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When You Sod, Don’t Bag It. Leave It!

Collecting grass clippings is a waste of time, effort and energy and is not good for the environment.

Spring is just around the corner and you’re probably thinking about your lawn.

Believe it or not, there is one thing that you can do that will save you time, effort and money, all while protecting the environment. That is by allowing grass clippings to stay on your lawn.

In fact, the healthiest lawns thrive when their own clippings are left behind after every mowing.

Surprisingly, collecting and bagging clippings is actually counterproductive. Yard waste, including grass clippings, make up more than 10 percent of solid waste in our overfilling and limited number of 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 3 to 4 pounds of nitrogen (good for growth and green color), a half pound of phosphorus (good for rooting) and 1 to 2 pounds of potassium (good for environmental stress) which can be taken up by the lawn.

In essences, leaving these clippings allows your turfgrass plants to take up some of these nutrients, reducing your need to fertilize by about 25 percent a year.

A standard discharge lawn mower, with either rotary or reel type blade, can be used for recycling. 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.

Dr. Art Bruneau, professor emeritus at North Carolina State University has been calling it “grasscycling” for years and highly promotes leaving clippings where they fall.

In the early ’90s, yard waste accounted for 20 percent of the total municipal waste. It has been dropping over the decades because of grasscycling.

“Former Governor Martin proclaimed ‘Grasscycling Day’ in the late 1980s,” Bruneau recalled.

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.

Follow These Grasscycling Guidelines

  • 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.
  • Don’t remove any 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.
  • 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.
  • Use a sharp mower. A clean cut will discourage disease activity and save fuel.
  • Use a mulching mower if possible. Creating small pieces of grass clippings will help them enter the canopy.
  • Avoid bagging grass clippings. Plastic bags do not degrade readily in a landfill.
  • 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.