Instead of power raking your lawn this spring, try these best mowing practices – Chicago Tribune
“I have been getting conflicting advice on power raking my lawn in the spring and collecting grass clippings when I mow the lawn throughout the growing season. Can you please give me your point of view on these maintenance issues?”
— Amy Brill, Park Ridge
In general, I do not recommend power raking a lawn unless there is excessive thatch buildup to remove. Thatch is a layer of living plant material and organic matter that builds up between the living turf grass above and the root system and soil below. Once this layer gets thicker than a ½-inch, it can create issues with the performance and maintenance of your lawn.
Core aerating your lawn on an annual basis will help prevent and correct the excessive formation of thatch and is my preferred maintenance approach versus power raking in most situations. It’s too late in my mind to power rake now, as most lawns have started actively growing. The wet and cold spring delayed a lot of gardening work.
Proper mowing practices can have a big impact on the health and appearance of your lawn. I prefer to cut at a height of 3 to 3 ½ inches. The grass will develop a deeper root system and be better able to withstand stress when the weather gets hotter and drier. The taller grass will also help discourage weeds.
It is OK to cut at a shorter height in the early season, when growing conditions are typically ideal for bluegrass. Cutting at a lower height in early spring allows you to neaten up your lawn as it is starting to grow and before it broadly passes the 3-inch height mark. I cut at 2 to 2 ½ inches for the last cut of the year in late fall.
Use a mulching mower to recycle the clippings back into the lawn and save yourself time in bagging and disposing of the clippings. The mulching mowers do not work well in tall, wet grass, so if the lawn gets away from you, you will need to cut a narrower strip of grass each pass and walk slower to avoid clogging and stalling the mower.
It is best to avoid leaving clumps of grass on the lawn, so you may need to mow twice or rake some to break up any remaining clumps of grass. I continue using a mulching mower in fall as the leaves fall and do not bag them. My yard has several large oak trees, so there are a lot of leaves to mow over in the fall. You should cover the grass with shredded leaves to avoid smothering the lawn over winter. When I finish mowing in the fall, you can see small pieces of leaves on the ground, but the grass is not covered.
For more plant advice, contact the Plant Information Service at the Chicago Botanic Garden at email@example.com. Tim Johnson is senior director of horticulture at the Chicago Botanic Garden.