Mowing Tips for Spring

One of the hallmarks of spring in Iowa is the greening up of the lawn.  There are several things we think about for the lawn this time of year and top of the list is mowing.  Below are some resources and advice on mowing this spring.

Close-up of turfgrassWhen Do I Start Mowing?

There is no set date to start mowing. When to start mowing will depend on the growing conditions and the type of grass growing in the area.  Set mowers to cut at 3 to 3-1/2 inches in height.  This means start mowing once the grass reaches 4-1/2 or 5-1/4 inches tall so you never remove more than one-third of the leaf blade in a single mowing.  A lower mowing height of 2 or 2-1/2 inches means you have to mow when the grass is 3 to 3-3/4 inches tall.

More information about mowing can be found in this publication: Mowing Your Lawn.

How Often Do I Need to Mow?

Mowing will need to be done frequently as the cool-season lawns in Iowa love the cool spring temperatures and abundant spring rains.  The shorter the grass, the more frequently it will need to be mowed so as to never remove more than 1/3 of the total leaf blade.  Most gardeners will mow every 5 to 7 days in spring, but the frequency depends on the growing conditions.

Do I Need to Bag the Clippings?

When the lawn is mowed properly, grass clippings do not need to be removed or bagged. Small clippings filter down into the turf and quickly decompose, returning essential plant nutrients to the soil. Lawn clippings do not significantly contribute to thatch development.  If the grass is too tall and more than 1/3 of the leaf blade is cut off, clippings can pile on the lawn.  These piles must be removed with bagging or raking or they will smother, weaken, and potentially kill the turfgrass underneath. 

What About No Mow May?

No Mow May is a conservation initiative that encourages you to leave your lawn unmown for the month of May, creating habitat and food sources for early-season pollinators. Supporting pollinators is important but there are a few things to keep in mind before you lock the mower away for the entire month of May.

No Mow May has some pros and cons and that can make it difficult to decide what you can do to both promote and support bees and other pollinators while still being a responsible manager of your landscape. There are some things you can do with your lawn that can achieve both.  

Learn the important things to consider before participating in No Mow May and what you can do to support pollinators while maintaining a healthy lawn in this article: Tips for Participating in Now Mow May.

Mowing isn't the only thing you do to the lawn in the spring.  Learn more about preemergent weed control, winter debris clean-up, mower blade sharpening, fertilization, and core aerification in this recent new release from Extension and Outreach: Spring Lawn Maintenance Keys for Success.


Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on April 18, 2023. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.