‘Waste not, want not’ is a well-known proverb that applies much to yard wastes like grass clippings that you can use elsewhere.
Frequent mowing of the lawn inevitably produces plenty of clippings that are beneficial in the garden as mulch.
What is Mulch?
Mulch is any type of organic or inorganic material that one can use to cover the soil. Mulches are applied primarily to improve the health and condition of the soil, regulate temperature, kill weeds, and help retain moisture.
Inorganic mulches are usually composed of plastics and man-made fabrics. Popular organic types include shredded bark, wood chips, leaves, pine needles, straw, and kinds of paper. Grass clippings can also be used very effectively as an organic mulch.
Benefits of Grass Clippings
Grass clippings are good for the garden because they contain some amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus , essential nutrients for healthy plant growth.
Moreover, during decomposition, the clippings feed bacteria in the soil. Leaving it on your lawn (grasscycling) is another benefit. The clippings will seep into the soil as they decompose, making the soil more fertile.
Preventing soil erosion is a further advantage of recycling clippings. Finally, but not the least important benefit is in providing free organic mulch to use around the garden.
Using it as Mulch
Mulching grass clippings in the garden has several advantages. You can spread it around crops in the vegetable garden or any plant area to suppress weeds, retain moisture, and nourish the soil.
Moreover, regulating soil temperature is important and grass mulch can help with this. Clippings decompose into soil fairly quickly in contrast to bark and wood chippings.
Furthermore, grass clippings mulch serve as a supplemental fertilizer. It also keeps some pests at bay.
How to Prepare and Store Grass Clippings
Wet clippings can turn into a gooey mess and cause more harm than good. They can mat down, preventing moisture and oxygen from reaching the soil. Dry lawn clippings, on the other hand, are safer to use and will not hurt your garden.
After cutting the grass, leave the clippings out for a day to dry a bit. Next, collect them with a grass raker for storage or use right away.
The top layer will be sun-bleached but underneath will be another layer that has the sweet smell of hay and is ready for garden use.
When dried, pitchfork them into a wagon or wheelbarrow and place them in your garden beds around vegetables or flowers.
To store longer, bag them up, pressing the air out of the bags and placing the bags in a dry area for future use. They can last up to two years if properly stored.
How to Use (Application)
Apply in thin layers in the vegetable patch or around ornamentals. You can also fork the dry clippings around trees.
For the lawn, the windrow method is usually applied. Garden tools like a lawn sweeper can help with this task.
Windrowing means raking the clippings into rows or bails so you can easily collect them. After leaving it out for a while, flip the bails so the other side gets some sun.
Now that you have it all collected, spread it out 1-2 inches thick along the rows between crops and around other plants. As a mulch, the clippings will exclude the air and moisture needed for new weeds to grow and suffocate existing ones.
Applied to damp soil, press the clippings in a little to avoid being scattered by the wind. You can also lightly water with sprinklers to keep it down.
What to Avoid?
There are a few downsides and concerns when using. The most important is to remember to check and be sure to avoid taking clippings from lawns treated with pesticides or herbicides.
Mulch from these clippings can harm your plants as these chemicals can kill vegetable crops. They may also be a source of toxins in foodstuff for the table.
Additionally, it may be tempting to pile on the mulched grass thickly. However, this could result in clumping, preventing air and moisture from getting to the plants. This is especially so around tree bases where a ring of earth should be left clear so the trunk can breathe.
Thick clumps can also look unsightly on lawns and around flower beds. A fine layer of grass cuttings can look very attractive and be beneficial at the same time.
Moreover, keeping the stored cuttings dry avoids the unpleasant smell of soggy rotting grass.
Other Uses for Lawn Clippings
What else to do with grass clippings?
- Composting it. Clippings are a good source of nitrogen to introduce to other organic materials in a compost pile. The nitrogen levels will assist in the breaking down process when paired with other carbon-rich materials. This later turns into a good soil amendment.
- Add to your garden beds. Use it as a nutritious top dressing for raised beds.
- Make liquid fertilizer. Cuttings steeped in water for 3-4 days then strained will leave a high-quality liquid fertilizer to spray on and around plants. Moreover, it is very mild and will not burn plants.
- Livestock feed. Although the fermentation process of cut grass is not suitable for all livestock, you can feed cows on fresh cuttings. It is also more digestible than hay.
- Leave it on the lawn. A light layer can help improve the condition of the lawn as it is a great source of nitrogen.
Mowing can be time-consuming and tiring but there are many ways the lawn clippings can benefit the garden and gardener.