Winding down the mowing season

Later this week, there is snow in the forecast, which signals it is time for Mo to hibernate for the winter. There is usually a morning, like the one above, when we look out and see evidence that Mo has dutifully attempted to mow the lawn. In such cases, it seems that Mow has been hindered not so much in his movements, but in his ability to access the grass. Like with tracking animals, Mo leaves an interesting track story of past movements through the yard.

This has me thinking retrospectively—though over a longer time period—about the positives and negatives of owning a robotic mower and how that aligns with the #RaiseTheBlade outreach effort.

Positively, Mo reduces our time spent mowing, giving us more time to explore the Lake Champlain basin and beyond. Plus, Mo mows most areas of our yard decently and does so quietly while following all of the #RaiseTheBlade guidelines (3″ minimum length, no more than 1/3 of the blade at a time, and allowing the clippings to decompose in place). This is great for us and good for water quality.

Mo’s challenges primarily have to do with the landscape. On average, Mo gets stuck once every few weeks. However, if we fail to manage Mo’s boundary wire path, Mo can get stuck every day. Lately, this happens in one corner of our yard where the grass is thin, bare soil is plentiful, and tree roots abound. The fix is simple—to reroute Mo’s boundary wire. As such, we only have ourselves to blame for having to go rescue Mo on a regular basis.

Mo the lawnmower stuck in the tree roots.
Mo gets stuck in this one spot on most days.

Mo’s other key challenge, as I shared throughout this mowing season, is that objects allowed to grow in Mo’s path (e.g., a large milkweed plant) or placed in Mo’s path (e.g., harvested onions, Adirondack chairs, lawn edging) make mowing particularly challenging.

The benefits of having Mo’s assistance with our yard work far outweigh the challenges though, and I’d do it all again if I had to make the decision to buy a robotic mower or not.

35 seconds of your time could win you a trip on Lake Champlain

Image of a lawnmower in front of a house with a waterbody in the background and a buffer planted with native vegetation between the yard and the water. The image serves as a link to a 35-second video about grass growth and best practices to help grass health and protect water quality.

Today, with just two more Mo Monday posts in 2020, I am excited to introduce a newly-released 35-second video that shares the key messages of — and reasons for — the #RaiseTheBlade campaign. Click on the image above to watch the video or access it through the Lawn to Lake website. (If you access it through the Lawn to Lake website, choose the “short version” of the two Benefits of Long Grass Growth videos available there.)

We purposefully left one small glitch in the video to see if viewers can spot it. If you find it, email us by October 30, 2020 at with the subject line “Mo Monday.” We will randomly select one lucky winner from all email entries received to join a future public trip on Lake Champlain led by Lake Champlain Sea Grant and UVM Extension.

Photo of someone lowering a Secchi disc to assess water clarity off the stern of the R/V Melosira, the University of Vermont's research vessel.

The winner (age 18+) and one guest (minimum age 7) will be invited to come aboard the University of Vermont’s research vessel the Melosira in summer 2021 (pending a COVID-19 vaccine is available and our public trips are able to safely operate). Our public trips give participants an opportunity to learn about the history of the lake and its watershed (the area of land that drains to the lake), and to try their hand as limnologists by studying water quality in the lake.

The benefits of wet grass*

*If long titles worked for blogs, the rest of that title would be, “and how to keep your mower from clogging.” That is because of another barrier people in the Lake Champlain basin expressed that keeps them from mowing their lawn to 3″ in height: the grass would stay wet and clog the mower.

Photo of wet grass from
Photo from

Keeping grass maintained to a longer height (such as 3″) is a known benefit to the grass, as it is able to focus its energy to develop its root system, which can reach further into the earth for water. Plus, longer grass blades allow grass to shade the ground and prevent evaporation from the soil, reducing the amount of water lost to the atmosphere. This means that grass may stay wet a little longer in the morning, and as a result, make it more challenging to mow at that time.

A few tips you can use to help to reduce clogging of your mower or clumping of grass clippings include:

  • Raise your mower deck to 3″ and
  • Mow only 1/3 of the length of the blades at at time.
  • Keep your mower blade sharp.
  • Keep the underside of the deck clean. (Some mowers have a port to attach to a hose on the upper surface of the deck. If yours does not, when it is off, you can scrape away clippings from the underside.)
  • Mow only in the afternoon or evening hours to avoid morning dew.

Inhibiting weed growth

Mo in a face off with some crabgrass, a type of weed.

Today’s Mo Monday blog focuses on another barrier to mowing lawns to 3″ that was expressed by some who completed the survey carried out as the #RaiseTheBlade campaign was being developed. That barrier is that maintaining grass to longer heights could allow weeds to take over the lawn.

In fact, the opposite is true, at least in places where cool season grasses are grown – such as here in the Lake Champlain basin. Kentucky bluegrass and various varieties of fescues maintained to higher heights have been demonstrated to support fewer crabgrasses. This was reported in a 2003 review of research studies by Philip Busey. In addition, according to Minnesota Extension, long grass shades weed seeds, preventing them from germinating. Conversely, shorter grass provides weed seeds additional light, enhancing the probability they will germinate and grow successfully.

