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The First Mow of the Spring for EMPIRE

One of the most important guidelines for maintaining healthy EMPIRE® Zoysiagrass and other zoysia japonica lawns is proper mowing. Sod Solutions recommends managing EMPIRE at a height between 1–2 inches. This height will vary depending on the kind of mower you have, how often you mow, and the look and feel you prefer. Regardless of the height you regularly maintain your EMPIRE at, the first mow of the spring is essential in getting things off on the right foot.

For the first mow of spring, we recommend cutting your EMPIRE with the lawnmower set at least one notch below the height at which you usually mow, if not the lowest setting. For most rotary lawnmowers, this means a little more than one inch. This “buzz-cut” will remove a good amount of material that will need to be bagged up and removed.

The Benefits

Removal of the Thatch Layer
EMPIRE can be a prolific thatch producer if it is consistently mowed at higher mowing heights. Left unchecked over several years, a layer of organic material will accumulate and become a breeding ground for disease and insects that may impede the movement of water, insecticides and fungicides into the soil. Additionally, it will potentially create a spongy, unstable surface on which to walk or play.

Some Measure of Weed Control
Low mowing is one form of weed control, particularly if the weeds are mowed before they put up seed heads. A buzz-cut will help with the removal of any lingering winter weeds and hasten the proliferation of spring weeds.

Enables EMPIRE to Exhibit Regenerating Properties
A fully established EMPIRE turf lawn (about six months old) will have a healthy bed of underground rhizomes and surface stolons, enabling it to regrow when given a buzz-cut. It is in the early spring that EMPIRE is best equipped to exhibit its regenerative properties after a low mowing, resulting in a push of fresh, healthy plant material for the rest of the year. Fertilizing your lawn after this first mowing is essential. Lawnifi® Maintain is the recommended fertilizer following such a low mowing as it is designed to promote healthy roots and the return of green leaf blades after winter dormancy.

The left photo illustrates a lawn mowed on May 15th at one inch. The right photo shows a taller EMPIRE lawn mowed without a bag as it choked out the lawnmower. Be sure to remove all plant material.

The Challenges

The First Time Can Be Hard Work
The level of difficulty in giving your lawn a buzz-cut will depend on the height you have been maintaining your EMPIRE up until this point. If the EMPIRE is three or four inches tall coming out of winter, you will have to lower the mowing height gradually over several weeks. Either way, all material will need to be bagged and removed, which can be hard work. Remember, subsequent annual low mowing will become easier if you refrain from letting your EMPIRE get too tall.

The Barren Look Afterward
Mowing your EMPIRE as low as one inch can result in a barren looking lawn, which can be shocking. Also, such a low mow will reveal any imperfections in your grade. High spots will get “scalped,” and low spots will be left with more plant material, resulting in an uneven display. You can use this opportunity to top-dress low areas with sand to provide a more level lawn surface.

Bag up all the material. High spots will get “scalped,” resulting in an uneven display. 

Timing and Results

For most regions where EMPIRE grows, Sod Solutions recommends a buzz-cut in mid-March. Mowed at about one inch on March 15th, subsequently fed with Lawnifi in March, April and May, and allowed to grow about two inches by June 1st, EMPIRE will present a beautiful and inviting lawn to be admired and enjoyed.

The Lawnifi Spring Fertilizer Box is recommended for overall best results. Start with applying a bottle of Maintain after that first buzz-cut, then follow with an application of Boost four weeks later to deepen the green appearance of your lawn. It is recommended to make one last application of Maintain four weeks before starting a summer fertilizer program.

Left photo: EMPIRE lawn mowed at about one inch on March 15th. Right photo: EMPIRE lawn mowed at two inches on June 15th.

To find out more details on spring maintenance tips for a variety of grass breeds, check out Spring Lawn Maintenance Tips. For more information on mowing heights, frequency, consistency and mulching, visit the Lawn Mowing Guide. Lastly, if you enjoyed this article, you may also really like the Sod University blog on Mowing EMPIRE Turf Zoysiagrass with a Rotary Mower.

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