I still see it all the time – my neighbors practicing it, commercials illustrating it, even city workers doing it on public property – yup, everybody is still mowing their lawn and bagging their grass clippings. Often, they will then throw it out with the rest of the trash.
I either cringe when witnessing this or have an impulse to sneak into their yard in the middle of the night to steal the garbage bags full of this priceless organic lawn fertilizer.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Luckily, there’s a growing movement towards better stewardship of our lawns and gardens. This includes recycling organic matter in the form of compost and grass clippings. This not only creates healthier gardens, it also removes tons of waste from landfills. According to the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works, 300 pounds of grass clippings are produced on an average 1000 square foot lawn per year.
What is Grasscycling?
If you’re a lazy gardener like I am, you’ll like this. Step One: simply mow your lawn without the bag. Step Two. There is no step two. That’s it. The grass clippings will remain on your lawn, where they’ll work their way down and contribute to the health of the soil.
Since grass is over 75% water, as they dry they will lose their mass and quickly decompose, releasing the nitrogen and fertilizing your lawn (when clippings turn from green to brown). This organic “slow-release” fertilizer is the equivalent to 4-1-3 nutrients, and it’s free. Why would anybody bag their clippings? Well, here’s some potential rebukes:
What About Thatch Build-Up?
Contrary to what most people would have you believe, grass clippings do not contribute to thatch. Thatch is comprised of live and dead grass and weed stalks and roots. An over-thatched lawn blocks water and air from reaching the soil.
However, don’t break your back every spring scrubbing your lawn of thatch. A lot of what you remove is valuable nutrients and food for the soil microorganisms that contribute to the health of your soil. Instead, de-thatch lightly and clean up leaves and other organic matter for your compost bin. They make great compost material , and in a few months it will all become rich organic soil.
What About Clumpy, Unsightly Grass Clippings?
It’s true that after you mow, there may be clumps of grass on your lawn, especially if your grass was long. Simply pick it up and add it to your compost bin. Better yet, invest in a mulcher, a lawn mower with a special blade that grinds up lawn clippings into small, fast-decomposing pieces. I have one, and looking at my yard while writing this, all the grass clippings have already disappeared into the lawn after mowing the previous day.
Tips For a Healthy Lawn
Mowing – Mow when your grass is dry and with a sharp blade. The best method is to only chop off 1/3 of the grass height. Any lower, and the grass will lose too many essential nutrients.
Also, set your mower at a higher setting. When your grass is higher, it will concentrate more on developing its root system over its height. Low-cut grass will kick the plant into overdrive to make up for lost height, exhausting it.
Higher grass also helps crowd out weeds, and shades the soil better, slowing water evaporation.
Watering – Water deeply and infrequently. Overwatering only forces your grass to grow taller, neglecting root health and forcing you to mow more. Infrequent watering encourages grasses to develop longer roots to search for water, and makes them more drought-resistant.
Soil pH – Check your local community to see if they offer free pH testing of your soil. Most grasses do well at pH 6.0 to 7.0.
Fertilizer – Fertilize in the spring and early fall for northern lawn, and in either spring or summer for southern lawns. Instead of using synthetic fertilizers, use a protein-based natural fertilizer such as seaweed, plant meal, manure and even dry dog food! Grasscycling throughout the mowing season completes the renewal of your lawn.
Aerate – If water collects on your lawn after a rainfall, you need to aerate. Punch four-inch deep holes in the soil using a spading fork to loosen and aerate the soil.