We’re lucky to have a large lawn at home, and I spend a lot of time mowing so we create a lot of grass clippings. Most go on the compost heap but some are used as mulch – but is this a good idea?
Lawn clippings make good mulch, and can be used on flower beds, in planters and even on sparse areas of grass on your lawn. Grass mulch adds more than 25% of the nutrients lost through plant growth, so it’s beneficial however you use it – even in compost.
Let’s look into using grass clippings as mulch in further detail, and dig down (pun intended!) into some of your key questions on the subject…
Can Grass Cuttings Really Be Used As Mulch?
Yes, they can. Even though lawn clippings may seem like waste they add value to your lawn when used for mulching.
Not only that, you can use grass clippings on flower beds, planters, and in compost.
When you use lawn clippings for mulching, you prevent weeds, enhance soil, and retain moisture. Usually, the grass clippings are collected in the lawnmower bag.
Most people tend to leave the bag out to allow the clippings to fall on the lawn. Or you may choose to dispose of them as waste. Mulching is far much better. Remember that it is composed of fresh and dried grass.
The fresh clippings help cool the soil, and as they dry up, they are absorbed as nutrients. Grass mulch adds more than 25% of nutrients lost through growth. When layering, the fresh clippings leave at most a quarter thick placement. In such a case, the clipping breakdown before they start to smell.
You also layer clippings thicker, a pretty helpful side dress for crops. One of the macronutrients present in the clippings is nitrogen which is vital for plant growth.
Grass clippings and other plant waste, such as dried leaves, make the best compost. The compost is well-balanced in nutrients.
How Do You Turn Grass Clippings into Mulch?
First, you need to examine the lawn clippings. While they form excellent mulch, there are some grass types that you need to avoid. For instance, grass with seed heads may sprout over time which kills the idea of mulching.
Focus on collecting grass blades and leave out any seed heads.
Secondly, it is better to allow your grass to grow an extra inch or two more. Refrain from using weed killers on your grass for that period. Attach your mower bag for grass collection. Note that dry grass makes better mulch.
Once you’ve collected the clippings, you can spread them 2 inches thick to dry. You can place dried clippings directly into your garden.
If you are not set on where to apply the clippings, store them accordingly. If the climate allows, you may leave them drying in the sun. However, cooler climates call for the use of plastic bags, or you may store them in a shed.
The problem is when lawn clippings get wet; they immediately start decomposing. You don’t want to be bombarded by moldy grass. The toxins damage your lungs causing permanent scarring which affects the transfer of oxygen to the bloodstream.
If you store them right, they can stay for a year.
Is it Better to Mulch or Bag Grass Clippings?
Mulching is always the first choice when you are presented with mulching or bagging grass clippings. But there are situations where bagging makes more sense. As we have seen, grass blades are nutritious.
Since we have already looked into mulch in the previous questions, let’s first discuss bagging. Bagging is better when your lawn is experiencing seeding.
When your grass is a few inches taller, the clippings may hinder the penetration of nutrients. Therefore, mulching won’t be the best solution in such a case.
In fall, there’s a lot of leaves falling on your lawn. In such a situation, bagging comes in handy because it will speed up the raking process.
Apart from the few instances we’ve highlighted above, mulching has its advantages. Here are a few mulching advantages.
Mulching is healthy for your lawn. Besides nitrogen, clippings also contain phosphorus, potassium, and a lot of water In a sense, dropping clippings is equal to feeding and watering your lawn.
Again, it’s less tiring. Mowing and raking take up a considerable amount of time and energy. However, when you drop the clippings on your lawn, you save up on time and effort. The natural decomposition process comes in handy in such situations.
Mulching adds to your lawn’s appearance. The more delicate pieces of grasses used for mulching do not end up on the road. Plus, they make your lawn look better.
Interestingly, dumping yard waste is illegal in some states. So, you’ll be fined for dropping clippings on the road. Ensure you familiarize yourself with your state laws to avoid getting penalized.
So when is mulching a bad idea?
Taller grass makes the process of mowing harder. When it comes to mulching in such a situation, your lawnmower finds it hard to chop the lawn clippings.
Wet grass does not augur well with mulching. Wet grass cramps together, leaving grass piles when done with mowing.
How Long Does it Take For Grass Clippings To Decompose?
The process of grass clipping decomposition takes about 1-2 months. The fact that grass is composed of 80% water means the decomposition process is reasonably quick.
One way to further speed up grass clipping decomposition is to mow your lawn regularly, following the one-third rule. This states that you need only to cut one-third of the entire height of the grass blade.
But to do this, you need to let the grass grow longer. All you have to do with the is “grasscycle”. Grasscycling is the process of recycling grass instead of sending it to waste in landfills..
Experts from the Missouri Botanical garden say that if you use grass clippings for mulching, your fertilizer usage may drop by up to 25%. This is because grass clippings attract friendly microorganisms and earthworms that add value to the soil.
One concern you might have is the formation of thatch. Well, mulching does not cause thatch. Thatch is a spongy cover that hinders your lawn from oxygen and water penetration. Typically, this is caused by plant roots, rhizomes, stolons, and crowns that take longer to decompose.
Besides grasscycling, you can create compost. If you add your clippings to other materials, you’ll end up creating compost that is beneficial to your garden. Ideally, the lawn clippings shouldn’t be more than half of the entire compost content.
Mulching or soil amendment quickens the process of decomposition. Once the clippings decay, they add valuable nutrients to your garden. Just remember to replenish your mulch regularly.
Can I Leave Grass Clippings On The Lawn? (Do They Turn into Soil?)
Yes, you can. When you leave grass clippings on your lawn, they add nutrients to the soil and feed the grass. So the advantages of leaving grass clippings on the lawn outweigh the disadvantages.
Eventually, when the decomposition process is over, the clippings turn into soil. Usually, when this happens, it helps save on the amount of fertilizer you could have used.
Tips To Keep Your Lawn Healthy With Grass Clipping Mulch
- When mowing, ensure you cut high. The ideal cut height is not less than a third of the grass height. Choose a mulching mower that helps to reduce the size of the clippings. This helps to ease the process of disintegration and release of the nutrients.
- A sharp blade eases the process of lawn mowing. You may sharpen the blade at least twice a year.
- Consider the mowing direction. This means alternating the mowing direction to avoid one-directional exposure that causes damage from the sun.
- Thatch formation is caused by excess water and fertilizer. If you manage the mulch well, thatch won’t form.
- Over time, at most four months, the grass fully decomposes, and you couldn’t tell it was there in the first place. Through naturally occurring microorganisms and optimum settings, the clippings decompose to become part of the dirt.
- Mulch is helpful in a variety of places in your backyard, from the lawn itself to plants, trees and flower beds.
After researching this article it’s fair to say that I think we’ll use even more of our lawn clippings as mulch in future.
There are so many nutritional benefits to grass clippings that it seems a shame to throw most of them on the compost heap.
Our chickens love pecking through the grass clippings we leave as mulch on the lawn too – so that’s always great to watch with the kids. 🙂
Homeowner and property investor Larry James founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >