The following is part of a video transcript of "Don't Trash Grass" Presented by: The Department of Environmental Protection, Waste Management Bureau, Recycling Program Timothy R.E. Keeney, Commissioner. Copyright ©1992.
Don't Trash Your Grass!
Protecting our planet is everyone's responsibility, and if you "Don't Trash Grass" you can make a difference. Your participation will: reduce the amount of waste in our landfills and resource recovery facilities, recycle plant nutrients for a healthier lawn, protect resources by reducing the use of fertilizer, provide you with extra free time, and save you money!
If you follow the recommendations, not only will you have a healthy lawn, but you'll never have to bag grass clippings again! And you'll be doing your part for the environment!
"Less" Is The Key Word
Less fertilizer, less water, less work, and best of all, less solid waste. It's easy!
Recycling clippings back into the lawn requires less effort than disposing of them as waste. No one has to handle the grass clippings - not you, not your lawn care professional and not the waste management crew. What's more, you'll spend less money on fertilizer and garbage bags.
Surveys have shown that homeowners who left clippings on their lawns spent nearly 40% less time on each mowing because they didn't have to stop to empty grass catchers. These homeowners also rated their lawns as being much more attractive than before.
Grass Clippings Act As Natural Fertilizer
Grass clippings are too valuable to throw away with the trash. They contain about
- 4 percent nitrogen
- 1/2 percent phosphorous
- 2 percent potassium
These are the same nutrients found in commercial fertilizers!
Grass Clippings Contribute To Healthy Plants & Soil
Research done by the University of Connecticut indicates that leaving clippings on the lawn decreases the incidence of some plant diseases and increases earthworm activity, providing better water and air movement in the soil.
Myth: Grass Clippings Contribute To Thatch
Don't worry about clippings contributing to thatch problems. Thatch is the accumulation of dead roots and stems, and is most often caused by overfertilizing and over watering. Turf experts nationwide agree that lawn clippings do not produce thatch because they are 80% water and decompose quickly. The "Don't Trash Grass" lawn care guidelines provide recommendations for mowing, fertilizing and watering.
How To Properly Mow Grass
The rule of thumb for mowing is never remove more than one third of the leaf in any single mowing. Done consistently, this will allow the small clippings to filter down to the soil where they will decompose quickly. Most lawns thrive when mowed to 2 to 3 inches tall, especially in the summer. Kept at this height, the grass will develop a deep root system and become more drought resistant. It will also shade the soil, which keeps the roots cool and helps reduce weeds.
Mow when the grass is dry and keep your mower blade sharp. If excessive growth occurs between mowings, simply mow over the clippings a second time to further shred and scatter them. Or, to compensate for the extra growth, raise the mower height to remove only the top third of the grass blade. One or two days later, set the mower to its regular height and mow again to get back on track.
Don't leave clumps of grass on the lawn. If you still have excess grass clippings, you can add them to your home compost pile, use them as mulch, or till them into your garden soil.
Buying a Mulching Mower
Your present mower can be used to recycle grass clippings, but if you're thinking about buying a new mower, be sure to look for a "mulching" or "recycler" mower. It cuts the clippings into much smaller pieces, which decompose and recycle faster. Most lawnmower manufacturers now have adaptor kits, which allow your present lawnmower to operate as a mulching mower. You can also have a mulching blade installed. Check with lawnmower dealers to see what they recommend for your particular mower.
If you have a small lawn, you may want to consider buying a reel mower. These do a fine job of cutting grass without the noise and exhaust of a power mower.
Buying And Applying Fertilizer To Your Lawn
Proper fertilizer application is important. And remember, when it comes to fertilizer, more is not better. Research shows that most grasses require only modest levels of nitrogen for good color and controlled growth. Too much fertilizer will increase the need for mowing resulting in more clippings. For slower, more uniform growth, choose fertilizers containing slow-release nitrogen. The bag should read "water insoluble nitrogen" or "slow release nitrogen". Both are acceptable and will increase the amount of time the grass can use the nutrient. Because the grass clippings are returning nutrients to the soil, you can reduce the manufacturer's recommended application rate and still maintain a healthy green lawn.
Using less fertilizer will also reduce the amount of polluting substances carried into our streams and ponds.
Watering The Lawn During Summer Months
Though they may turn brown and dormant in periods of drought, turf grasses recover rapidly when soil moisture is replaced.
Remember, the more you water your lawn, the faster it's going to grow and the more you will have to mow it. If you choose to water your lawn during the driest period of summer, an inch of water every five to seven days is adequate. Measure this by placing an empty, shallow, flat-bottom container, such as a tuna fish can, near the sprinkler to gauge when an inch of water has been applied. If water begins to run off the lawn before an inch is applied, turn off the water and let it soak in for an hour or so, and then continue watering. This method will wet the soil about six inches deep, helping your grass to maintain a deep root system and allowing you to water less frequently.
The best time to water is in the morning because less water is lost through evaporation and transpiration. Avoid watering during midday, and try not to water in the evening since lawns that remain damp during the night are more prone to disease.
- Lawn Pesticides: An Unaccepatable Risk [pdf] by Grassroots Environmental Education.
- Factsheet to help you control weeds and maintain your landscape without pesticides by The Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP).
- Lawn Care: Pesticides Hazards and Alternatives - various resources by BeyondPesticides.org.
- Professional training course for organic lawn care DVD by Natural Turf Pro.