A mostly non-weedy lawn.

You might wonder then, what does cause your lawn to be weedy? Weed growth is influenced by a variety of factors, including drought, insect predation, and diseases, all of which cause injury to grass plants, allowing weeds to become established (Busey 2003). For example, one study cited by Busey found that tall fescues were quite sensitive to spring drought, which resulted in those grass stands becoming weedy without use of herbicides.

A great way to combat weeds is to plant grass in a manner that allows it to become quickly established and provide good ground coverage – keeping those pesky weeds from having space to become established.

Newly-planted grass with a bare area near the photographer.

The newly-planted grass shown at the left came in well except in one area near the photographer. As a result, that area is susceptible to future weed growth.

Four tips (all from Busey’s paper) to allow grass to become quickly-established with extensive ground coverage are:

  1. Select a grass variety that is suitable to your climate and the types of weeds in your yard. While the tall fescues mentioned above allowed more growth of crabgrass after spring drought, blue fescues and hard fescues were observed to host fewer weeds even without use of herbicides.
  2. Plant grass seeds densely. An example provided reported that Kentucky bluegrass planted at about 80 pounds/acre instead of 40 lbs/ac reduced weed coverage by about 20%.
  3. When you initially plant your lawn, keep the soil moist to prevent evaporation from the soil. This can be done using some types of mulch, alfalfa hay or even grass clippings.
  4. Plant a grass mixture that includes quick growing perennial or annual ryegrass, and then initially mow short a few days to a week after initial sowing to promote growth of the Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescue in the mixture. This gives you grass coverage early on and continuing in time to keep the weeds at bay.

Addressing barriers

Snake, not hiding in the grass that is cut to 3".

You might recall from when Mo’s blog began that as the Lawn to Lake team was planning its outreach focused on promoting healthy soils (that ultimately became the #RaiseTheBlade outreach campaign), we surveyed landowners in the Lake Champlain basin about their lawn mowing practices. One of the questions we asked allowed respondents to share barriers they faced to cutting grass to 3″. In the next few weeks, as the mowing season winds down, Mo’s blog will address some of those barriers.

Today, we’ll tackle what turned out to be an easy barrier to address. Someone responded to the survey and indicated they cut their grass shorter than 3″ because their spouse believes that long grass hides snakes.

While very long grass can hide snakes, luckily, grass that is cut to 3″ isn’t so long that snakes are easily hidden. Recall that another part of the #RaiseTheBlade guidance is that only 1/3 of the length of the grass blades should be cut during any one mowing. That means that the longest your grass should grow is to about 4″ and then you should cut it back to 3″. This promotes rapid decomposition of the cut blades by soil microbes and swift nutrient cycling back to the grass. If you are able to follow this best practice (like Mo does), your grass won’t grow to such lengths as you might see in an un-grazed pasture, and as a result, snakes should be fairly easily observed if present.

Giving further credence to this concept, just last week, while sitting on our patio, I observed something lying in the grass about 10 feet (3 meters) from where I was sitting. I asked my husband, “Is that a snake?” Expecting him to say no, and to share with me what it was he had placed on the lawn, I was surprised when he answered, “Yes.” Upon hearing his positive response, I grabbed my phone to try to capture a photo of the snake. This proved challenging as my movement alerted the snake that it had been spotted, and it was moving away from the area as quickly as possible to find shelter. The snake we saw (shown above) was the most common snake in this area – the common garter snake.

For those who may be more familiar with poisonous snakes from other regions of the nation or world, another important thing to know about snakes in the Lake Champlain basin (that includes parts of western Vermont, northeastern New York, and southern Quebec) is that there are only 11 kinds of snakes that live here, and most are beneficial and not harmful to us. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department website has some valuable information about the various species of snakes that call the Lake Champlain basin home.

Raise the Blade on “Across the Fence”

Recently, the Raise the Blade campaign was featured on the University of Vermont Extension’s weekday television program, Across the Fence. The Lake Champlain Basin Program partnered with Peregrine Productions, LLC to produce a series of short films to help people understand the efforts that are underway to help clean up Lake Champlain. The film from that series that is featured in this episode of Across the Fence describes actions individuals can take to help keep water clean. Raising the blade on lawnmowers to 3″ is one of those things.

Check out the video below from the episode as a refresher about #RaisetheBlade guidelines, and to learn about some other simple actions individuals can take to help reduce and clean stormwater runoff before it leaves their properties.

Another program that is featured in this episode of Across the Fence is called BLUE®. This property site assessment program provides landowners with a personalized assessment and recommendations of how to reduce stormwater runoff from their properties. Learn more about this program and register for a free assessment at:

For those who live in Burlington, VT, the video also shares an option to register to keep storm drains clean and free of debris, which helps keep pollutants out of Lake Champlain. Learn more and sign up to be a Drain Defender at:

How to Raise Your Mower Blade

Close up of a gas-powered mower showing the lever and grass height selected based on where the lever is positioned. This mower is set at a 3" mowing height.

