As you begin mowing your lawn again this summer, why not consider starting a grass cycling program? Grass cycling simply means to leave grass clippings on your lawn to decompose, instead of bagging them. Although you may associate such a maintenance method as contributing to a thatch layer, research shows it isn’t true. Grass clippings are 75 to 85% water, and decompose very quickly if the mowing is done correctly.
The Biological Makeup of Grass Clippings
Grass cycling provides several benefits you may not know about. For one, grass clippings contain nutrients that, once broken down, replenish the soil. Grass clippings contain about 4% nitrogen, 2% potassium, and 1% phosphorus—nutrients that make up a normal fertilizer product. The nutrients are slowly released over time and help contribute to steady and strong grass growth. Therefore, lawn owners that participate in grass cycling programs will be able to apply about 25% less fertilizer to their lawns.
Grass clippings are also a food source for the good bacteria, microorganisms, and earthworms, which in turn stimulate the decomposition of thatch and other materials. And grass cycling is environmentally friendly. Grass clippings can make up 20% of landfill material. This enormous waste of nutrients has caused some states to ban grass clippings from landfills altogether.
The most important thing to remember once you have decided to begin grass cycling is to mow so frequently that you are never removing more than 1/3 of the leaf blade at one time. This will mean more than a weekly mowing, especially during your lawn’s most active growing season. But studies have shown that it takes less time to mow regularly and not bag grass clippings than it does to mow less often and bag grass clippings all at once. Mowing frequently will keep grass clippings small and make the lawn easier to mow.
You should always mow with sharp blades. Mowing does an injury to the grass, and sharp blades will help the cuts to heal quickly. Dull mower blades create ragged and rough cuts that take longer to heal. Mulching mowers are specially designed to cut grass clippings into even smaller pieces. If you have a mower with a bagging attachment, carefully review the manufacturer’s guidelines to see if you can remove the attachment without compromising the lawnmower’s safety, or if you can buy an adapter.
When You Should Remove Clippings
There are some scenarios where you should remove grass clippings from the lawn. One is if the clippings are overly long. Use those clippings as mulch, or add them to a compost pile. You shouldn’t mow a lawn when it is wet, but if you must, you should probably remove the wet clippings, as they won’t distribute very evenly across the lawn. You should also check to see if your lawn is growing on a thatch layer that is deeper than ½”. While grass clippings don’t cause thatch, they won’t be able to come into contact with the soil if the thatch layer is too thick.
Perform a de-thatching or aeration before you begin a grass cycling program if that is the case. Remove clippings if there is lawn disease that you don’t want to spread (you can leave clippings that have been treated with herbicides or pesticides on the lawn; they should not be used in mulch or compost). As you follow the grass cycling program, you will begin to see many positive results in your lawn.