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Mowing Tall Fescue

Among the many facets of managing Tall Fescue in our climate, mowing practices play a role in Tall Fescue success. Below are some simple mowing tips to help Charlotte’s most popular turf grass, Tall Fescue, do it’s best here in the Charlotte area.

Mowing Height

Generally speaking, set your mower blade height as high as it will go. This is usually around 3 ½” to 4”. Some say tall fescue can be mowed as low as 2 ½”. And this may work for cooler climates, but having our boots on the ground in Charlotte for over 20 years, 2 ½’ is way too low to maintain tall fescue at its best in our area. 3 ½” seems to be a minimum mowing height for best practice.

The Benefits of Higher Mowing Height

The higher Tall Fescue is mowed, the better it can shade out crabgrass. A 2007 NC State University study (https://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/2015/04/mowing-height-impacts-weed-populations/) showed significant suppression of crabgrass in tall fescue the higher it was mowed. At a 1” mowing height, crabgrass infested 95% of the turf area. However in the test area that was mowed at 4”, there was 0% infestation of crabgrass! Now realistically speaking, just raising your deck to 4” is not going to eliminate crabgrass. But the study does shed light on the impact mowing height can have in combatting weeds.

There is also a correlation between blade height and root depth. The lower the mowing height, the shallower the roots. Proper mowing height contributes to deeper roots and that helps summer hardiness.

Mulch, don’t bag

Avoid bagging your lawn. Allowing grass clippings to fall back to the ground is referred to as grasscycling. It contributes to a healthier soil, and can reduce fertilizer needs by as much as 25%. To illustrate, consider the fact that every 100 pounds of dried grass clippings contains 4 pounds of Nitrogen, ½ pound of Phosphorus, and 2 pounds of Potassium. By grass cycling you are literally adding fertilizer back into the soil. And that isn’t all. This organic matter also gives microbial life in the soil more to feast on. As the microbial populations grow, nutrient availability in the soil is also increased for the plant. It’s a vicious cycle, in a good way!


But I’ll get thatch

When making the transition from bagging to mulching, some people worry about having a layer of thatch build up on their soil. This is rarely a problem with Tall Fescue. Even a half inch layer of thatch will not cause problems. If your tall fescue lawn builds up a layer of thatch deeper than ½ inch, it could be a sign that your soil life is dead. Or, that there has been too much Nitrogen fertilizer applied causing excessive top growth. Or it could be a sign of both. Assess which one you think it might be, and keep in mind, the best remedy to dead soil is to start letting your clippings fall back to the soil. You may have to do this incrementally at first. Bagging sometimes and not bagging at others. And avoid mowing when the grass is wet to avoid clumping. But start the grass cycling process to build up that soil life.


Don’t scalp it

Ok, that goes without saying, but one thing to keep in mind is that IDEALLY you don’t want to take off more than 33% of the grass blade at one time. Unfortunately, that tends to be more idealistic than practical. In the spring, this would require mowing more than once per week. Hey, if you can mow that often, go for it. But if not, know that the majority of tall fescue doesn’t get this pampered treatment. One way to alleviate this issue is to simply raise your mowing height. If the grass is 6” tall and you mow at 4” whala! You have achieved your goal. But if your grass is 7” and you are mowing at 3 ½”, then you are now cutting off 50% of your grass blade. Not as good. It is good to be aware of this principle, but sometimes it is difficult to avoid taking off more than 33%. Sometimes practicality rules the day. It’ll be ok.


Keep Blades Sharp

This is something that you can more easily control. Keeping those blades sharp makes for a cleaner cut. When blades are dull, it tears the grass creating a jagged leaf end. This is unsightly as the end bleaches out and turns brown, and can be a port for disease.

Mowing Tips for Tall Fescue Summary:

  1. Tall Fescue mowing height for Charlotte should be a minumum of 3 ½”
    1. Higher mowing height helps control weeds
    2. Helps with root depth
    3. Helps endure the heat
  2. Grasscycling
    1. Adds nutrients back to the soil
    2. Reduces fertilizer by as much as 25%
    3. Aids in microbial life of the soil
  3. Ideally don’t take off more than ⅓ of the grass at one time.
    1. Easier said than done.
    2. Raise mowing height to alleviate severe cutting
  4. Sharp Blades
    1. Reduces tearing and leaf blade damage
    2. Looks better
    3. Reduces points of entry for disease


Keep on growing,


Gen 2:15

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