is generally better to mow often, say once a week, with the knives set high, than it is to allow the grass to attain several inches and then with a low set mower, to cut it right down close to the ground. It is a mistake to set apart a definite day for mowing, and then do the work because it is on the schedule. One must be guided by conditions, and if growth is very rapid mowing becomes necessary at very short intervals.

In general the knives should not be set less than two inches high, especially on lawns which are subject to traffic or usage of any sort. But if the grass has been allowed to get very long, the cutting should not be so close at first, and it would be better to use a scythe.

On areas of grass close around the house, on tennis lawns, and as edgings to flower beds or shrubbery groups bordering walks and driveways, persistent cutting, and maintaining the grass as nearly as possible at one uniform height throughout the year, conduces immensely to the general tone of neatness of the entire establishment. A garden where these features receive attention only occasionally, at somewhat lengthy intervals, looks irregular at all times, and when a great length of grass is removed, exposing the lower more or less yellowish under-texture, there is an unpleasant alternation of ragged long green and short yellowish brown. Of course if clover has been used freely in the mixture, and if some of the fescues are growing, the yellow effect of a closely cut lawn is not apparent, that is, so long as these maintain their hold on the ground. But in a properly prepared soil and a properly managed lawn they will be eventually crowded out as the permanent grasses gain control.


The clippings from the use of the lawn mower may, generally, be left on the surface of the lawn, not raked off. If the lawn be given constant attention, and cut whenever it needs it, so as to keep it as uniformly as possible at a height of about two inches, the clippings cannot be considered as an objection. Very often indeed they are positively beneficial, as they act as a mulch to the newly exposed soil. If a suddenly hot spell follows upon the cutting time the advantage of this slight protection to the soil is considerable.

If the grass has been allowed to grow to a considerable length, it will be necessary to rake off the clippings, and especially so if the soil is moist and very rich, because the cut grass will hang too heavily about the roots, and rotting, will give origin to a good deal of trouble.

On very poor soils it may be advisable to leave the clippings even if they are long. Rest assured that they will never be detrimental to the lawn unless they produce an unsightly effect. The cut grass will soon wither in the hot sun, and a few hours after the lawn mower has been taken over the surface there will be very little trace of the clippings.


Select a dull, cloudy day for mowing, if possible. The grass will cut more easily, and if it is to be raked off after clipping it is more easy to handle, and the shock to the plant from the cut surfaces is considerably less on a day when the sun does not strike with all its force.

But watering, when it becomes necessary on account of excessive drought, should be at-tended to independently of the weather. Of course there will be some loss from surface evaporation, if watering be done on a dry hot soil while the sun is still brightly shining, but it is an infinitesimal fraction and not worth serious consideration, and the benefit done to the grass will far offset any such loss.


Too often, because it is easier in the after years of the lawn's existence, the only attention it gets, other than occasional mowing, is watering; and this watering is generally accomplished in the most haphazard and laziest form imaginable. Surface sprinkling is responsible for more ultimate damage to otherwise good lawns than most people, perhaps, imagine. It is a very common practice to connect the sprinkler to the water stand-pipe, place it in the middle of the lawn, and let the water play for a few hours of an evening. It looks so pretty with the jets of fine spray glistening in the evening sun! It makes a great show but accomplishes precious little. Far better would it be to give the lawn a thorough soaking with water straight out from the nozzle of a hose once a week, or even once in two or three weeks. When you do water, water thoroughly.

Light surface sprinklings accomplish this much of good : They do check transpiration from the leaves and evaporation from the surface of the ground for a short time. But the trouble is that they do not give enough water to soak into the ground and really saturate it for a depth of some inches. The roots of the plants show a very natural tendency to seek the best supply of moisture, and continuous light surface sprinklings have the result of drawing the roots to the surface whereas they should properly be penetrating deep into the lower layers of the soil. This of course is but another argument for the very thorough and very deep preliminary preparation of the site. If the roots can find all they require at a depth of eight inches to a foot below the surface rest assured they will travel down to it. A lawn thus prepared in the first place can withstand the trials of an ordinary summer in the eastern United States without being watered even once, provided always that the site is not unduly drained, nor on the slope of a hill exposed to peculiarly drying conditions.

Occasionally there will be exceptional seasons which must be met by exceptional actions. Watering may then be a prime necessity; but, as a rule, if the beginnings are properly made, watering is not a necessity on the lawn. How much better to spend another twenty or thirty dollars an acre in the beginning, and avoid the mental worry, the continuous labour, and the unwelcome water bills of later years!

Even on sandy soils watering can be to a great extent obviated, and it is folly on any sort of soil to rush to use the hose in the early part of the year. On small lawns, watering is not such a serious problem; and, especially where the foundation has been on the inert soil thrown out in making the foundations for the house, it may not be economically practical to take the preliminary steps which would avoid its necessity. But on large areas of even half an acre the question of summer maintenance may become a seriously expensive problem.

When watering is necessary let it be done by laying the hose on the ground and allowing the water to flow freely from it in one spot for about an hour. Then move the end of the hose to another spot, thus watering the lawn in sections, the edges of which will just overlap. This can be carried on all day long, and at night too, for that matter. There is no reason whatever why the lawn should not be watered in the day time, sunshine not-withstanding. Even though it did result in burning in a few instances through the drops of water focusing the rays of the sun on to the leaves, the damage done will not be any more noticeable than is the browning of the cut edges which results from the use of the lawn mower.

Modern "irrigation systems "—of which there are several on the market—may be in-stalled when the lawn is being made. Some have sunken jets, others are attachable to standpipes, etc., and the particular merits of each should be considered for the particular site and conditions. There is no question of their efficiency, and the saving in labour as compared with the inconvenience of hauling a hose is very great.

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