Grasscycling: It’s Okay to ‘Let it Lay’
Did you know that a ½-acre lawn in Pennsylvania produces more than three tons – nearly 260 bags – of grass clippings every year? Think of all the time, money and effort it takes to bag all those clippings. Why go through all that hassle when it’s not necessary?
It’s simple. Grass clippings left on the lawn decompose and act as a natural organic fertilizer. This lets you reduce the amount of commercial fertilizer you need to apply. Your lawn will remain healthy and green because each time you mow, you will be returning valuable nutrients to the soil.
Any mower can recycle grass clippings. Just remove the grass catcher. Ask your lawn mower dealer if you need a special safety plug or adapter kit to convert your mower into a ‘recycling’ mower. Installing a mulching blade is also helpful.
- Never cut off more than ½ of the grass blade in one mowing. Keep grass mowed to 2” in early spring, gradually raise the height to 3-4” by summer; then gradually reduce to 2” by late fall.
- Mow when the grass is dry.
- Keep your mower blade sharp. Dull mowers tear the grass blade, injure the plant and cause a brownish cast to the turf.
- If the grass gets too high, mow over the clippings a second time to further shred and scatter them.
- To prevent excess growth between mowings, raise the mower height, mow, then gradually lower it over a span of several mowings. This will help prevent shock to the plants.
- When it’s time to replace your mower, consider a mulching, recycling, or nonpolluting reel mower. All of them do a good job of scattering grass clippings.
Thatch, a matted layer of dead roots and stems, usually is caused by too much water and fertilizer. Clippings don’t produce thatch because they are 80 percent water and decompose quickly. A thatch layer of more than 1/2” should be removed.
Compost. Fresh clippings should comprise no more than 1/3 of the compost pile. They are an excellent source of nitrogen. Mix thoroughly with ‘brown’ material such as leaves or straw and turn pile regularly to aerate it and prevent odors.
Mulch. Piled about 1” of dried clippings on the soil to reduce weeds and moderate soil temperature. Mulching also controls erosion, run-off and evaporation. Is using herbicides, wait at least two mowings after treating the lawn to use the clippings.
Soil Additive. Mixing fresh grass clippings into the garden improves soil texture, promotes moisture retention and adds nutrients and organic matter. About once a month, turn 2” layer of grass into soil to a depth of 6”.
Most grasses need modest amount of nitrogen for controlled growth and good color. Too much fertilizer increases growth and results in more frequent mowing.
It is best to fertilize around Labor Day and then again at the end of October. Fall fertilization promotes a vigorous root system and helps the plant survive winter, but does not lead to the excessive top growth of spring fertilization. Apply only ½ pound of nitrogen per 100 square feet of lawn.
Reading has enough rain that turf grasses don’t have to be watered to survive. Healthy lawns go brown during a drought, but quickly turn green when rainfall resumes.
If you choose to water, 1” of water will wet the soil to a depth of 4”-6”. Place an empty can under the sprinkler to determine when an inch has been applied. If water runs off the lawn before reaching an inch, turn off the sprinkler and wait an hour before resuming.
- Water deeply and infrequently to encourage deep root growth. Light, frequent watering encourages shallow roots, which increase the risk of disease and stress injury.
- Water in the morning. Less water is lost through evaporation and transpiration.
- Don’t water at midday or in the evenings. A lawn that remains damp during the night is more prone to disease.
Consider turf grass alternatives. Increase shrub beds, grow a wildflower meadow, or plant ground covers. They look beautiful, don’t need mowing, and will help reduce yard waste and maintenance.
Recycling clippings back into the lawn is less work than disposing of them as waste. No one has to handle the clippings – not you, not your lawn care professional, or the Public Works crew. By not trashing grass, you can reduce your mowing time by nearly 40 percent and spend less money on fertilizer and trash bags. And you’ll be doing your part for the environment by reducing waste.
If you follow these It’s Okay to Let it Lay guidelines, not only will you have a healthy lawn, you’ll never have to bag grass clippings again.