Those of you who have read some of my articles know I just love to compare plants and humans. This is one of those comparisons that seem perfect, so most of us in the landscape biz will use it sooner or later. Quite likely most of you have heard this as well. Mowing is like giving your lawn a haircut. So much so, that we use the term “scalping” in reference to mowing too short.
The frugal man will request his hair cut fairly short. This will reduce the number of visits to the barber. I am one of those who visit the barber shop no more than three times per year. Between visits, I become quite shaggy. Most men (and some women) will extrapolate this same wisdom and apply it to their lawn. While it is true that mowing short and waiting until “shaggy” forces us to mow again will save some time plus wear and tear on the lawnmower, this is really not the best thing for the health of your lawn.
The guy who gets a drastic haircut during the summer soon learns the origin of the term “redneck.” He may get a third degree burn on his ears and possibly scalp to boot. Exactly why rednecks wear hats…..Eh?? The very same thing happens to your grass. Those tender leaves that were shaded by the taller growth become suddenly exposed to full sun. Now you have a brown lawn (brownneck??). This problem is exacerbated by folks who notice the wilting grass and immediately water on a hot afternoon. The salts (chlorides from chlorine) in tap water actually burn the tender leaves as the sun quickly evaporates the moisture left on the leaves. It is better to water early the next morning.
On the other side of the coin you have your movie stars, salesmen, and some politicians who always seem to have perfect hair. These guys pay for a shave and a haircut fairly often. Chances are the barber knows these customers pretty well. They probably know their job, wife, kids, favorite sports, etc. as they regularly converse while the barber meticulously clips just a bit of hair from just the right places. Regular customers get the appropriate treatment. Again, the analogy holds true.
Good looking lawns are regularly maintained. They are mowed often to promote thick lush growth and to avoid the brown lawn syndrome. In fact, I think it would be a safe bet that the same guy who mows, waters, and fertilizes correctly practices good personal hygiene, keeps his oil and filters changed, and his tools in order. Regular maintenance regimes go hand in hand whether it be the morning shower, mowing, or a haircut. Good looking lawns are like good looking people. They are well maintained.
The pinnacle of lawn culture has always been the golf green. During the warm season, greens are watered and mowed every day. Just like the guy who gets a regular trim rather than the occasional full blown haircut, this constant mowing forces the grass to get thick and lush. Athletic fields are also cut often, and in certain seasons, daily. Less injury occurs when our players fall onto a thick layer of grass. I have yet to meet a home owner who actually mows every day, but if you really want a lawn like a putting green, this is something worth consideration. If you want your grass cut short but also thick and lush, you must mow it frequently.
The term scalping refers to the practice of totally removing a portion of the scalp with the hair attached. This was (possibly still is) a trophy taken in hand to hand combat and not something a barber would ever think of. However, the barber can shave your head mighty close if that is what you desire. The scalping of your lawn is just as radical and dangerous as human scalping. Suffice to say that scalping will damage your grass considerably. However there is a time when scalping will work in your favor.
In the late winter and early spring, before your grass has started to green up would be the time to scalp. At this time the only green plants in your lawn will be those pesky weeds and winter grasses. Since scalping is damaging, the damage will occur to the plants you would rather be rid of anyway. This will also chop up the dead grass left from last year and allow the warming sun in to stimulate the new growth of your awakening lawn. This is absolutely the only time you will ever hear someone in the landscaping industry recommend scalping. This can be very effective if done in a timely fashion and is much cheaper (also safer) than resorting to weed killers.
During the warm season, the exact opposite is true. If you are observant you will notice that the folks who have the most weeds are the folks who mow too short. If you mow short in the warm season, you are stressing your grass plus sending sunlight in to germinate weeds. Conversely, the folks who mow tall tend to have fewer weeds because the taller grass shades the weeds which will reduce germination.
The last thing a good barber will do is apply tonic to soothe your skin and make you smell better. My favorite “tonic” for the lawn is molasses. Molasses is especially good in the hot months because it is low in nitrogen. Using high nitrogen fertilizers is counter-productive in summer because it forces top growth which requires more water (and more mowing). The sugars, proteins, and carbs in molasses (wet or dry) act as a biostimulant for your soil microbes. This in turn makes your grass healthy, just the thing to offset summer stress. The folks who use molasses usually have the thickest, darkest green grass in the neighborhood. Just try it……..Oh, and it smells good too.
The analogy of the lawn and the barber works pretty well with one exception. While a radical haircut will reduce trips to the barber, cutting your lawn too short will likely result in more weeds and more work. If you are going to mow infrequently, it is best to mow tall just to keep the weeds down and the grass from turning brown. I understand that tall grass, like long hair, may not be your preference but I am assuming you would rather mow less while still having a decent looking stand of grass. We don’t grow weeds on our heads, (although there are plenty of guys who wish they had SOMETHING resembling hair up there) so a short haircut is not a problem. Here’s a little ditty that might help you remember:
“If you would rather,
Not mow at all,
Then don’t mow short, mow it tall.”