During the #RaiseTheBlade project’s recent mulching mower giveaway, several people shared that they did not know how to raise their mower blades. To address this, today’s Mo Monday blog is dedicated to helping people understand how to raise the blade. The first thing to know about raising the mower blade is that it is done in different ways depending on the mower.

Close up photo of Mo the mower's grass height selection wheel, indicating a 3" height is selected.

Some mowers, like Mo, have a dial that is simply turned to select the mowing height of preference. Notice the orange arrow near the top of the photo that indicates which height on the dial is selected.

The mower shown at the top of the blog has levers on two of its wheels that are squeezed towards the wheels, then rotated left or right to adjust the mower deck height. Handily, the mower shown indicates which direction to move the lever to set the mower deck to specific heights.

On the mower below, the height is adjusted similarly, but there is no label on the mower to indicate the mowing height. Instead, the user needs to measure the height from the ground to the bottom of the mowing deck to determine if the mowing height has been set as desired.

Be aware to set the back wheel lever and the front wheel lever to the same “tooth” so the mower deck is level. In the image below, some of the “teeth” by the mower wheel are marked with pinks arrows to clarify what I mean by teeth. A hole in the arm of the lever allows it to be locked into position over any of the teeth, depending on what mowing height is desired.

Below is a great video from Cornell Cooperative Extension that demonstrates how to how to raise the deck of one model of mower and ensure it is at the correct mowing height.

If you are buying a new mower, many hardware stores will happily teach you how to raise and lower the mower deck on the model you select.

Winning and Perseverance

Mo the robotic mower stuck - again - in an Adirondack chair, with his wheels dug into the ground and dirt kicked up behind the wheels.

Yesterday, my husband called to me from outside indicating that the title should be “perseverance.” Curious, I grabbed my phone (aka camera) and went out back to find Mo in another run-in with the Adirondack chairs. As you can see from the soil piled up behind his tires, he tried very hard to get out of this predicament, but sadly, was not successful.

Nonetheless, there is a lot of winning to report in this week’s Mo Monday blog post. First, Mo’s namesake, Sir Mo Farah, set a new world record in the one-hour run. He ran 21,330 m in the hour, breaking the old record of 21,285 m. Congratulations Sir Mo!

The other winning to report today is the winner of the #RaiseTheBlade mulching mower. We used a random number generator ( to select a random number from the 197 entrants (who were listed in an Excel file with row numbers) who represented 41 different towns from across the Lake Champlain basin. That resulted in selecting a resident of South Hero, Vermont, to win the electric mulching mower. We will be in touch with the winner and make a formal announcement in the coming days.

Learn how grass grows

Now that the summer heat has passed, the grass in our yard is noticeably growing again in a waning effort to create and store sugars it will use while dormant during the winter months. At the same time, Mo is dutifully out mowing, and like always, cutting just a small amount of each grass blade, and allowing those clippings to fall to the earth to decompose in place. After the clippings are decomposed by microbes in the soil, important nutrients will once again be available for uptake by the grass. So it goes in this continual cycle of growth and nutrient exchange.

This week, I am excited to share a short educational video the Raise the Blade team just completed with Kindea Labs. It shares details of this circle of life and connections the cycle has to water quality and to our actions on the land. Check it out on the website or on Vimeo.

Don’t forget to enter for a chance to win a mulching mower and to submit your photos of you or someone else Raising the Blade for water quality by emailing or posting to Instagram or Twitter with the #RaiseTheBlade hashtag and tagging the Lake Champlain Basin Program and Lake Champlain Sea Grant. The drawing will be held on Labor Day 2020!

An employee at Bibens Ace Hardware recently posed with the electric mulching mower to be raffled.

Mo’s doghouse

Mo in his robot house (doghouse).

One thing I haven’t mentioned in past posts is the doghouse we built for Mo. It’s not something required, but we figured it might help prolong Mo’s life to protect him from the weather. Plus, one of Mo’s features is that he heads to his base station whenever it is raining, as, being electric, he doesn’t like getting wet. (Though, according to the manufacturer, it is technically fine for the mower to be out in the rain in its base station. During thunderstorms they advise to unplug it though.)

To build Mo’s house, we first assessed how tall the doghouse needed to be.

Sizing a board next to Mo the robotic mower to determine the height of the doghouse to be built for it.
Mo's house with a hand holding the  boards to show what it would look like once complete.

We then cut the boards to size, and positioned them into a house with an open side. The house is simply placed over the top of Mo’s base station.

Mo in his doghouse with hands positioning the back board on it.

The roof is positioned at a slight angle to help water to run off of it. This is done by having the walls cut to different heights.

To complete the house, we painted the sides and added some roofing shingles.

Mo's doghouse on a drop cloth and next to a bucket of paint.

Mo’s house has worked out quite well to protect Mo from the elements.

Mo in his finished doghouse, complete with shingled roof.

Are you raising the blade? Please consider sharing your photos of you or someone you know following #RaiseTheBlade guidelines by emailing or posting to Instagram or Twitter using the #RaiseTheBlade hashtag and tagging Lake Champlain Sea Grant and the Lake Champlain Basin Program. Plus, don’t forget, there is also still time to enter for a chance to win a mulching mower! Learn more and enter from the Lawn to Lake website.