After all the effort of keeping your lawn trimmed, the last thing you want to worry about is where to dump grass clippings.
Fortunately, lawn clippings are often best left alone. If you own a mulching mower, your best bet is usually to mulch those clippings and leave them on your turf to return nitrogen to the soil and feed your lawn.
But if you are interested in dumping grass clippings and want to be sure you’re doing so in an eco-friendly way, I’ll explain your options in this article.
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Grass Clippings Improve Your Lawn’s Health
Grass clippings make a fantastic natural fertilizer. They are a great source of nutrients and feed your lawn valuable nitrogen, which reduces the amount of lawn food you need to put on it.
Nicole Forsyth, a certified horticulturist and member of our expert panel, shares that the fertilizer reduction from grass clippings can be substantial, saying it “reduces fertilizer consumption by 25%!”
The organic matter grass clippings introduce into your yard is particularly helpful if your soil is sandy or high in clay.
The best way to ensure the effectiveness of this natural mulch is to mow regularly and use sharp blades on your mower. You want to keep your clippings at less than an inch long. That way they’ll settle into the soil to decompose.
If your grass is too long when you mow, it’ll rest on top of your grass and can suffocate your grass. To get around this, rake the clippings to spread them around your yard more evenly, or bag them and compost them.
Alternatively, you can mow your lawn at the mower’s highest height before making another pass at the proper mowing height for your lawn. This is even more effective if you have a mulching mower.
Other Ways to Make the Most of Your Lawn Clippings
Aside from regularly mowing your lawn, you want to make sure never to mow more than 1/3 the height of the grass every time you mow. Grass is healthiest with some length to it, and about 3-inches is the optimal height for most lawns.
When your lawn surpasses 4-inches, then it’s about time to trim it.
It’s very important to keep your mower blades sharp. A dull blade will tear the grass, instead of cutting it. This leaves jagged ends at the tip of the blade that then dry out. Your lawn is less healthy and more susceptible to diseases when that happens.
Make sure your grass is dry when you leave clippings on the lawn. Keep this in mind if you use grass clippings to mulch in your garden, as well.
Wet grass mats down onto existing grass and reduces oxygen exposure. It also traps moisture and prevents the mulch from getting into the soil.
Also – if you recently treated your lawn with a herbicide, don’t use the grass clippings as mulch. This can harm plants you want to keep.
Busting the Myth: Grass Clippings Do Not Cause Thatch to Develop
Despite popular belief, grass clippings by themselves don’t cause thatch to develop in your yard.
Thatch is a layer of decomposed grass plant parts, leaves, and other organic matter that settles below the grass but above the soil. Many people dethatch their lawn to remove this layer of organic matter. This helps oxygen, water, and nutrients get to the roots of your grass more easily.
Grass clippings are highly bio-degradable, since they are composed mainly of water. They break down too quickly to become thatch.
Thatch is usually caused by infrequent mowing, low oxygen levels in the soil, and excessive nitrogen fertilization. It develops when the plant matter grows more quickly than dead grasses can decompose.
When to Bag Your Grass, After All
As with any rule, there are always exceptions. One of the most beneficial things to do with bagged grass is add it to a compost pile (mixed with other organic materials).
The high nitrogen level in grasses make them a worthy addition to a compost pile to use in other gardening tasks.
Just remember – compost requires the right balance of carbon-rich materials (leaves, sawdust shavings, paper) and nitrogen-rich materials (grass clippings, food scraps). The bacteria that breaks down these materials into usable compost need some of each type of material to thrive. If you just pile up grass clippings without including carbon, your compost heap will be a wet, smelly mess.
If your lawn shows signs of disease, like leaf spot or dollar spot, don’t use it as mulch. You’re only spreading the lawn disease that way. Bagging it or using it in a general compost bin will reduce the severity of the lawn diseases. Again, if you treated your lawn with a herbicide recently, it’s best to remove the grass clippings by taking them to your local brush dump.
If your lawn mower is unsafe to operate without a bag, leave the bag in place. You can’t remove the bag on every mower, and your safety is the most important thing.
Also, if your clippings land in the curb or gutter, sweep them up. You don’t want them getting into the water supply, since that reduces the water’s quality, and cleaning up after you mow is part of being a good neighbor.
Find Your Local Brush Dump
You may not have the space for a compost pile or compost bin on your property, and if that’s the case I suggest you locate the nearest brush dump.
My town has a brush dump that is free to residents to use when you purchase a $25 pass. I can take any downed branches, trees, grass clippings, and leaves to this facility, and they compost those materials for us. This finished and screened compost is then available to residents, free of charge. I use this every 3 years to top-dress my lawn and feed my soil.
If you are unsure where to dump grass clippings in your community, you can contact your local town hall or public works department and they will be able to advise you about the nearest facility like this.
Pay whatever fee is required to dispose of your grass clippings responsibly if you must bag and dump them. It’s much better for the environment than simply finding a wooded area and dumping them there.
Happy, Healthy Lawns
Regularly feeding your lawn every year is one of the best things you can do for it. While there are plenty of fertilizers that you can buy to feed your lawn, mulching your clippings is the best (and cheapest) way to feed your lawn.
Grass clippings provide the same nutrients of nitrogen and potassium as lawn food, even if the amount is smaller. Frequent small feedings may not provide the instant green-up and satisfaction of spreading lawn fertilizer on your lawn, but it’s a natural (and free) way to achieve the same long-term result.
In addition, make sure to water your lawn thoroughly and infrequently. Doing so will encourage the root system of your grass to grow deep, which sustains your lawn through the hottest months and drought.
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