What To Do With Cut Grass: Tips For Recycling Grass Clippings

By: Mary Ellen Ellis

Everyone likes a tidy lawn, but that can be hard to achieve without cutting the grass regularly and finding something to do with all the clippings that are left. What to do with cut grass? You may be surprised at how many grass clipping uses there are that go well beyond simply leaving them where they lay on the ground.

Recycling Grass Clippings

One obvious option is to simply leave the clippings on your lawn. Many people go this route simply because it is easier, but there are other good reasons to do it. Mulched up grass clippings will decompose pretty quickly, providing nutrients for the soil and helping the grass continue to grow well. Grass cuttings are particularly useful in adding nitrogen to the soil.

You can practice this simple type of recycling just by using a typical lawn mower with sharp blades and cutting the grass regularly. You can also use a mulching mower, which will chop the cut grass up into smaller pieces. A mulching mower, or a special attachment for your standard mower, speeds the decomposition, but it isn’t necessary.

Other Uses for Grass Cuttings

Some people report that their lawns are healthier when they mulch the clippings and leave them on the ground, but others don’t care for the untidy look. If you are in the latter camp, you may be wondering what to do with grass clippings to get them off the lawn. Here are some options:

  • Add grass clippings to your compost pile. Grass adds valuable nutrients, especially nitrogen to compost mixes.
  • Use your collected grass clippings as natural mulch. Pile it up in flower beds and around vegetables to hold in water, keep the soil warm, and discourage weeds. Just don’t lay it on too thick.
  • Turn the clippings into the soil that you are preparing for a flower bed, vegetable garden, or any other area where you are going to plant something.

There are times when recycling grass clippings doesn’t make sense. For instance, if the grass has been allowed to grow very long or it is going to be wet when you cut it, the clippings will clump together and could damage the growing grass.

Also, if you have disease in your lawn or have recently sprayed it with weed killer, you don’t want to recycle those clippings. In those cases, you can bag it up and put it out with yard waste, according to your city’s or county’s rules.

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How to Use Grass Clippings As a Weed Barrier

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Grass clippings offer a readily available mulch that may be applied anytime during the growing season. By using grass clippings as a weed barrier, you are returning valuable nutrients to the soil. It is also a way to repurpose green yard waste. But avoid using grass clippings containing herbicide residue, advises the University of California Cooperative Extension, especially around edible plants. Besides the obvious health concern for humans, herbicide-laden grass clippings may also damage vegetable and flowering plants.

Allow the grass clippings to dry. One way to do this is to leave grass clippings right on the lawn until dry and then rake them up. Dried grass clippings won’t mat together so easily and they are less likely to mildew.

Remove any existing weeds from the area where you wish to create the weed barrier. Pull the weeds by hand or use a hoe, but make sure you remove them by the roots.

Apply dried grass clippings in a 2- to 4-inch layer. Keep the grass clippings at least 2 inches away from the base of woody plants. You don’t want mulch touching the bark because moist bark is more prone to suffer damage from disease, insects or rodents.

Reapply grass clippings as needed to maintain a 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch.

Keep an eye out for nitrogen deficiency of nearby plants, which may be evident by yellowing lower leaves. As the grass clippings decompose, the soil in contact with the clippings uses nitrogen to break them down, making less nitrogen available for the growing plants to use.

Fertilize nitrogen-deficient plants, if necessary, with ammonium sulfate at a rate of about one-fourth pound for every 100 square feet.

Ann Wolters has been a writer, consultant and writing coach since 2008. Her work has appeared in "The Saint Paul Almanac" and in magazines such as "Inventing Tomorrow" and "Frontiers." She earned a Master of Arts in English as a second language from the University of Minnesota.

1. Leave Them on the Lawn

If you’re striving for a perfect lawn, you probably remove your glass clippings every time you mow. But you’re actually robbing the grass of certain nutrients that it needs to thrive.

In future, leave your short clippings lie, as they will break down quickly, nourishing the grass and turning it a perfect shade of green. In fact, grass clippings can add back up to 25 % of the nutrients that growth removes from soil! These clippings also encourage beneficial microorganisms and earthworms that digest this grass and maintain healthy soil.

However, clippings that are too long won’t break down and will leave the lawn looking unsightly. To avoid this, you may need to mow more often – removing no more than one-third of the grass blade each time. Despite more frequent cutting, you’ll still be saving time by neglecting to collect the clippings! Studies show that it takes less overall time to mow more often and leave clippings on the lawn, compared to mowing weekly and bagging clippings.

Note that if your lawn is showing disease or is full of weeds, tackle these issues before leaving the grass clippings lie, as this will only exacerbate the problem.

2. Mulch

If you’re buying bags of mulch at your local big box store for your homestead, you’re definitely doing it wrong! Instead, you should definitely consider using many of the organic materials your homestead already produces, like grass clippings, to mulch your flower beds and rows of vegetable plantings.

Grass clippings can help to lock in moisture to your garden beds, and will slowly add nutrients to the soil as they decompose. And remember: grass clippings are 100 percent free, too!

If you use fresh grass clippings, ensure you do not layer the mulch on too thick it has a tendency to retain a great deal of water, and can lead to mold or mildew sprouting up in your garden. A ¼ inch layer is just right with fresh clippings.

Dried grass clippings are an even better choice as a garden mulch. When they are dried out, the clippings can be layered on thicker. While clippings are not as attractive as traditional mulches, they work fine, and they are free!

Avoid applying more than two inches of grass clippings a time, and always use dry clippings since wet clippings can reduce the likelihood of moisture and oxygen penetrating the soil. Of course, you should avoid using grass clippings as mulch if you ever used herbicides or pesticides on your lawn.

Here is a video discussing the use of grass clippings as a garden mulch:

Watch the video: Should You Pick Up Grass Clippings

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