With the arrival of the hottest and suffocating days of summer, you must rethink the way you mow your lawn.
While a well-trimmed and even lawn seems to be ideal, actually, in the heat of summer, it’s best for your lawn to let it grow out a bit. With longer shoots, the roots of the grass will have a greater depth, which is necessary to absorb moisture from the soil. Tall grass also protects the soil from the sun and reduces evaporation.
To achieve that look, you must raise the deck of the mower, that is, the main body of the machine where the blade is located. Raising and lowering the deck on today’s lawn mowers, including the top-scoring models in our lawn mower ratings , is easy because they have levers to adjust the height. In fact, you will need to use a ruler to determine the correct height, at least until you are familiar with the machine.
After spring is the growing season for grass, CR recommends allowing the grass to grow approximately 4½ inches before cutting to a height of 3 or 3½ inches. When the heat begins to decrease, you can lower it back down to 2½ inches for a more even look. Here’s how to adjust and clean the deck to keep your mower in top condition.
Step 1: Measure the current cutting height
Roll the mower on a flat surface, such as a driveway or garage floor. If it’s a battery-powered lawn mower, be sure to remove the safety key so it doesn’t turn on while you’re working. For this same reason, if you are working with a gasoline lawn mower, disconnect the spark plug wire, which is usually located at the front of the machine. “The cable is insulated with a rubber coating and you have to wiggle it a bit to remove it,” says John Galeotafiore, Consumer Reports chief of home improvement evaluation. “But it is not very difficult to do and you can easily reconnect the wire with its cover to the spark plug.”
Raise the side or rear discharge cover that covers the opening where cut grass is ejected. Inside you will see the blade. Measure the distance between the bottom edge of the blade and the ground to determine the current height.
It is worth noting that most manufacturers ship mowers from the factory with the deck in the lowest position, often 1½ inches, which can cause the grass to be cut too short even in ideal weather conditions.
Step 2: Adjust the platform height
Lawn mowers come with notched adjustment levers that allow the wheels to be raised and lowered to adjust the distance between the deck and the ground. For manual lawn mowers, there may be one lever for each wheel, one lever for the rear and one for the front wheels, or a single lever for all 4 wheels. Tractor-type mowers have a lever that moves the deck up and down, independent of the wheels.
We found that all the settings are easy to use once you have a good understanding of how they work. But the notches don’t always provide the correct cutting height, so it wouldn’t hurt to measure with the ruler after adjustment to ensure you have the correct cutting height.
Step 3: Clean the mower deck
Grass clippings tend to stick to the underside of the deck, especially if the grass is wet. If the grass becomes too thick, it can begin to restrict airflow on the deck and impair the cut. Dry grass clippings and matted grass are difficult to remove, so cleaning the deck after each use is recommended.
Some lawnmowers have a flush port where you can connect the hose, but a simple old rag will do the same. Make sure to wear thick gloves so you don’t cut your hands on the blade. Always be careful when you do this: remove the spark plug wire again if you have a gasoline lawn mower or the safety key in the case of a battery powered machine.
To prevent future build-up when mowing, coat the clean, dry deck with silicone spray, available at home improvement or hardware stores. Controls the sharpness of the blade. Ideally, take it in for sharpening (at a hardware store or lawn mower store) at the beginning of the season and at least one more time during this period, especially if the soil is sandy or rocky.
“The sandy soil will act as an abrasive and will dull the blade faster,” Galeotafiore says. “On rocky ground, you can hit small stones and cause the blade to dull or chip.”
If the blade is very dull, you can change it yourself without problems. (Watch the video “How to Change a Lawn Mower Blade” for our step-by-step guide to this essential maintenance part.)
CR members with digital access can see below for ratings and comments on our favorite manual lawn mowers that will keep the lawn at the perfect height. We have singled out the gasoline and battery operated manual lawn mowers with good results in our uniformity test, which always perform well and ensure that the lawn is smooth as a carpet.
How to find the perfect lawn mower
Is your lawnmower not working? On the television show “ The Consumer’s Workshop ,” Consumer Reports expert John Galeotafiore explains to host Jack Rico how to find the best mower for your needs.