As anyone who has mowed their lawn dozens of times in a season knows, grass does not stay short. However, it also does not grow infinitely.
Each species of grass wants to mature to a particular height before moving on to the next stage of its life cycle. Bamboo, which is technically a type of grass, can rapidly grow to over 100 feet tall. The tallest grass species in North America, a reed called phragmites, grows in marshes and can reach a height of 13 feet.
The grass species found in lawns are much less ambitious, stopping their growth at a height of about 2 feet. Once these species have reached their mature size, they begin the reproductive stage of their life by forming flowers. Because grasses are pollinated by wind rather than by insects or birds, their flowers are small and inconspicuous.
Next, pollinated flowers mature into seeds. In grasses that are grown as commercial crops, such as wheat and corn, the part of the plant that is harvested forms at this stage.
If left alone, the seeds will disperse and, if they’re lucky, grow into new grass plants. The cycle of life continues.
When grass is regularly mowed, it is kept perpetually immature and unable to reproduce through flowers and seeds. However, it can still reproduce! Just as a mown grass plant quickly grows back its lost part – the blade – grass clippings will try to regrow their own lost parts. If left lying in a favorable location, clippings will form new roots and become independent plants.
The great diversity of the grass family means that it’s possible to put away the lawnmower forever and still have a short lawn. Some species, such as dwarf mondo grass, look similar to traditional lawn grasses but never get more than a few inches tall. Other species, like Pennsylvania sedge and the fine fescues, grow a little taller but flop over into soft mounds. These grasses are great alternatives for homeowners who are interested in mowing less but are not yet ready to abandon the aesthetic of a lawn.