Every time I do a talk on turf grass, I get a question about what to do with the grass clippings that you get while mowing.
When I get this question, I think back to when I was a boy mowing grass. The lawn mowers did not come with baggers. I never saw a mower with a bagger on it until I was in college. We just put the grass clippings back on the lawn.
If my brother and I didn't mow the grass like we were supposed to, we would have to rake the yard to take care of the excess clippings. We did not like to rake, so this was a good incentive to mow the grass.
We didn't know it at the time, but we were practicing grasscycling. This is the term used now that means the natural recycling of grass clippings by leaving them on the lawn when mowing. It is a simple and effective way to save you time, work, and money.
The reason that baggers became so popular was that in the 1960s it was believed that grass clippings were a major part of thatch and that removing grass clippings would slow thatch development. However, research later determined that thatch buildup is caused by grass stems, shoots and roots.
Also, how fast thatch builds up depends on the type of grass and the amount of fertilizer applied to the grass. When thatch levels are half an inch or less, you don't have worry about the thatch. When the thatch becomes deeper than this, it needs to be reduced by dethatching or topdressing with good quality topsoil.
The key to successful grasscycling is proper mowing. That includes mowing the grass at the recommend height, maintaining a sharp blade, mowing when the grass is dry and mowing often enough to remove no more than one-third of the plant height.
The recommended mowing heights on Centipede, Bermuda and Zoysia are 1 to 11/2 inches. If the grass becomes too tall between mowing, raise the cutting height for the first mowing and then gradually lower it with later mowings until the proper height is reached. In times of drought, you can raise the cutting height, but continue to mow often enough to avoid excess leaf removal.
All mowers can grasscycle -- no special equipment is needed. However, many manufacturers sell mower attachments that chop clippings into smaller pieces and improve a mower's grasscycling performance.
Grasscycling can save you time by not having to empty the bagger. I bought a new mower in 1985 that had a bagger on it. It seemed that I spent half of my time emptying the bag. A study done in Texas found that grasscycling meant an extra mowing per month but saved 35 minutes on each mowing. After six months of grasscycling, homeowners who took part in the study saved an average of seven hours of yard work.
Another benefit to grasscycling is reducing the amount of fertilizer needed. We spend money to buy fertilizer to put on our grass, and it is heavily concentrated in the leaf of the plant. When we bag clippings, we are taking the nutrients that we paid for and sending them somewhere else. If we are grasscycling, the nutrients are released back into soil as the leaf tissue decomposes. You can often leave off one fertilizer application a year.
A soil sample is needed to determine the correct amount of fertilizer to apply. This will give you the nutrient levels in the soil, and a recommendation will be made on how much and what type of fertilizer to use. If you are bagging your clippings, a soil sample likely will show you need to increase the amount of fertilizer applied by 30 percent.
If you are bagging your clippings, you need to properly dispose of them. There are a number of uses for these clippings. First, you can make compost out of them. The compost can then be used around your plants or in your vegetable garden. You can mulch your plants with the clippings, but make sure not to put them on too heavy. All it takes is two inches of grass clippings. If they are thicker than this they can form a mat that will not allow water through.
Grasscycling is a proven and effective way to manage lawns. The clippings will add nutrients back to your soil and save you time.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at email@example.com. The extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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