Composting, Fertilizer, Mulch

How to Use Grass Clippings In the Garden

Grass clippings

A well-maintained lawn looks great, but it also leaves behind yard waste. That said, there’s so much more you can do with grass clippings than just clearing them from the yard and dropping them in the garbage.

Using grass clippings in your garden can make it healthier and repurposes your yard’s waste in an eco-friendly way. It can improve your soil, provide moisture retention, and gradually decompose to become plant food where your plants need it most.

So let’s discuss the leftovers from your weekend mowing and how best to put those to use for you! You’ll never need to load up that plastic recycle bin with grass again.

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About Grass Clippings

Grass clippings
Don’t throw away your grass clippings. Instead, repurpose them. Source: ah_blake

Grass clippings can be used in gardens in several ways. They provide the soil with nutrients, prevent weed growth, and preserve moisture. They contain 4% nitrogen, 2% potassium, and 1% phosphorus along with small amounts of other plant nutrients. When decomposed, grass clippings also serve as a food source for microbial life in the soil. 

Why Reuse Grass Clippings

Grass clippings are simply too valuable to go to waste! Leaving clippings on the lawn after you mow allows them to decompose in place, usually within a few weeks. Even if you want to rake them, you can add them to a compost bin or use them in other ways.

Here a few of the most important reasons you should reuse your grass clippings.

It Saves Time

Lawn mowing will become much more convenient and fast. You won’t have to use the mower bag when you mow, which means less time spent emptying it. Mowing the lawn becomes simpler, easier, and doesn’t require as much time.

You’ll Produce Less Waste

Up until 2017, about 35.2 million tons of yard trimmings would end up in landfills, making up 13% of the municipal solid waste. Grass clippings take a long time to decompose when they are packed inside plastic bags. Through grasscycling, you can reduce your contribution to waste production while improving your soil. 

You’ll Need Less Water and Fertilizer

Lawn grass
Rich in plant nutrition, cut grass is a great mulch or top dressing. Source: Jason A. Samfield

While grasscycling may not be a substitute for fertilization, mulching your lawn with grass clippings will definitely reduce your need for lawn fertilizer. As the clippings decompose, they supply three major nutrients: nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. The clippings can contribute to nearly 25% of your turf’s fertilization needs. They also act as a mulch layer, which means that moisture will be retained for longer and you won’t have to water your lawn as frequently.

6 Uses for Grass Clippings

Here are some great ideas for you to try in your garden to put those grass clippings to some good use.

Use Grass Clippings As Mulch

Leaving mulch around flowers, vegetables, trees, and shrubs in the yard helps control weeds and regulate the temperature and moisture of the soil. Grass clippings are an excellent choice of mulch because they’re lightweight and quick to break down. 

Spread a 2 to 3-inch thick layer near the base of plants. Grass clippings used for mulching should ideally be about 1-2 inches long. Getting special mulching blades or mowing using a special mower can really help you with this. Mulching blades cut grass into smaller and finer pieces, making it easy for them to decompose. Similarly, a mulching mower is designed to mow and cut grass tips into small pieces and disperse them more evenly throughout the lawn.

It’s best to use dry lawn clippings. Fresh, damp ones can mat down into a thick, almost impermeable layer that can slow drainage and reduce the oxygen that penetrates through to your soil. If using fresh clippings, keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get matted together, and break them up if they do.

Make sure that your lawn has not been treated with herbicides and pesticides right before you mow. Mulching clippings that contain these chemical products could become a problem, particularly if you’re trying to start seeds or have very young plants where you use the mulch. 

Top Dress Raised Beds

Lawn clippings and pine needles as mulch
Alone or mixed with pine needles as shown here, grass makes a good top dressing. Source: Red Moon Sanctuary

Grass clippings are also a good option to add to your raised garden beds as a top dressing. They help your beds retain moisture, suppress weeds and add nutrients for your plants. You can simply spread a few inches over the surface of the beds. As the clippings decompose, the height of the mulch will drop. Add more as you need to throughout the growing season!

Use Grass Clippings to Make Compost 

Lawn clippings can also go to your compost piles or bins. They are a rich source of nitrogen, and when paired with carbon-rich materials will break down very quickly.

Mix your grass with some straw, finely shredded paper or cardboard, dry leaves, or other carbon-rich materials in the compost pile. For quickest decomposition, use one part grass clippings to two parts of your carbon-rich waste and layer it together. Make sure it’s damp, and then turn it 1-2 times a week until you’ve got a pile of rich, dark-colored compost. It will heat up as it breaks down, so be sure to use a compost thermometer to keep track of its progress.

This works well in a compost tumbler, too!

Leave Clippings On The Lawn

It’s fine to leave your clippings on the lawn every now and again. As they break down, they release nitrogen and other plant food back into your lawn. Be careful not to leave so much that it smothers your existing grass, though!

Leaving the clippings in place about once a month should help reduce the need to water as regularly, too. It acts like mulch around the living lawn grass. Try to remove any excess that’s blocking sun exposure or slowing drainage for your lawn.

Make Liquid Lawn Clipping Fertilizer

Grass clippings can also be made into a 100% organic liquid fertilizer. To prepare a batch, fill two-thirds of a bucket with grass clippings. Add water to fill up the bucket and set it aside, stirring the contents about once a day. After 3-4 days of steeping, you can strain it to remove the grass solids and use the liquid as a mild fertilizer. The grass solids can go straight into the compost!

As this is a very mild fertilizer, it should not burn your plants when applied. A good rule of thumb is ½ cup to 1 cup per plant, depending on its size. Pour it around the root system of the plant, keeping it off the foliage.

Bring Them To A Community Garden

Raking up grass
Some grass trimmings can be left on the lawn. Excess can be raked and used elsewhere. Source: Tobyotter

Do you have a community garden nearby? Often, they have a communal compost pile for all their plant waste. Leaving your lawn clippings with them will improve their compost quality. Plus, it keeps them out of the landfill!

Save yourself a little time and money by turning this useful source of plant matter into good, healthy additives for your yard. You’ll be happy that you did.

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