Thursday, July 15, 2010

Q&A: Mowing in Florida

Q:  I've been mowing my lawn this year with a scythe, and so far I'm very pleased.  I've run into one problem so far.  My lawn, like many in this area, is bahia grass. This grass likes to be mown high -- four or five inches or even higher.  It resents a close cut.  Sometimes while I'm mowing, the blade will ride along the top of the grass, clipping just the tips of the blades and especially the tall V-shaped seed heads this grass sends up, and the lawn looks good afterward.  But sometimes the blade wants to "dig in" and cut the grass close to the ground, and it takes the lawn a while to recover.  I've found that it helps to keep a loose grip and not press the blade downward. I keep experimenting with hafting angles. I was wondering if you have any additional tips for achieving a high but even cut.

A:  Here are some suggestions.  (Peter Vido may add some comments if I missed something): 

(1)  Adjust your snath (if possible) so that the blade will "hover" four inches above the ground when you are holding the snath with your right arm fully extended (assuming that you are right handed).  Otherwise, trying to consistently cut four or five inches above the ground will probably tire your arm muscles and give erratic results.  

(2)  Check the horizontal balance of the blade during the swing.  If the tip of the blade naturally tends to dip downward during the stroke (which would cut some grass too short), then make adjustments to the snath (if possible) according to the instructions here concerning horizontal balance.  If snath adjustments are not possible, then move the arms and wrists slightly during the swing to keep the blade level.

(3)  It may be useful to adjust the "lay" of the blade to increase the upward tilt of the sharp edge, especially if snath adjustments are not possible and you are relying on your arm and wrist muscles to modify your swing.  This is done by inserting a wedge between the snath and the tang of the blade, as shown in the instructions here concerning the lay.

(4)  Continue experimenting with the hafting angle to see what works best for you.

(5)  Keep the blade sharp, as a dull blade either bends the grass over or requires more swinging force, which can make the cuts more difficult to control.

(6)  For best results, try to mow in the mornings (or on cloudy days, even in the rain if it's not during a thunderstorm) before the sun dries out the grass.

Good luck, and feel free to give us an update.

(Sources:  Photo "Zoey lurks in the bahia grass" by j.s. clark,,
 Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic


  1. Thanks for the helpful tips.

    While mowing yesterday I tried experimenting with the "lay." In the end I decided I liked it better unaltered. I've narrowed down the hafting angle that works best for me.

    I've decided that the problem is that I haven't been holding the blade level enough--and especially that I'll occasionally angle the tip down. Whenever I do this, the blade really bites in and even scalps the lawn. (The angling downwards is useful though when I'm mowing where the lawn meets a flower bed, because it "edges" almost like a string trimmer would.) So I'm going to keep concentrating on keeping the blade level. Thanks again for your help!


  2. I live in Central Georgia on a farm with lots of bahia grass, in pasture and around the house. I have become intrigued with the idea of using a scythe, but have not bought one, mainly because absolutely NO ONE around here is remotely interested in this form of low tech mowing/harvesting. And I have never even seen a scythe except in pictures or films. I was particularly interested in a post by someone in Florida who asked for help with his mowing. He even mentioned bahia grass. Also, most scythe use seems to be in the Northwest or the Northeast, not in the South. The Florida fellow seemed like a person who might be close enough to me to actually visit and observe and get some information about scything that just can't be gotten by looking at a computer. If the Florida scythe user is still monitoring this site, I would appreciate his acknowledging this inquiry.

  3. To the person in Georgia, if you like you can "Post a Comment" here with your email address, and I will forward it to the guy who uses a scythe in Florida so he can reply to you directly. I would not actually post your email address on this blog (I moderate the comments and can decline to post them).

  4. Email address received from Georgia and forwarded to Florida.

  5. Hi,

    This is Bill, "the guy in Florida." I'm still using the scythe, and I'm still very pleased with it. As I say in the original post, most of the time I cut the grass high because bahia resents a close cut. This is to say, I cut mainly the V-shaped seedheads and just the tips of the grass blades. Cutting high this way is easy and quick. But it must be done frequently because, as you know, Bahia grows very quickly in the summer. I usually give the lawn a quick pass of the scythe every 4 days or so in the July, August, and September. (On a farm or in rural areas, it probably wouldn't be necessary to mow so frequently). Most of the time I don't even bother raking up the cuttings after mowing because they're mainly just seed heads. They don't interfere with the growth of the lawn.

    In late fall, I will give the Bahia lawn a close cut, and this requires a bit more effort because by then the grass is thick and tough. This close cut also leaves a lot of cuttings that must be raked up or at least spread out. Otherwise it looks like I have piles of hay out in the yard.

    I also use the scythe to cut wildflower meadow areas once or twice a year. The scythe is very good for this, much better than a string trimmer in my experience.

    The only disadvantage I can think of to using a scythe in the Deep South is the long growing season. I'm mowing the lawn at least once a week for nearly six months out of the year, and, as I said, even more frequently during the rainy season.

    And, as you know, it's hot and humid here, even in the early morning and late evening hours--the usual mowing times. Using the scythe is not hard labor, but it is physical exercise, and you're going to be doing it under hot and humid conditions. I still prefer it to pushing a mower or handling a string trimmer. That said, when I come in at night after scything in July or August, I'm totally drenched.

    The main challenge for me has not been the physical effort but learning technique--both how to mow well and how to preen and sharpen the blade. I've read (and re-read, and re-read) Tresemer's "The Scythe Book" and Peter Vido's afterward, along with Peter Vido's website and this blog. My technique has improved.

    I guess the advantage to using a scythe in the South is that the long growing season gives us extra practice.

    My main weak point is mowing tight spots (like narrow lawn paths) and around obstacles (stepping stones, flower pots). I'm improving, but I suspect I need a shorter blade for these areas.

    Steve has sent me your e-mail. I'll write to you. I'd be glad to show the scythe to you.

    Best of luck.