Here’s what to do with grass clippings

Richard C. Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.

For Release On Or After 06/22/12

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

As if mowing the lawn wasn’t trouble enough, dealing with and disposing of grass clippings can be a major problem. Clumps of grass clippings left on the lawn are unsightly and yellow the grass beneath them. And if you have a bagging attachment on your mower, handling the grass clippings extends the chore of mowing by taking extra time and effort to repeatedly empty the bag. On top of that, once clippings are put in bags and placed on the curb, our municipal waste handlers must deal with them.

What can we do about it?

If we manage our lawns correctly and use proper cutting practices, we can have nice lawns without having to bag clippings. Properly managed, grass clippings will not contribute to thatch buildup or other problems. Grass clippings can supply much of the nutrients needed by your lawn as they decompose. You’ve already got it, why throw it away?

The bag-free lawn care plan

You can follow this plan using a traditional lawn mower or a mulching mower.

For an established lawn, cut at the lower recommended cutting heights and use the lowest recommended amount of fertilizer. The rule of thumb for when to mow is to remove no more than about one-third of the leaf area at a time. If this practice is followed, the clippings will be small enough to sift into the turf and decompose naturally near the soil surface.

Cut your grass when the leaf blades are dry (wait for the dew to evaporate). The clippings will sift down to the soil better. Make sure your mower blades are sharp, and keep the mower housing clean for best cutting and movement of clippings.

To be successful, you need to mow frequently enough so that the clippings are not too large. This may mean that the lawn can’t necessarily wait until Saturday morning. You must also mow at the recommended height. To ensure that your blade is set at the recommended height, set the height when with mower on a concrete surface.

Type of Lawn                     Mower Setting              Mow at or before this grass height

    common                                  1”                                    1 1/2”
    hybrid                                     3/4”                                 1 1/4”
Zoysia                                         3/4”                                 1 1/4”
St. Augustine                             2”                                    3”
Centipede                                   1 1/2”                              2”

You may apply a second application of fertilizer to your lawn this month (the first application should have been done in April), but remember that fertilizing grass increases its rate of growth. Reducing the amount of fertilizer you apply to the lawn will reduce the amount of clippings you will have to deal with.

A complete turf fertilizer is recommended for the average lawn. Best is a blend with more nitrogen, little phosphorus and some potash. Fertilizers with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium ratios of 3:1:2 or 4:1:2 are good for turf. Choose a blend that contains some controlled-release nitrogen for longer feeding.

Don’t forget that recycled clippings also add nutrients, so fertilize at one-half the recommended rates – or not at all if the grass color, growth and general appearance are acceptable.

Other practices will add to your success.

Don’t over-water your lawn. During the hottest period of summer, lawns don’t need more than about 1 inch of water a week. Water as needed for weather conditions and wait until the grass actually shows some stress before watering. Drought-stressed lawns often appear slightly faded, and the grass blades may be folded or rolled up.

If you own or are thinking of buying a mulching mower, you’ll find they do an excellent job of chopping grass clippings and fit very well into this kind of program. Because these types of mowers are designed specially to chop grass clippings finely and return them to the lawn, they are a bit more forgiving if you wait slightly longer than recommended before mowing. Still, always avoid letting the grass get excessively tall before you mow.

When you can’t follow the program

If rain or vacation has delayed your scheduled mowing, don’t just mow as usual because cutting tall grass low means long clippings. In this case, use your grass catcher or rake the clippings from the lawn. These clippings make a great addition to your compost pile or can be dried and applied to beds as mulch if herbicide has not been applied within the past month.

For more information, contact your parish LSU AgCenter extension office or go here.

Rick Bogren
5/30/2012 12:33:39 AM
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