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The benefits of grasscycling lawn clippings


Posted August 31, 2021 9:00 a.m. EDT      Updated August 31, 2021 11:36 a.m. EDT

Believe it or not, there’s one simple thing you can do to save time, effort and money, all while protecting the environment: allow grass clippings to stay on your lawn.

Art Bruneau, professor emeritus at North Carolina State University, has been calling this concept "grasscycling" for years and highly promotes leaving clippings where they fall.

This process helps lawns thrive — and many of the healthiest lawns are maintained through clippings left behind after every mowing.

In fact, collecting and bagging clippings is actually counterproductive. Yard waste, including grass clippings, make up more than 10% of solid waste in our landfills. Some municipalities even charge tipping fees to discourage the bagging of clippings.

Grass clippings act as a natural fertilizer for your lawn. Every 100 pounds of dried grass clippings has the capability of releasing approximately anywhere from three to four pounds of nitrogen (good for growth and green color), a half-pound of phosphorus (good for rooting) and one to two pounds of potassium (good for reducing environmental stress) which can be taken up by the lawn.

In essence, leaving these clippings allows your turfgrass plants to take up some of these nutrients, reducing your lawn’s fertilize requirements by about 25% a year — and saving you time and money in the process.

A standard discharge lawn mower, with either a rotary or reel type blade, can be used for recycling grass clippings. The key is to mow often enough so that the clippings can infiltrate back into the lawn canopy. Microbes will digest the clippings and thus release the nutrients.

Mulching mowers are specifically designed to finely chop grass clippings so that clippings can easily enter the canopy and return nutrients to the soil. Some rotary mowers offer multiple options, allowing you to use standard discharge to mulch clippings or to collect clippings in a bagging unit for composting.

Simple grasscycling guidelines

When it comes to mowing, don't bag it: leave the clippings behind as they fall. If you have to collect clippings, put them in a compost pile rather than taking them to the landfill.

By following these grasscycling guidelines, you can keep your lawn looking its best, all while doing less work on your end.

  1. Cut the grass when it is dry. Wet grass is difficult to mow and tends to clump. It is critical that grass clippings fall through the canopy.
  2. Don't remove more than a third of the foliage at one time. This will result in smaller clippings if using a traditional mower that can easily sift through the canopy.
  3. Raise the mower if necessary. This should be done if excessive growth has occurred since the last mowing and then gradually lower the mowing height to the desirable height.
  4. Use a sharp mower blade. A clean cut will discourage disease activity and save fuel.
  5. Use a mulching mower if possible. Creating small pieces of grass clippings will help them enter the canopy.
  6. Avoid bagging grass clippings. Plastic bags do not degrade readily in a landfill.
  7. Compost. Grass clippings are an excellent addition to a compost pile. However, be careful if herbicides have been used recently if the compost is going to be used as a mulch.

This story was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Sod Producers Association. This promotion is supported in part by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.