Grasscycling is a terrific alternative to gathering grass clippings for your compost. It involves leaving the trimmings on your lawn to decompose right there on the spot. Grasscycling is an often-overlooked and seriously underused nutritional resource for yards. Here’s how you do it, as well as a few words on the best kinds of mowers for the job.
Grass clippings have a lot to offer the soil and, in particular, your lawn. After the clippings fall onto the grass, they dehydrate and decompose quickly. The clippings return to the soil nutrients (predominately nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium).
Your wallet benefits, too. Not only do you save bucks by not having to pay to have the clippings hauled away, but you’ll save money on fertilizer, as well. How? Grasscycling reduces the need to chemically fertilize your lawn by as much as 25 percent! In addition, lawns that are replenished with their own clippings tend to have fewer weeds and pests, which means fewer (if any) applications of pesticides and herbicides.
The most obvious benefit of grasscycling is also the most aesthetically pleasing: your lawn will look marvelous. It will be richer, fuller, and greener.
And in a society in which people are always trying to squeeze an extra 30 minutes out of the day, grasscycling is a perfect time-saving technique. By not having to dump mower bags or rake the lawn after you mow, you shave huge chunks of time off your weekly lawn-care chores.
This just may be the easiest “cycling” you ever do in your life. There are just three things to do:
Now you’re ready to grasscycle! It’s that simple.
By keeping the blades set to ⅓ inch and only mowing your lawn when the grass is dry, you’ll avoid clumps of grass clippings. The short clippings left on the lawn will be unnoticeable.
The shorter blade setting may leave your grass a little longer than you’re used to. But a little longer is better. When grass is cut short, the roots focus on growing the cut blades out again, which stresses them and leaves them susceptible to disease and pests. Longer grass blades also shade the soil and grass roots so more moisture is retained, meaning that less water is required. Also, longer grass blades crowd out weeds and block out the light that weed seeds need in order to grow.
You can grasscycle with any type of lawn mower. There’s no reason to go out and purchase a new mower for grasscycling. Gas-powered lawn mowers work perfectly fine, as do electric or old-fashioned reel mowers. That said, some mowers turn grasscycling into an art.
These mowers should look familiar to you—but don’t be fooled: they aren’t your grandfather’s mower. Reel mowers have some very pleasant benefits. They generate no fumes because they don’t use gasoline. There’s very little noise—just a soft, relaxing clipping sound—because there’s no motor. Perhaps the most superior argument in favor of reel mowers, at least as far as the lawn is concerned, is that they cut grass blades with a scissorlike motion as opposed to rotary mowers that shred the grass while mowing. Because this grass-cutting technique cuts grass blades with clean and precise motion, the plant disturbance is minimal. Traditional lawn mowers literally bruise the grass blades with their tearing motion and make the top of the grass blades to turn brown.
The downside for some is that they require a little more effort to use than gas-powered mowers or electric mowers, although the modern versions aren’t nearly as difficult as their antique ancestors. The hardest part is getting them going, but once you’re in motion they are easy to push.
Reel mowers are recommended for gardeners with lawns 6,500 square feet or less. They are not recommended for lawns made of Bermuda grass or St. Augustine grass, both of which tend to have a lot of thatch buildup. Because reel mowers are human-propelled, you can expect mowing to take a few more minutes than you’re used to. On the other hand, if you’re grasscycling, you aren’t raking or emptying baskets of clippings, which saves you time. Reel mowers have a huge price range. You’ll find them priced anywhere from $90 to $500.
Mulching mowers are power (gas or electric) mowers with special blades that recut clippings about a dozen times before they ever hit the ground. Mulching mowers are the very best system you can get as far as grasscycling goes. The tiny pieces of grass are forced into the soil, becoming virtually invisible. Mulching mowers are priced between $200 and $500.
Electric lawn mowers cut lawns the same way as their gas-powered cousins but without gas emissions. They’re easy to start and quieter than gas mowers. Some models have long cords, but there are several cordless models (battery powered) on the market as well. An extra perk is that some municipalities and public agencies offer rebates for electric mulching mowers. Electric mowers run between $200 and $500.
Other tips for a healthy, grasscycled lawn are:
Somewhere along the line somebody decided that when grass clippings are tossed on top of lawns, they cause thatch issues. Thatch is when organic matter accumulates below the grass blades on the soil surface.
You’ll be happy to know that this myth is false. The primary cause of thatch problems in lawns is roots, rhizomes, and stems of grass. These plant parts contain large amounts of fibrous material called lignin, which have a difficult time breaking down and do so very slowly. In small amounts (up to about a half inch), thatch can help prevent evaporation in lawns. But any more than that and it can interfere with the lawn’s drainage and begin to smother it.
Grass clippings are made up of about 80 percent water and do not cause thatch problems. Certain grass varieties, such as Bermuda and Kikuyu, are especially prone to thatch.
By leaving your grass clippings on your lawn after you mow, you’ll be doing your yard, your pocketbook, and the environment a huge favor. Happy grasscycling!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Composting by Chris McLaughlin