Lawn Mowing Perfection

How to mow ornamental and croquet lawns with consideration to mower type, mowing height and frequency all being governed by grass quality and the seasons.

Caution: Mowing ‘any old lawn’ at ¼” with a £3000 tournament cylinder mower will not turn it into a bowling green!

A Close Shave!

Nothing to do with ‘Wallace and Gromit’! It’s to do with the simple but therapeutic experience of lawn mowing or the desire to achieve perfection. If you are just after a little therapy, what follows is worth knowing but not overly relevant if pleasure and some solitude are your goals. Just clean and maintain your mower, mow as advised previously and enjoy!

For those going the whole hog then you should have:

  • For all intents and purposes a lawn that is flat. Gentle slopes or gradients are acceptable and are easily accommodated
  • The site should be reasonably well drained and receive good sunlight
  • Soil should be sandy to light loam
  • Occasional trees or roots will compromise the lawn but not prevent a good result
  • A relatively simple shape to the lawn area for reduced mower turns
  • The lawn area should not receive heavy use from gardening activities

If you do not have or cannot construct a lawn to the above basic specification you will need to compromise by being less intensive with your lawn management. Poor drainage, clay soils, poor air circulation and shade reduce overall lawn vigour and health. Therefore, a more sympathetic approach to mowing is essential. Remember, a visually stunning ornamental lawn can only be achieved if the grass is healthy. Start causing stress by ‘over mowing’ a lawn in less than ideal conditions and you will thin the lawn and invite weeds and disease.

It should also be appreciated that an imperfect lawn environment is the norm. Few domestic lawns are able to achieve the very high standards of ‘ornamental’ lawns because of buildings, gardens and leisure activities; in other words because of their very domesticity. Just accept and accommodate your lawns environment and you can still enjoy high standards of lawn and lawn care. Making the following accommodations will help:

  • Mow in the driest of conditions only – squeegee first if needed
  • Brush off worm casts with a besom or yard broom – you can only do this for dry worm casts
  • Mow at least every 3 – 4 days in good conditions
  • If wet weather prevents mowing refer to the system in How to Mow Wet or Long Grass
  • Set the mowing height to between ½” to ¾” in good conditions and higher during drought, extreme wetness or cold
  • Use a rotary mower for higher cuts and the cylinder mower for the lower cuts. Hayter lawnmowers make excellent rotaries.

If you are fortunate enough to have a sound base and good lawn environment consider the following before attempting to shave your lawn:

  • Minor bumps and undulations should be resolved with lawn topdressing to prevent scalping
  • The grasses should be fine fescues (chewings fescue and slender creeping red fescue) and bents with no weed grasses. If not consider renovating by killing the lawn and re-seeding after a thorough scarification.
  • You should have or be prepared to establish a programme of fertilisation, scarification, aeration and weed control
  • You should have a petrol cylinder mower with at least seven blades on the cassette with nine to twelve being preferable. If you want to go to the extreme a ‘club’ or ‘tournament’ grade machine is a joy

A tournament quality croquet lawn is cut at 3/8″ to 1/4” when conditions are good. A bowling green is cut at 3/16” to 5/32” for match days. As this is the extreme end of mowing to allow a ball to roll fast and true you should consider this as very low mowing indeed. I would recommend 3/8” to 5/8” being a more manageable height.

A croquet or ornamental lawn is no different in its basic requirements than any other lawn so adjusting mowing height during drought, cold or stressful conditions is mandatory. The ‘one third rule’ applies as always.

Mowing should be at least twice a week but daily mowing is in order and indeed beneficial. It is also perhaps your raison d’être. Frequent mowing is good for the joints and waistline, produces a dense turf and discourages weeds and weed grasses.

It should be noted that it is the frequency AND the closeness of mowing that suppresses weeds and weed grasses. Mow close infrequently and the opposite will occur. You should always collect the clippings as any organic material will increase worm populations.

The size of mower used is obviously dependant on the area you mow. Perhaps a 24” wide cylinder mower would be considered standard for a croquet lawn or bowling green. For the typical ornamental lawn this may be too large and 18” mowers are more suitable.

If the area allows and reducing time is important 30” or even 36” mowers are available. However, larger mowers will tend to scalp minor irregularities so make sure your lawn is flat as a pancake. You should also ensure your gates and storage area will allow access to the wider machines before parting with a few thousand pounds!