Gardening Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day Lawn

Grasscycling: Making Life Simpler for the Laidback Gardener!

20170614A
Just leave the clippings on the lawn: so much less work for the laid-back gardener!

Grasscycling: Making Life Simpler for the Laidback Gardener!

Did you know that you don’t have to rake up grass clippings when you finish mowing the lawn? In fact, if you leave them where they lie, grass cuttings quickly melt away, slipping down into the grass below and disappearing from view, usually within 24 hours. And as they disappear, they’re actually decomposing, recycling a lot of the moisture and minerals that were chopped off when you mowed.

If grass clippings decompose so readily, it’s because they’re so very rich in moisture and in nitrogen (the microorganisms that decompose plant materials just love nitrogen!). However, they also contain all the nutrients, like phosphorus and potassium, that lawn grasses need to grow well. So every time you leave clippings on the lawn, you’re actually fertilizing and watering it!

Of course, grasscycling is really nothing new. My father used to do it when I was a kid and practically laughed at our neighbors as they carefully raked their lawns after each mowing. As a former farmer, he knew dead plant material feeds the soil. The only new thing about the technique is the name. It never used to have one per se: you’d simply talk about “leaving the clippings on the lawn,” but now that it’s considered the environmentally friendly thing to do, it’s taken on the name grasscycling. You may also see the term mulch mowing, especially when it refers to lawnmowers.

Ideal for the Laidback Gardener

20170614F.jpg
Grasscycling lets you finish mowing sooner.

Grasscycling couldn’t be easier. After all, it’s something you don’t do: you don’t rake or bag clippings)! If your lawnmower is equipped with a bag or bin for clippings, remove it and put it in mulching mode. The manual supplied with the mower will explain how to do so. Then you just mow and the clippings end up dropping to the ground under the mower as you mow. Couldn’t be siimpler!

20170614B
Mulching blades are now the standard ones used on power mowers.

To make things even easier, most modern lawnmowers are now mulching mowers and come equipped with a mulching blade, a somewhat twisted blade that chops grass leaves into even finer pieces than a regular blade would. They were specifically designed for “mulch mowing” (grasscycling)… but even a straight lawnmower blade (now harder to find than a mulching blade) will still do the trick!

More Advantages

In addition to fertilizing your lawn, grasscycling offers several advantages:

20170614C ZUHAUSE.net
What a time-saver! No need to pick up all those lawn clippings after you finish mowing
  • Mowing will be faster, because you won’t have to pick up and bag clippings when you finish. One study suggests a saving of 35 minutes per mowing session for an average lawn;
  • Since grass clippings provide a good percentage of the minerals a lawn needs to grow well, you’ll be able to greatly reduce the cost of fertilizer… as well as its frequency of application. Many people are finding that, when they grasscycle, a single annual application of slow-release organic fertilizer at half the recommended rate is all it takes to maintain a premium lawn;
  • Clippings also provide the turf with moisture, reducing watering frequencies and, in some cases, even the need to water;
  • Lawns largely fertilized by grasscycling are proving more resistant to insects and diseases than lawns only fertilized with synthetic fertilizers.

No Need to Worry About Thatch

Many gardeners blame lawn clippings for thatch, that mysterious layer of mixed rhizomes and grass roots that forms between the soil and the green leaves of the lawn grasses above. And many automatically see thatch as their lawn’s enemy… yet they’re wrong on both counts.

Under good lawn conditions, clippings disintegrate too quickly to make up a significant part of thatch. Also, a certain amount of thatch — about ½ inch (1.25 cm) — is actually normal and a sign of a healthy lawn. The more pesticides are applied to the lawn, the more synthetic fertilizers are used and the shorter the lawn is mowed, the thicker the thatch layer will be. Grass clippings, given their capacity to keep the thatch zone moister and to better feed the microorganisms that live there, actually decrease the thickness of thatch in situations where it tends to accumulate excessively.

Treat your lawn with the respect it deserves and excess thatch will largely disappear all on its own!

Are You Breaking the Law by Putting Out Lawn Clippings?

20170614G. Clipart Panda.png
Putting out bags of lawn clippings may be illegal in your area. Illustration: Clipart Panda

Bagged lawn clippings often make up nearly 50% of the residential solid waste added to municipal landfills during the summer, a huge cost to the municipality and an environmental nightmare. As a result, many municipalities, and indeed some states, have banned lawn clippings from their landfills. Leaving bagged lawn clippings out for the garbage truck can result in fines.

I must admit though that in my neighborhood, although it’s covered by just such a ban, the law is certainly not being applied, as plenty of my neighbors still put their lawn clippings out for municipal pickup, yet no one seems to be handing out fines. So, bring on the police! I’m sure lawn owners would be much more likely to recycle grass clippings if they were being fined!

Mow High and Often

20170614E Gardena
If you leave too deep a layer of clippings, you’ll have to break them up and spread them around: extra work for you! Photo: Gardena

The only drawback to grasscycling is that you have to mow regularly. Of course, that’s also best for the lawn’s overall care anyway, but if you let your lawn get very tall (over 4 inches/10 cm), then mow it down very short (less than 2 ½ inches/7 cm), this can leave too thick a covering of grass clippings for them to disappear as quickly as they normally would. Worse, since they contain a lot of water and are therefore moist, clippings tend to clump together when present in excess quantities, and such clumps don’t let air or sun through to the grass below, harming the turf. That means you have to go back with a lawn rake, break up the clumps and spread the clippings more evenly, resulting in extra work for you.

20170614D Gores Facility Services
Cut back the turf by about one-third each time. Photo: Gores Facility Services

Ideally, a lazy gardener would cut back his lawn by no more than a third at once, resulting in short clippings that don’t clump together. The recommended regime for lawns of most types is to let it grow to 4 inches (10 cm) tall, then to mow it back to about 3 inches (7.5 cm). That means mowing every 6 to 11 days under most conditions. This gives the ideal conditions for a healthy lawn and makes sure the clippings spread correctly.


Grasscycling: work less and get a greener, healthier lawn? It just seems tailor-made for the laidback gardener!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

4 comments on “Grasscycling: Making Life Simpler for the Laidback Gardener!

  1. Pingback: Less Fertilizer Less Often for a Beautiful Lawn – Laidback Gardener

  2. Pingback: 10 Resolutions for Laidback Gardeners – Laidback Gardener

  3. Pingback: Surface Composting: The Simplest Way to Compost – Laidback Gardener

  4. Pingback: The Fascinating History of the Lawn – Laidback Gardener

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: