Raise a Healthy Lawn: Raise Your Lawnmower Blade to 3 Inches

By Linda Patterson, Land Use Planning & Water Quality Educator (Email the author)
April 25, 2022

As the grass gets greener, many of us get out the lawnmower. Whether you enjoy it or dread it, managing your lawn requires time and money. A campaign called Raise the Blade in the Lake Champlain basin promotes three simple practices that create lush, green lawns with less chemicals and watering, and at the same time, that reduce stormwater flowing into our lakes and streams. A win-win approach!

The practices are:

  • Set your lawnmower blade at three inches;
  • Leave the clippings on the lawn; and
  • Cut only about one third of the grass height at each mowing, whenever possible.

Why are these practices good for your lawn and good for water quality?

  • Longer grass means longer roots which create air pockets, hold more stormwater (rain and snowmelt), and reach moisture deeper in the ground. Short grass makes compacted soil that can’t hold as much water or nutrients.
  • Clippings decompose into organic matter (decomposing plant or animal material) that feeds the grass. Soil with organic matter acts like a sponge, soaking up stormwater and filtering out pollutants. Organic matter also helps protect grass from pests and diseases without using chemicals.
  • Cutting only one third or less of the grass height conserves its energy for growing strong roots.

Grass in soil with ruler showing three inches in height

Many landscaping companies mow at three inches for the basic reason that longer grass stays healthier and greener in hot, dry spells.

You may have seen Raise the Blade lawn signs as you travel about Vermont and the Lake Champlain basin. Many of these are posted by the twenty-four municipalities and businesses who have endorsed the campaign. They are following the recommended lawn care practices and demonstrating their commitment to help reduce stormwater runoff. Homeowners can follow Raise the Blade guidelines, too!

Bibens Ace Hardware hangs campaign tags on new lawnmowers and shows customers how to raise the blade. Participants are recognized on the Raise the Blade Facebook page with a word of thanks.

We all know that polluted stormwater flowing into streams and lakes can lead to poor water quality. Polluted water can impact our health, our recreation, our economy, and other factors that make Vermont so special. How we manage our lawns can help keep our waters clean and safe.

Cutting your grass at three inches may challenge your traditions. But who knows? You might be inspired to start a new tradition if you know that taller grass is good for the lawn, good for the soil, and good for reducing stormwater runoff!

You can even enter a raffle for an electric lawnmower. For more information on the raffle and the campaign, please visit lawntolake.org, look us up on Facebook, or contact Linda Patterson at linda.patterson [at] uvm.edu.

Learn about other ways to manage stormwater around your home.

Raise the Blade campaign is part of Lawn to Lake, a collaboration of regional and state organizations devoted to water quality protection by reducing stormwater runoff and building healthy soils. Partners include Composting Association of Vermont, Cornell University Extension, Lake Champlain Basin Program, Lake Champlain Committee, Lake Champlain Sea Grant, State University of New York Plattsburgh, University of Vermont Extension, and Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.