What would you say if I told you that by making one change in your mowing habits this summer, your lawn will grow at a tolerable rate, maintain a green color, and develop a deeper, healthier root system…all while you generate up to 1/4 of your lawn’s annual fertilizer needs and reduce the amount of time and money you spent on fertilizing and bagging? That one change is called grasscycling.
Grasscycling, an ecologically and financially sound practice for your lawn, is defined as “recycling grass clippings by leaving them on the lawn.” The microorganisms in the soil can effectively break down clippings and add nitrogen and other valuable nutrients that can be absorbed by the grass. Additionally, grasscycling keeps the cuttings out of the trash collection process and landfills.
You may have some misgivings about not bagging your clippings because someone once said that grasscycling could add to the buildup of thatch in your lawn. Research on this topic has shown that clippings, which are made up of mainly water, quickly decompose, and therefore are not the culprits for thatch buildup. That honor belongs to grass stems, roots, and the lower portions of leaves that are below the mower blade.
Wondering if you need any special mowing equipment to practice grasscycling? Since all mowers are designed as “grasscyclers,” no special equipment is needed. Some manufacturers do market “mulching” attachments that chop clippings into finer pieces, which can improve a mower’s grasscycling performance.
Grasscycling works best when you use proper mowing techniques, as well as fertilize and water your lawn properly. Proper mowing means:
- Maintaining a sharp mower blade. It has been suggested that a properly sharpened and balanced mower blade will give the cleanest cut, without creating jagged leaf ends, and will lengthen mower life and reduce fuel consumption by as much as 22 percent.
- Cutting the grass at the recommended height. For hybrid bermudagrass, that’s 1-1.5 inches; for centipedegrass, common bermudagrass, and zoysia, it’s 1-2 inches; and for tall fescue and St. Augustinegrass, it’s 2-3 inches.
- Mowing often enough to remove no more than one-third of the plant height. As an example, if tall fescue is maintained at a height of 3 inches, you should mow before it reaches 4 inches. If frequent rains cause your lawn to get too high, raise the mower blade and cut off ¼ to 1/3. Then lower the blade to the proper height, and mow again after a day or two.
During stress periods, such as summer drought, it is a good idea to raise the blade height, but continue mowing regularly enough to avoid excess leaf removal. If extended periods of rainfall hinder mowing, clippings may be long enough to shade or smother the grass. In this case, you may want to bag the clippings rather than direct grasscycling. The bagged clippings can still be recycled as mulch around trees and shrubs, in a layer no more than one inch thick, or added to compost, as long as the grass was not treated with a herbicide that could harm the trees or shrubs.
Have home gardening questions? Need a soil test kit? The Master Gardener Help Desk is staffed on Mondays (9:00-12:00) and Wednesdays (1:00-4:00). You can also email us at email@example.com or call 770-267-1925. Look for our Ask a Master Gardener booth on Saturday mornings at the Farmers Market in Monroe, May-October.
Patricia Lunn Adsit is a Walton County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer as well as a member of the Garden Writers Association (GWA). She lives and gardens in Loganville, GA