Now that I have revealed more of who I am and what I’ve been up to in the previous article, how do some of you feel, knowing I have motor oil running through my veins (figuratively and literally)? Are some of you turned off by this? Can others relate to me? Regardless, I have always been drawn to the environment and preserving it as is and have since felt closer to nature since discovering the raw vegan lifestyle. While I may have some reservations about America, question a lot of its politics and consider myself someone who happens to live here rather than a citizen of this country, I think parts of it—such as the car culture, classic movies and TV shows and the 1980s—will always remain with me.
Even though this is a website devoted to promoting a healthy lifestyle and helping people find their own healing paths, I will actually devote an article or even a series of articles on how I’ve been influenced by the American culture as mentioned above. This may seem out of place with the messages that Fruit-Powered.com and similar websites promote, but there are awesome stories to tell within the culture related to being in tune with ourselves and the surrounding environment.
With that being said, this month’s article and the ones following it will be focused on a small part of the lawn-care industry that I have grown attached to ever since I caught my first taste of it as a young boy. It may not be about how to build gardens to maximize soil health or planting native plants to benefit the local wildlife, which can be expensive and time consuming, but it will be dedicated to maximizing the beauty of your lawn, which is what most of us have and are used to working with, as organically as possible. Lawns are, after all, the next-best thing to vegetable gardens and native landscapes, so it is a great pleasure to share with you some secrets I have learned from my 20-plus years of lawn maintenance.
Just some words of caution: Safety first. Seriously, use your head before you do anything with your hands or feet, especially around lawn mowers! The last thing you want is body parts resembling the warning stickers on mowers.
The Rage for Lush Green Lawns
People around Greater Philadelphia and throughout most of America have one desire in mind for their lawns: If it doesn’t look like Wrigley Field, it must at least resemble it. I’m going to start off by saying that if you need to have a Wrigley Field on your lawn, expect to fork over big bucks for a specialized reel mower or lawn crew that will need to cut it three times a week and an automated irrigation system as well as have reserve funds for the upkeep the lawn will require. Or you could follow some simple steps that your wallet will love and the environment will benefit from, at least an environment where lawn-mowing is commonplace because lawns are not exactly natural to begin with.
There are basically two different types of mower blades: rotary and reel. Rotary blades are more commonplace on regular lawn mowers, so I will discuss these here. These range from regular and mulching to high-lift and gator blades. Regular blades come on most consumer mowers and do a somewhat acceptable job of cutting grass. The advantage of this blade type is that the engine does less work to cut the grass.
Mulching blades are designed to work with decks that do not have a discharge chute or a closed one and keep the grass clippings floating at the top of the deck while the blades continue to break them up into smaller pieces before the clippings settle to the ground. These kind of blades are great on mowers that are used in areas where you don’t want grass clippings discharged such as around pools, parking lots that see heavy use or golf course sand traps. There is a downside to using these blades: They tend to leave clumps of grass behind if the grass is wet and/or high, bogging down the engine.
My favorite blades are the high-lift blades, designed for the cleanest cut possible by sucking up grass blades, leaving behind a very smooth and even cut while dispersing clippings away from the mower, as spread out as possible. The only downside of using these blades is that they will slow an engine down slightly over regular lift blades, but some consumer-grade engines and most commercial-grade engines are designed to accommodate these blades.
Gator blades are great for breaking up grass clippings and leaves, not unlike mulching blades, but disperse clippings away from the mower like high-lift blades. Some professionals report a weird-looking cut with some grass species while others swear by it. These have provided an above-par cut quality for me in the fall in areas where there are a lot of leaves, while the high-lift blades provide superior cut quality.
Are Your Blades Sharp?
One factor that affects grass color is the sharpness of the blade(s). The sharper the blade, the cleaner the cut, and the more dull the blade, the more the tips of the grass will tear. Tears cause browning at the tips of grass blades and can make lawns appear dry even if they are getting enough water. Sharp blades also minimize mowing time. The thinner a blade, the faster it will wear out.
I’ve been able to get about 20 hours out of my new blades, which are pretty thick at 0.203 inches, but most professionals seem to sharpen theirs at or before 15 hours. Some even change them out daily. For the average homeowner, I recommend buying two new sets of blades and changing them out once a season. That way, you can sharpen both sets prior to the next mowing season.
There are various sharpening tools, from the subtly priced drill-mounted grinder to the more expensive rotary-wheel grinder, designed for lawn mower blades. The former costs about $20 and is an acceptable method for homeowners, paying for itself the first time you sharpen your blades. The latter is designed for lawn-care providers or mower shops and costs in excess of $250. Another alternative is to take your mower or mower blades to a shop and have them do it for you for $10 to $15 a blade. Dab some oil on the freshly sharpened areas of the blades if you are not going to be using them for a couple of months to prevent the exposed metal from rusting.
When my blades are curved to the point where sharpening does not straighten out the bend or if they are badly chipped, I replace them with another set of blades because these factors greatly diminish cut quality. If your mower can take it, go with the thickest-grade blade you can find as long as the length and center-hole dimensions are the same. Bear in mind the thicker a blade, the heavier it is, and the more an engine will have to work to turn the blade.
Not only do blades require sharpening, they must be balanced after sharpening. Otherwise there will be excessive premature wear to engines of which the blades are directly attached to or the spindles if the blades are belt or hydraulically driven. An unbalanced blade can work the bolt that holds it in place loose, warp mower decks from the unbalanced force, and even forcing spindles loose from the mower deck! Cone balancers are a cheap investment and usually come with the drill attached blade-sharpening grinders. You can get good quality, more precise ones that are slightly more expensive. They are also so easy to use that even a monkey could do it and tell you whether or not the blades are balanced.
My Big Green Secret
Forget irrigation systems! Say no to hazardous chemical treatments! My biggest lawn-care secret is so simple, yet not so well-known. It’s the reason most of my clients’ lawns are greener than adjacent lawns. This is how I am able to easily attain that desirable Wrigley Field look cheaply and effectively. People associate green lawns with golf courses and major league ballparks because they are always green, but they do not realize what goes behind the maintenance of these grasses such as expensive irrigation systems, heavy chemical treatments, seasonal aeration and continuous mowing.
For example, golf courses mow their greens on a daily basis during the season and have their irrigation systems running as often as it takes to keep the grass green. Various chemicals are applied weekly to eliminate weeds, pests and even diseases. Specialized equipment must be maintained every couple of days. Other duties such as aerating and dethatching must take place on a seasonal basis to maintain the cycle. This is akin to a high-maintenance wife who always has PMS, and who wants that?
We have been so brainwashed into thinking short lawns are the way to go that they cause more problems! Short lawns promote unwanted weed growth and less water retention and are almost always brown because of dryness—and look horrible. As with diet, the answer, like I regularly mention, is to refer to nature, which is always growing. Are you ready for this?
The big secret, believe it or not, is to mow high! The ideal grass-cutting height for shady areas is between 3 to 4 inches while open-sun areas are ideally cut at or above 5 inches. Cutting the grass at these lengths ensures the rule of thumb of cutting no more than one-third of the length of the grass is met. This ensures grass clippings are short and more evenly distributed throughout the lawn, enabling the clippings to serve as a natural fertilizer. As indicated in the pictures, grass clippings are barely visible on a properly mowed lawn and have many benefits over bagging or raking up the clippings. Higher lawns also discourage weed growth and make them less noticeable.
Cutting high also makes the signature of my services—the stripes—more prominent. This is what everyone sees, so no one is paying attention to the height of the grass. But you will need to wait until next month to learn about how to make these highly desirable lawns stripes I get paid to make!
Check out Korey’s transformation story!