Mowing Tips For Cleaner Waters

Warm weather has arrived. The grass is growing at its peak pace for the season. Did you know that how you mow can affect the health of your turf, the abundance of weeds in your lawn, its susceptibility to drought, its nutrient needs and the amount of storm water runoff that flows into the nearest water body, including Chautauqua Lake? For both a healthier lawn and cleaner waters, here are a few tips for you to keep in mind when you mow:

Mow your grass high and often. Experts recommend cutting grass at a height of 2 inches to 4 inches to shade out weed seedlings and allow for maximal deep healthy root growth. Try to avoid cutting more than of the length of the blade of grass. The shorter the grass, the shorter the roots and the less filtration benefits it will provide.

Use a mulching lawn mower. Mulching mowers pulverize the grass blades into small particles which fall back amidst the standing blades of grass. Much of the pulverized grass particles are consumed by soil organisms which release the nutrients back to the roots of your turf to be used to grow more foliage. Part of the tougher organic matter remains in the soil where it can hold moisture and build healthy soil structure (tilth). This will help promote healthy soil community of organisms and healthy root absorption of oxygen, water and minerals. Organic matter from these particles can also help your lawn absorb rainwater, capturing more water for deep root nourishment during dry spells and reducing the runoff of rainwater that can overburden downstream waterways and contribute to stream bank erosion and lake sedimentation.

Don’t throw away the grass clippings from using non-mulching mowers. They are full of nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients that will help your lawn grow. If you bag your clippings and remove them from your lawn, you are robbing your lawn of vital nutrients not to mention that it will cost you money to replace those nutrients with fertilizer or mulch.

Sweep or blow grass clippings off of sidewalks and streets and back onto your lawn to help keep them from ending up in storm drains and the nearest waterway. If those clippings end up reaching the lake, the same valuable nutrients in them that help your lawn grow will also help grow the plants and algae in the lake. Placing piles of clippings at the curb for municipal pick up also wastes your property tax dollars.

Consider mowing less of your yard this summer. Return part of your yard to a natural habitat with islands of native perennial plants, shrubs and trees. Leave an un-mowed natural buffer between your lawn and any waterway. This will not only save you mowing time and gasoline costs, but it will also attract more interesting birds and other animals to your yard. The CWC website ( has several native plant, grass, tree and shrub lists a well as sample landscaping design plans to help get you started.

For even more information on lawn care and grass varieties, contact Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County at 664-9502, consult experienced local nursery staff or landscaper or

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local, grass-roots, nonprofit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. You can find more watershed care tips, information on local conservation and educational programs, and sign up for notifications of upcoming programs, preserve tours and events by visiting, liking us on Facebook or calling us 664-2166.