This weekend is Commencement Weekend at UMass Amherst, and the grounds staff have been working hard to get the lawns and landscapes on campus into fine shape ahead of the festivities. One of the big challenges in this regard has undoubtedly been the persistent rain that has characterized this week. While the rain is welcome in terms of replenishing soil moisture, it certainly puts a damper on outdoor work at a time when things are really beginning to ramp up.
For turf care, prolonged wet weather can really play havoc with maintenance demands, especially mowing schedules. The detrimental effects are similar for everyone, from lawn care crews, to golf course managers, to homeowners. Combine ongoing rain with great conditions for turf growth and the result is either some wet mower operators or some tall grass.
Mowing when the surface is dry is ideal from a cutting quality standpoint, as well as lessening concerns like the spread of fungal diseases. Mowing when the turf surface and the soil are wet has several drawbacks. Mulching and discharge features on mowers usually do not work as effectively, and clippings often clump unattractively. The negative effects of less-than-sharp blades or out-of-adjustment mowing decks are magnified. The potential for soil compaction and wear injury to the turf are increased, especially when turning equipment. The slick surface can result in slips and falls while walk-mowing, or even loss of control while riding, especially on slopes.
The message, therefore, is that mowing during wet conditions should be avoided whenever possible. Realistically, however, this is not always feasible. There are schedules to keep, deadlines to meet, and you can only let the grass grow out so far before you end up with bigger problems.
The best advice involves common sense. Take it slow, make sure your blades are sharp and that cutting height is properly adjusted. Overlap your passes a little more than usual to account for increased chance of skips and misses. Avoid turning equipment on the turf surface when at all possible. If clumps of clippings are unacceptable, we won't hold it against you if you bag a time or two, but those soggy clippings are much harder to handle. Wear sturdy footwear with good traction while walk-mowing. Exercise extreme caution or avoid mowing significant slopes when wet, especially with riding equipment. If you opt to wait out the wet weather and the height of the turf becomes excessive, bring it down gradually over a few mowing events rather than all at one time.
Submitted by: Jason Lanier