The latest blog from idverde’s Angus Lindsay.

You hear it every year: “This is the worst season ever! The grass is out of control!”

There’s no denying that it’s been a tough year. But what makes things more difficult, particularly over the last couple of years, has been the interpretation of the specification and the expectation of the finished product. Let’s be realistic, a change in cutting frequency from 16 cuts to 10 cuts is going to lead to a significant difference in quality. How do you manage this?

What are the options in the world of grass cutting? Frequency or performance? Both have pros and cons, which can be beneficial to client and contractor alike. It gets difficult when a regime changes from one to the other or there’s a combination within the same specification. A monthly cut with the grass maintained at a height of 50mm is not only unrealistic, but virtually impossible to deliver, though it is being asked for.

Budget constraints have forced local authorities to look at realistic ways of saving money. Reducing grass cuts can be a quick win, saving a considerable amount of revenue. The problem comes when these changes are not properly communicated to those immediately affected. Groups such as residents, friends groups, and other stakeholders, often expect their verges and open spaces to be lawn-like and free of arisings, when in reality, to get the grass down, you have to use a flail mower, or cut so high that the finish is not dis-similar to a silage cut.

With the right number of machines and operators a frequency regime should be relatively easy to deliver, though this is always dependent on the weather and, in particular, the ferocity of the spring flush, which can cause no end of headache.

A specification-based regime with realistic upper/lower limits should be achievable, but does need a level of flexibility between client and contractor, especially in difficult weather conditions. It also helps to be sensible when measuring the height of the cut grass, so let’s not get carried away – a tape measure has its uses, but realistically, this is not one of them! By setting the machine to the correct height, it should be easy enough to achieve an even finish across the cut area, with any variations down to the machine being badly set; the most common problems are a single unit on a triple (usually the centre one), or blunt blades on a rotary deck.

With a realistic specification you should be able to deliver a consistent cut with an even spread of arisings, but it will vary during the season, and you have to accept that things will change depending on what the weather throws at you.

Mowing in Mendip

Unfortunately there does seem to be a one-sided understanding regarding what machines are capable of in these changing conditions and, while you may want a cylinder-mown lawn-like finish, this is not realistic on a three-week cutting regime. To expect grass to be maintained at between 40mm and 50mm throughout the season is also unrealistic as, during the spring flush, grass can grow 10mm in a matter of hours. The days of 7-10 day cutting frequencies on amenity grass are quickly disappearing, so we see more arisings left on our verges and open spaces. Sure, we can collect this grass, but it costs money in terms of machines, labour and disposal – money that has to be saved.

From all sides we need a better understanding of the specification, an appreciation of what different regimes will deliver and, most importantly, to be realistic with our expectations and not over promise.