Should you use grass clippings as mulch? Homeowners have engaged in a debate over what to do with grass clippings since, well, probably since lawn mowers were invented. There are two schools of thought when it comes to whether you should use grass clippings as mulch. Let’s examine both options: leaving grass clippings on the lawn as fertilizer or removing grass clippings completely.
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Leave Grass Clippings as Mulch
Leaving grass clippings as mulch on your lawn after you mow not only saves time and energy, but also the clippings decompose quickly to add vital nutrients back into the soil.
As climate change became a hot issue, the movement to recycle grass clippings gained a lot of momentum. Proponents call this practice “grass-cycling” and advocate that leaving those clippings where they lay saves time, decreases the landfill and nurtures the soil.
The Professional Lawn Care Association reports that about 20% of all waste that goes into a landfill is landscape debris. Then, about half of that is just grass clippings. With yard waste bans in many areas of the United States, grass-cycling is an attractive alternative to bagging and dumping.
Plus, leaving grass clippings as mulch increases the health and beauty of your lawn. Grass clippings are 85 % water and decompose rapidly. They return nutrients to the soil with no thatch buildup. Grass clippings return 20% of their nitrogen to the soil to feed the lawn’s root system.
Bagging and Disposing Grass Clippings
On the other side of the argument, some homeowners and lawn care professionals believe that leaving grass clippings on your lawn is not only unsightly, but also can cause damage to your lawn. Leaving grass clippings as mulch on the lawn only becomes a problem if the clumps are too thick. If you mow the lawn before it gets overly tall, the mass of the grass clippings will not be big enough to warrant raking, and certainly won’t be large enough to damage your lawn. When cut grass lies in large clumps, it could be preventing the grass below it from getting the sunshine and water your lawn needs to grow. The result could be unsightly brown patches of dead grass.
If you don’t want to leave grass clippings on your lawn at all, use a mulching lawn mower. When you use a mulching mower, the grass clippings are gathered in a bag and can be used in compost piles for fertilization.
Mulching mowers cut down on your yard maintenance altogether. Otherwise, you end up either raking or bagging your grass clippings — which in turn mean disposing of those grass clippings or recycling them – all of which means extra work.
The bottom line is that as long as you are mowing on a regular basis and you don’t leave behind clumps of clippings, your lawn will benefit from leaving grass clippings as mulch on your lawn.
Advantages of Composting
If you prefer to rake grass clippings or bag them up, you should consider making them part of a composting strategy. Compost is decomposed organic matter and is high in nutrients that plants love. Bacteria and other micro organisms help break down that decomposing organic matter and their short life cycles become part of the process itself. When they reproduce their offspring continue the process while the parents bodies break down and add to the organic matter.
Composting has many benefits, both for you and for the planet.
The first advantage composting is a natural process. You will not contaminating the water table or your soil when you compost. In fact, you are actually contributing to the natural scheme of things when you take proper care of your compost pile. The ratio of carbon material, which is found in food leftovers, to nitrogen, which is released from your grass clippings, should be maintained at around 2 carbon to 1 part nitrogen. You also need to turn the pile to keep it aerated, but not enough that it dries out.
Another advantage of composting is that you use organic materials which would have otherwise been placed as trash. On a larger scale, composting would keep the size of landfills to a minimum.
And composting costs virtually nothing. Aside from the manual labor and possibly a compost container (see below), composting is free.
There are numerous resources online and offline for composting. Support groups are readily available for composting enthusiasts, especially with the emergence of climate issues.
Why You Need A Compost Tumbler
If you’re looking to turn your garbage into gardener’s gold and do it in a hurry, then you should try a compost tumbler. Composting requires turning over the pile of decomposing matter periodically, to keep parts of the pile from degrading while others lie dormant. That’s where a compost tumbler becomes a time saver.
To use a compost tumbler:
Add all the raw materials at once, then start turning.
Turn the tumbler every day. If you forget or don’t have time, turn it at least a few times a week.
The first few batches will take the longest unless you already have some compost that you can toss into the tumbler. You can also purchase compost activator that add bacteria and microorganisms.
You don’t need to add water to the compost tumbler unless you notice it drying out. As the grass clippings and food bits break down, they release their moisture, which gets trapped in the tumbler. A regular compost pile would lose that moisture to evaporation.
After about three weeks, you should have a dark, rich, crumbly pile of compost. It should have a nice earthy smell to it. If your waste is still recognizable, then let it decompose a little longer.
You have plenty of options when it comes to using your grass clippings as mulch, either on your lawn or on flower and vegetable gardens. If you’d rather not deal with grass clippings at all, give us a call about our lawn care program at (717) 951-5950.