There are many different types of grass that we plant when we want to establish a lawn. Some types need very little mowing while others need to be cut more frequently. Also, some types of grass need more maintenance than others.
But, the question is what happens if you don’t cut or mow your lawn? It’s a wide-open question with a myriad of answers. First of all, it stands to reason that if you don’t cut grass it’s going to keep on growing. It’s not going to look great, and when you eventually decide to cut it, it will probably be an unwanted challenge.
Is it okay not to cut grass?
If you are cultivating a lawn it certainly isn’t okay to cut grass. If you want to create a wild meadow, then it might be okay, depending on the grass you have growing.
The thing is, there is a trend that follows the reasoning that cutting grass less is beneficial to the environment. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cut your grass at all.
Robbin Ray of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) posted a short article recently, in which he talks about “low mow.” He maintains that this approach can help reduce carbon emissions and build organic matter in the soil.
He quotes a research professor at the university’s Earth Systems Research Center. Prof. Alexandra Contosta believes that not mowing as often as we are used to, can have a positive impact on climate change.
So, you mow less often and consider establishing “no mow” areas in large yards. They will allow wildflowers – and probably lots of weeds – to grow, and they will attract butterflies and bees.
Clearly, these aren’t lawns where you will sit or where your children will play. Rather, they are zones that you leave to grow as nature decides.
What happens will depend largely on the grass you have planted. Some types of grass will smother just about everything, except unwanted weeds.
One exception is pampas grass, which should not be cut.
Pampas grass is a large ornamental, perennial grass that has pretty plumes. There are many cultivars planted imaginatively, they can be used as an accent plant or to create a border.
Just be aware that it is considered invasive in some parts, including California.
How long does grass grow?
Grass generally grows quite fast and the height it grows depends on the type of grass and environmental conditions. This is why it’s important to choose a suitable grass for your climate and what you want to use it for.
For example, the turf they use to establish golf courses is brilliant. But Lois Berg Stack from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension warns that it requires knowledge and lots of maintenance to keep it looking good.
In that part of the U.S., cool-season grasses are grown for lawns. These include Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescues, tall fescues, perennial ryegrass, and various grass mixes.
The University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst Extension Turf Program has similar recommendations. But they also suggest a handful of specialty cool-season grasses for special needs.
While most of these are high-maintenance grasses, Alkaligrass is good for salty and high pH soils. It is often grown in areas near the coast.
You can mow Alkali grass often if you wish, but it also looks good when it isn’t mown.
The folks at Colorado State University Extension point out that Alkaligrass has five times the salt tolerance of bluegrass. It can tolerate a range of mowing heights and will grow in both dry and moist environments.
In the south, you’ll find warm-season grasses. These include Bermudagrass, Bahiagrass, and Zoysia grass.
It is common practice to overseed these grasses in the fall with cool-season ryegrass. This helps to produce a lovely green lawn.
How often should you cut grass?
The rate of growth and required mowing practices will depend on the grass you plant. This means that different grasses will get higher more quickly than others.
Stack advises homeowners to mow cool-season grasses when it grows to about 4 inches in height. He prefers lightweight hand mowers.
Bahiagrass, Paspalum notatum, is a low-maintenance lawn grass often planted in Florida. It has relatively few insects and disease problems and will reseed itself if you don’t mow it regularly.
Experts from the University of Florida Extension advise that Bahiagrass should not be mowed until the roots have pegged down into the soil after planting. Once it is established, they recommend mowing with a rotary lawn mower every 7-14 days.
They suggest mowing to a height of 3-4 inches and say that a higher mowing height will promote a deeper root system. It also makes the grass more tolerant of stress.
Bahiagrass doesn’t grow very tall so the pros often say you should mow your grass when it produces seed heads. But the seed head stems are tough, so it’s important to sharpen your mower blades regularly to prevent the leaves from being torn. Not only will the lawn look shabby, but it tends to invite insects and cause diseases.
Some say that you can mow Bahiagrass a little lower, from 2-3 inches, but Bermudagrass and Zoysia need to be cut even lower, from 1-1.5 inches.
What problems would arise if you don’t cut your grass
Mowing grass in large lawn areas is a task many homeowners loathe. So how important is it to mow rather than just let the grass grow?
And what happens if you don’t cut your grass? The obvious answer is that it starts to look unsightly.
The Council Growers Sod (the Council family farmers) has been growing grass for lawns since the late 1800s. They warn that if you don’t mow your lawn it’s not going to stay healthy.
Also, as it gets longer, it needs more resources. If you let it grow too long and then try to mow the long grass, they say you will shock it. This is why they advise homeowners to cut grass by only a few inches at one time.
Even the University of New Hampshire, which favors a low mow approach (see above), recommends moving every two weeks.
Is it difficult to cut long grass?
When grass gets long, the grass clippings tend to clump, blocking out the sunlight and stunting growth. If you don’t rake after cutting grass, these clumped grass clippings can kill your lawn.
The issue here is that the trend is to leave grass on the lawn after mowing grass. Tom Cook, a turf grass specialist at Oregon State University, says doing this will prevent ground and surface water contamination.
It also saves fertilizer costs because of grass clippings. They contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are essential nutrients and break down quickly in a few weeks.
But he says that it’s important not to leave piles of wet grass cuttings on the lawn. You need to rake these so they don’t smother the lawn.
Cook maintains that you should cut grass often enough to ensure that you don’t remove more than one-third of the grass blade height.
Does long grass attract insects and pests?
Very long grass can attract insects and pests, including rodents and snakes. Ticks are also attracted to long grass, which can be hugely problematic if you have pet dogs and cats.
But unhealthy grass also attracts insects and pests. Council Growers Sod says that a lawn with brown patches will attract weeds and pests.
Also, some types of grass are less resistant to leaf-feeding bugs and worms than others. According to the UMass Extension Turf Program, endophytic grasses have a natural resistance to these creatures.
Endophytic grasses also cope well with environmental stresses and don’t need a whole lot of maintenance. Endophytes are a type of fungus that lives inside grasses including the fescues and perennial ryegrass.
If you don’t cut your grass it isn’t going to look anything like a lawn, which, by definition, is well-tended and mown grass! Weeds will also thrive in unmown grass.
The trend is to cut it less often, but not to avoid cutting grass altogether.