It’s not hard to deduce what grasscycling means. It’s something about grass and recycling. What’s unspoken — the where and how that grass is recycled — is what makes the practice so beneficial.
Generally, grass-cycling is the practice of not bagging or raking up your lawn clippings as you mow. The benefits are obvious. You’re not stopping to empty the mower bag every time it fills. And you’re not filling up the local landfill with green waste from your yard.
That last bit is important. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 18% of what goes into landfills comes from yard waste. This jumps to as much as 50% at the height of the growing season. No wonder our landfills are filling up so quickly. No wonder so many communities are urging their citizens to recycle grass clippings in their towns.
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But the benefits don’t stop at the landfill. Grasscycling is also great for your lawn, holding in moisture, adding nitrogen to the soil, and preventing (not encouraging, as many of us were taught years back) the growth of thatch.
By another name, grass-cycling is the practice of mulching your lawn with its own clippings. It’s a crucial component to the practice of keeping an organic lawn.
It seems that nothing could be simpler than grasscycling. But to be effective, it needs to be done right. Here are tips on how to best save work and landfill space by mulching your lawn as you mow.
- Cut Grass To The Proper Height. Never cut your lawn too short. Studies show that taller grass is healthier grass. More of the leaf surface is exposed to the sun and the longer grass shades the soil helping to slow evaporation. Rule of thumb: cut no more than one-third the grasses’ total length. Let your grass grow up to four inches or more (depending on the variety) before mowing. Set your mower at its highest setting then work down from there to achieve a three-inch cut, two inches or less for low growing varieties including bermuda grass.
- Make Sure Mower Blades Are Sharp. Dull blades tear rather than cut grass. This leads to obvious brown scars at the leaf tip and makes the grass more susceptible to disease.
- Let Grass Clippings Settle Naturally Onto the Soil. It may take hours, or overnight, but the clippings left on top of your lawn will eventually settle to the soil where they’ll decompose. Longer clippings tend to ride more on top of the grass rather than settling. If you’ve waited too long to mow or have clippings that are a couple of inches long and bunch together, don’t pick them up. Break out the rake and spread them across your lawn.
- Water Thoroughly and Infrequently. Encourage grass to grow deep, extensive root systems. When roots crowd the surface because of shallow watering, they can develop thatch. Make sure your lawn is dry before watering. When grass turns pale green and doesn’t spring back under your footsteps, it’s time to water.
- Amend Soil To Keep Grass Healthy. Grasscycling will return some nitrogen and lesser amounts of minerals and other nutrients to your soil and can reduce your fertilizer needs by 25%. A high-quality, organic lawn fertilizer high in nitrogen applied early in the season will keep your lawn thick and healthy. Spreading screened compost on your lawn both in the fall and spring can provide micro-nutrients your lawn needs as well as the beneficial soil microbes that will speed the decomposition of recycled grass.
- Use A Mulch Mower. Mulch mowers trim cut grass to smaller, more readily mulchable lengths. They’re also great for mulching leaves directly into your lawn (or to be swept up for composting) come fall.
- Reduce Emissions and Exercise With a Reel Mower: You can increase the environmental and health advantages of grass-cycling by using a push reel mower. With a reel mower, you’re burning calories, not gas and two-cycle oil. Modern reel mowers are lightweight and easily maneuverable. Their spinning blades often do a better job clipping grass than gas-powered mowers which tend to tear and rip grass stems.
Want to know more? Here’s a thorough discussion on the natural recycling of lawn clippings from the University of Georgia Extension website.