The Key to a Healthy Lawn

Mowing the lawn is a chore that most of us dislike. We pass this chore off to the kids or even pay someone to do for us. But, this simple task is the most important step in producing a healthy lawn. Yeah, I hear the other horticulturist out there disagreeing with me, but if you mow correctly, the rest is easy.

So, here is the secret, mow your lawn to the right height, with sharp blades so that you never remove more than 1/3 of the top growth. That’s it. Follow these rules and you will have healthy grass, mostly! 

Let’s break it down in to the parts. Grass mowing height depends on the type of grass. For those of us living where it is hot, warm-season grasses are what usually make up the lawn. Here are a few mowing height recommendations: Bahiagrass should be cut from 3 to 4 inches high. Maintain Centipedegrass from 1 1/2 to 2 inches high. St. Augustinegrass cultivars vary in the proper cutting height. Cutting height for Bitterblue, Floratam and Floralawn is 3 to 4 inches and it is better closer to 4 inches instead of 3. The semi-dwarfs varieties Seville, Delmar, Palmetto and Jade may be cut as low as 2 to 2 1/2 inches. 

The reason the correct cutting height is important to the health of your lawn is that turf plants are just that, plants. Like all plants, the leaves must produce enough food for the plant to survive and grow. If too much or too many of the leaves are removed, the grass will starve and your sod will become thin, look bad and be more susceptible to invasion by weeds and pests.

Most of us plan to mow our lawns once a week, but how often the grass must be mowed is dependent on the type of lawngrass. Warm weather and heavy fertilization will increase the growth rate of grasses and as a result the turf may need to be mowed more often. Mow the turf so that no more than 1/3 of the leaf surface is removed at a time. That means if you are maintaining your Floratam St Augustine at 4 inches; mow it when it gets to be 5 to 5 ¼ inches tall. That may be more often than once a week during the hot rainy weather. The important thing to remember is leave twice as much leaf surface as you remove at any single mowing. 

Keep your lawnmower blade sharp and clean. A dull blade will tear the leaves giving an uneven, ragged appearance and often cause the lawn to look gray or brown. It also leaves wounds where diseases may attack the grass. The best recommendation is to sharpen mower blades every 6 to 8 hours of operation.

A few more tips and you are on your way to a healthier lawn:

  • Don't mow grass that appears to be under stress or is wilted.
  • Avoid mowing wet turf because wet clippings can clog the mower. It can also cause the mower to slip which can lead to serious injury.
  • Clippings should be returned to or left on the lawn to help recycle nutrients. Clippings do not contribute to the formation of a thatch layer when mowing to the 1/3 rule.
Remember that proper mowing is one of the most important factors contributing to an attractive lawn. Proper mowing means that the grass is cut at the optimum height often enough to keep it healthy and attractive.



Mowing with a dull blade does a lot of damage and can make the lawn look brown or gray. Most homeowners should have their mower blades sharpened once a month. In fact, it is a good idea to have to sets of blades so it is easy to keep a blade on the mower and send the others out to be sharpened.

Question of the Week

Propagating Orchids

Hi Carol,

How do you divide orchid's from cuttings to assure that they will grow. I have two orchid plants growing but they never flower, any suggestions?                                                            


Barbara Jean

Hello Barbara;

There are hundreds of orchid species and thousands of varieties and hybrids. Each orchid type has a set of optimal growing conditions that must be met for flowering to occur. However, orchids generally thrive in warm, moist weather, high humidity and bright but partial shady locations such as found under trees or on the patio. Many orchids can be grown as house plants or outside in frost-free locations. For interior growth, choose a location that has bright light. But there is much more to growing orchids.

For a plant to flower, it must have adequate nutrition. Orchid fertilization is the subject of much debate among enthusiast. For the most part, epiphytic species (those that grow on trees or other aerial support) that are potted in tree fern, osmunda, peat, or other media that are slow to decompose, use a complete fertilizer with a 1-1-1 ratio. Plants grown in bark may need more nitrogen found in products with a 3-1-1 ratio. Nutrients may be applied in liquid, granular or slow-release forms.

Watering is probably the most daunting task to the new orchid grower. The frequency of application will vary according to the amount of light, temperature, humidity, type of medium, size and type of pot and several other factors. Water most orchids when the medium is dry; water thoroughly so the roots and medium are soaked.

Orchid propagation also depends on species, but division of the plant is often a common method. This advice is from the University of Florida publication Tips on Growing Orchids in Florida  may help.

 “When repotting or rejuvenating these orchids, count from the new growth back to four pseudobulbs, cut the rhizome, and remove the clump. This "lead division" is the most vigorously growing part of the plant and will flower within a year after repotting. Back divisions may take several years to attain flowering size; therefore, they are often kept as seconds, traded off to fellow hobbyists, or discarded…As a final step, secure the plant with rhizome clips or tie leaves to an upright support…Tip cuttings of vandas, including aerial roots, are made and potted in the center of a pot. Potting medium is then placed around the roots… Raising orchids from seed is both fascinating and rewarding; however, the process requires expertise and special equipment. Orchid seed, unlike seed of other plants, contains no stored food materials; therefore, seed must be germinated on an agar nutrient medium in sterile glass containers. Many commercial orchid nurseries in Florida offer seed germination services to customers.”

Joining the American Orchid Society (AOS) and the local orchid group is a great way to start on a quest for orchid info. Talking with experienced growers helps the novice understand the needs of this complex and large group of plants.

The headquarters of the AOS as located in Delray Beach. Visit the website or call 561-404-2000 for membership details and articles about orchids. Local AOS affiliated societies maybe found at

Two of my favorite sources about orchid growing are books. The You Can Grow Orchids series was written by Mary Noble. Ms. Noble lived next door to my cousin Debi in Jacksonville and made all of Debi’s corsages when she was a teenager; no one at the prom had more beautiful flowers. Ms Noble is no longer with us, but her simple, easy to follow books have decoded orchid growing for many and are still relevant today.
Orchids to Know and Grow by Drs. Tom Sheehan and Robert Black published in 2007 by the University Press of Florida, Gainesville is an extensive book which covers basic information from defining what an orchid is to building a greenhouse. These mentors and old friends have produced a book tthat is easy to read and use.

Phalaenopsis Orchid

Phalaenopsis orchids AKA moth orchids are among the most popular orchids for both the casual orchid grower or gardener and the experienced orchidist due to their easy growth requirements and fondness for blooming. All it takes is fulfillment of a few basic requirements for moth orchids to thrive and reproduce.