Grasscycling: Making Life Simpler for the Laidback Gardener!
Did you know that you don’t have to rake up grass clippings when you finish mowing the lawn? In fact, if you leave them where they lie, grass cuttings quickly melt away, slipping down into the grass below and disappearing from view, usually within 24 hours. And as they disappear, they’re actually decomposing, recycling a lot of the moisture and minerals that were chopped off when you mowed.
If grass clippings decompose so readily, it’s because they’re so very rich in moisture and in nitrogen (the microorganisms that decompose plant materials just love nitrogen!). However, they also contain all the nutrients, like phosphorus and potassium, that lawn grasses need to grow well. So every time you leave clippings on the lawn, you’re actually fertilizing and watering it!
Of course, grasscycling is really nothing new. My father used to do it when I was a kid and practically laughed at our neighbors as they carefully raked their lawns after each mowing. As a former farmer, he knew dead plant material feeds the soil. The only new thing about the technique is the name. It never used to have one per se: you’d simply talk about “leaving the clippings on the lawn,” but now that it’s considered the environmentally friendly thing to do, it’s taken on the name grasscycling. You may also see the term mulch mowing, especially when it refers to lawnmowers.
Ideal for the Laidback Gardener
Grasscycling couldn’t be easier. After all, it’s something you don’t do: you don’t rake or bag clippings)! If your lawnmower is equipped with a bag or bin for clippings, remove it and put it in mulching mode. The manual supplied with the mower will explain how to do so. Then you just mow and the clippings end up dropping to the ground under the mower as you mow. Couldn’t be siimpler!
To make things even easier, most modern lawnmowers are now mulching mowers and come equipped with a mulching blade, a somewhat twisted blade that chops grass leaves into even finer pieces than a regular blade would. They were specifically designed for “mulch mowing” (grasscycling)… but even a straight lawnmower blade (now harder to find than a mulching blade) will still do the trick!
In addition to fertilizing your lawn, grasscycling offers several advantages:
- Mowing will be faster, because you won’t have to pick up and bag clippings when you finish. One study suggests a saving of 35 minutes per mowing session for an average lawn;
- Since grass clippings provide a good percentage of the minerals a lawn needs to grow well, you’ll be able to greatly reduce the cost of fertilizer… as well as its frequency of application. Many people are finding that, when they grasscycle, a single annual application of slow-release organic fertilizer at half the recommended rate is all it takes to maintain a premium lawn;
- Clippings also provide the turf with moisture, reducing watering frequencies and, in some cases, even the need to water;
- Lawns largely fertilized by grasscycling are proving more resistant to insects and diseases than lawns only fertilized with synthetic fertilizers.
No Need to Worry About Thatch
Many gardeners blame lawn clippings for thatch, that mysterious layer of mixed rhizomes and grass roots that forms between the soil and the green leaves of the lawn grasses above. And many automatically see thatch as their lawn’s enemy… yet they’re wrong on both counts.
Under good lawn conditions, clippings disintegrate too quickly to make up a significant part of thatch. Also, a certain amount of thatch — about ½ inch (1.25 cm) — is actually normal and a sign of a healthy lawn. The more pesticides are applied to the lawn, the more synthetic fertilizers are used and the shorter the lawn is mowed, the thicker the thatch layer will be. Grass clippings, given their capacity to keep the thatch zone moister and to better feed the microorganisms that live there, actually decrease the thickness of thatch in situations where it tends to accumulate excessively.
Treat your lawn with the respect it deserves and excess thatch will largely disappear all on its own!
Are You Breaking the Law by Putting Out Lawn Clippings?
Bagged lawn clippings often make up nearly 50% of the residential solid waste added to municipal landfills during the summer, a huge cost to the municipality and an environmental nightmare. As a result, many municipalities, and indeed some states, have banned lawn clippings from their landfills. Leaving bagged lawn clippings out for the garbage truck can result in fines.
I must admit though that in my neighborhood, although it’s covered by just such a ban, the law is certainly not being applied, as plenty of my neighbors still put their lawn clippings out for municipal pickup, yet no one seems to be handing out fines. So, bring on the police! I’m sure lawn owners would be much more likely to recycle grass clippings if they were being fined!
Mow High and Often
The only drawback to grasscycling is that you have to mow regularly. Of course, that’s also best for the lawn’s overall care anyway, but if you let your lawn get very tall (over 4 inches/10 cm), then mow it down very short (less than 2 ½ inches/7 cm), this can leave too thick a covering of grass clippings for them to disappear as quickly as they normally would. Worse, since they contain a lot of water and are therefore moist, clippings tend to clump together when present in excess quantities, and such clumps don’t let air or sun through to the grass below, harming the turf. That means you have to go back with a lawn rake, break up the clumps and spread the clippings more evenly, resulting in extra work for you.
Ideally, a lazy gardener would cut back his lawn by no more than a third at once, resulting in short clippings that don’t clump together. The recommended regime for lawns of most types is to let it grow to 4 inches (10 cm) tall, then to mow it back to about 3 inches (7.5 cm). That means mowing every 6 to 11 days under most conditions. This gives the ideal conditions for a healthy lawn and makes sure the clippings spread correctly.
Grasscycling: work less and get a greener, healthier lawn? It just seems tailor-made for the laidback gardener!