Mowing at the Garden Home Retreat

One of the biggest tasks we face at the Garden Home Retreat is keeping the grass in shape.  And because of the rural setting there are actually several types of grasses that must be maintained. 

Last autumn I spoke with John Deere Product Manager Mike Ballu about how we care for the grass path on Daffodil Hill, the lawns in the vegetable garden and the pasture grasses and wildflowers.  We discussed how methods of mowing change as the landscape evolves over the course of the year and he offered some helpful mowing tips that are useful for any size lawn. 

Allen:  Mike this is what we call Daffodil Hill and it really has, what I think, is beautiful moments throughout the year with the most outstanding moment being in the spring.  We’ve planted well over 100,000 daffodils and it’s really spectacular.  At then end of the growing season, long after the daffodils have disappeared, the golden tall grasses are really beautiful.

Maintenance is a big issue here because I’m always wanting to take on new projects and we have lots of different ways we have to manage the various parts of the property.  Making sure the lawns are cared for is an important part of it.  We do have a flock of 50 sheep that you could consider a version of a lawn mower, and they do a great job, but on Daffodil Hill we have to mow with 2 different, more modern, pieces of equipment.  I use a riding lawn mower for the spiraling path. Allen on John Deere Riding Lawn MowerMike Ballu, John Deere Product Manager:  And what are you using for the fields?

Allen:  I have one of those zero radius mowers that I love to get on and raise the deck really high.  I go back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  It’s a Zen-like trance and I love the feeling of accomplishment.

Mike:  Well the zero turn mowers are a great mower for you Allen, especially a big field like this because it’s wide open, it’s speed and it’s fun. 

Allen:  With the large size of the deck I can cover a lot of ground in just a short period.

Mike:  Without a doubt.  They are made up to 72-inches now so you can cover a huge amount of ground. 

Now what about the path on Daffodil Hill?

Allen:  I use a riding lawn mower here and it’s based on a 10-foot walk all the way around.  And if you see this from the air when the daffodils are in bloom the path really stands out.  I mow the paths like a proper lawn.  Just like a home owner would mow their front yard.  I can take 3 passes with that deck on the riding mower and take care of the path.  The path is a very circuitous, serpentine line that runs through all these daffodils. 

Mike:  Well you are doing a great job it looks beautiful out here. 

Allen:  Well it’s fun to come out in fall and see the difference between the mowed, fine lawn and the rough, which is actually where the daffodils are planted. 

Wildflowers at the Garden Home RetreatWhen it comes to mowing the rough before winter, I really try to wait as long as I can for wildflower seeds to mature.  We have a lot of wildflowers out here in spring.   After the daffodils finish, then comes the next wave of color, which are wildflowers.  We have all types such as gaillardia, bachelor buttons, larkspur and poppies. 

So the mowing cycle out here is very important to maintain the cycle of life and the cycle of wildflowers. 

Mike:  Certainly.  For the area of tall grass, or the rough, you want to mow it less often than you would the path.  How about your path?  How often do you mow?

Allen:  We mow it in the growing season about every 2 weeks.  We don’t irrigate on Daffodil Hill so when it gets hot and dry we don’t have to mow as often.  I really like to take walks out here in the evening in all times of the year, so I try to keep the path crisp.

I try to get the rough mown short before the first daffodils begin to emerge, which is early January.  This keeps me from driving over daffodils sprouting up. 

Mike:  And then out here on your path, make sure it’s about a 1/3 rule.  Always just try to take a maximum of 1/3 off the top of your grass at a time.  This keeps the stress down on the grass and keeps it much healthier.

Allen:  With the rough, when I mow in winter, what I would do is raise the mower deck up to the highest point and then come back later and lower it 1/3.  And then the final mow, I take the deck down to the lowest level.

Mike:  You’re doing perfect. 

Fescue Grass and Vegetable GardenAllen:  There is another level of refinement with lawns at the Garden Home Retreat.  We have fescue.  I love fescue because here in the mid-south, it’s green in winter.  Down in the vegetable garden where we trial all the vegetables and flowers we have those long lawns.  This is where we use a push mower and we mow this area 12 months out of the year. 

Mike:  And that’s such a beautiful area too.  My one recommendation for when you are mowing over there is to try and mow in a different pattern each time.  If you mow in one general direction, the grass will have a tendency to want to grow in that way.  So you want to mow in different directions if possible.  It looks better and it gives you a cleaner cut. 

Allen:  Do you have a rule of thumb on mowing the lawn during heat of summer when everyone is concerned about water conservation.  Rules about a fine lawn like the fescue down in the vegetable garden?

Mike:  That’s a great question.  One thing we try to do there, especially when it is in the heat of the summer and the grass is really feeling that heat, try to let it grow as tall as you can.  This will shade the roots.  An added bonus is your roots will actually grow deeper as they try to search out moisture.  Wait as long as you can to mow and don’t worry about it looking good because you will actually end up hurting your grass.  The other thing I see people do is taking too much off the top.  That’s the worse thing you could possibly do.

Allen:  Scalding it off.  Your lawn gets a sunburn!

Well, I just wanted you to see the Garden Home Retreat and I appreciate all your suggestions on how we can better manage this.  It’s all how well we can take care of the property with as little labor as possible.

Mike:  Yes.  I want to thank you for having me out.  It’s a beautiful spot.     


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