It's well known that dull mower blades reduce the visual quality of turf by shredding the tips of the grass blades, producing a discolored cast. Do dull mower blades have effects that are more than cosmetic? Researchers at the University of Nebraska conducted research to address that question and found some interesting answers.

Drs. Don Steinegger and Robert Shearman (former NTEP president) mowed turf plots multiple times with a dull blade and observed the effects. First, the researchers found that dull blades increased disease susceptibility, which is consistent with other research findings. Presumably, this was due to greater pathogen entry sites in the shredded leaf tips. However, this effect occurred only with susceptible varieties. Varieties noted for their resistance to the diseases in question were not worse off due to the dull blades.

Second, the research found that water use decreased with the dull blades. This is contrary to some published literature suggesting the opposite. This belief was probably based on the assumption that the shredded leaf tips offered more surface area from which water could evaporate.

However, the Nebraska researchers found that turf cut with a sharper blade actually used 33 percent more water than the turf mowed with a dull blade. They think this is due to the slower growth rate of the turf mowed with a dull blade. The researchers caution that using a dull blade may not be the most pragmatic way to conserve water, noting that reduced visual quality, greater disease and slower growth more than offset the benefits of lower water use.

The third result of this study is perhaps the most surprising. Steinegger and Shearman found that a sharp mower blade cut fuel consumption by 22 percent. It makes sense that a dull blade would produce more resistance, but this study shows that the difference in fuel consumption is more than a theoretical consideration.

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