What to do with lawn clippings (2024)

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Quick facts

  • Lawn clippings usually do not need to be bagged.
  • Recycling lawn clippings can reduce your fertilizer needs and improve your soil.
  • Recycling clippings to the lawn does not contribute to thatch.
  • If you must remove clippings, they can be composted or used as mulch.

Recycle your lawn clippings

Grass clippings will always be a part of lawn care. You can bag clippings or recycle them by returning them to the lawn.

As a general rule, grass clippings of an inch or less in length can be left on your lawn where they will filter down to the soil surface and decompose quickly. Remove longer clippings because they can shade or smother grass beneath causing lawn damage.

Don’t throw out bagged grass clippings as yard waste. Use clippings as a garden mulch or compost them instead.

Benefits of recycling clippings to the lawn

  • Clippings are a valuable source of nutrients and you can use less nitrogen fertilizer if you recycle clippings to the lawn.
  • Adding organic matter from clippings may help improve your soil if it is sandy, heavy clay or low in organic matter.
  • Regular mowing will greatly reduce the need to collect clippings. Avoid cutting more than 1/3 of the grass height at a time.

Do clippings increase thatch?

Thatch is a layer of undecomposed organic matter that builds up between the soil surface and the actively growing green vegetation. A thatch layer will develop if organic matter is produced faster than it is decomposed.

Contrary to popular belief, leaving clippings on the lawn does not contribute to increased thatch.

Clippings are composed of water and easily-degradable compounds that break down rapidly and do not accumulate. Long clippings may contain wiry stem material that is slower to decompose, but are still not significant contributors to thatch buildup.

What causes thatch

  • Vigorous grass varieties
  • Excessive nitrogen fertilization
  • Infrequent mowing
  • Low soil oxygen levels (found in compacted or water logged soils)

See How to control thatch.

When should you pick up clippings?

While leaving clippings on the lawn is recommended, there are some exceptions to the rule:

  • Remove clippings if the lawn is heavily infested with diseases such as leaf spot, rust or dollar spot to help reduce disease severity.
  • If the lawn is wet or the grass has become too tall when you mow, clippings can mat together and smother the grass.
  • If your mower is unsafe to operate without a bagging attachment, the bag must be left in place.
  • If clippings land in a curb and gutter area, sweep them up so they don’t get into storm drains or carried to nearby water resources where they can negatively impact water quality.

Using clippings as mulch

In general, putting mulch around flowers, vegetables, shrubs and trees helps reduce weeds, conserve moisture and moderate soil temperatures. Grass clippings are a good mulch option with a few conditions:

  • Do not apply more than 1 or 2 inches of grass clippings at one time.
  • Use dry clippings. Wet grass clippings can mat down, reducing reduce oxygen and moisture from getting down into the soil.
    • When oxygen is limited, anaerobic decomposition of the clippings may take place, leading to the production of offensive odors.
  • Do not use grass clippings as mulch if the lawn was recently treated with an herbicide for dandelions or other broadleaf weeds as this may harm your plants.
  • If your lawn has been treated recently, consult the herbicide product label for any concerns related to using clippings as mulch.

Composting clippings

You can add clippings to the backyard compost pile.

Composting involves mixing grass clippings and other plant materials with a small amount of soil containing microorganisms that decompose organic matter. Grass clippings are excellent additions to a compost pile because of their high nitrogen content.

Grass clippings should not be the only compost material. As with mulches, a thick layer of grass clippings in a compost pile will lead to bad odors from anaerobic decomposition. Mix them with dry materials such as leaves or straw.

SeeComposting and mulching – A guide to managing organic yard wastes.

Sam Bauer andJulie Weisenhorn, Extension educators;Bob Mugass, retired Extension educator;Brad Pedersen, horticulture professor emeritus

Reviewed in 2018

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What to do with lawn clippings (2024)

FAQs

Can you do anything with grass clippings? ›

Composting involves mixing grass clippings and other plant materials with a small amount of soil containing microorganisms that decompose organic matter. Grass clippings are excellent additions to a compost pile because of their high nitrogen content. Grass clippings should not be the only compost material.

Is it better to collect grass clippings or leave them? ›

Unless you've let the lawn grow excessively long, or the clippings are in thick clumps, grass clippings are a good source of nutrients. Leaving clippings helps save fertilizer costs and thereby prevents ground and surface water contamination.

Is it better to leave grass clippings or bag? ›

While this may be temporarily the more aesthetically pleasing option, your lawn won't be able to reap the nutritional benefits of the clippings. So, while you can bag the grass clippings if you really want to, mulching them will be better for your lawn in the long run!

What eats grass clippings? ›

to cattle – Freshly-mowed grass clippings, as well as fully fermented clippings can be safely consumed as long as they do so within 8 hours of the mowing. to goats and/or sheep – if freshly mowed, grass clippings can be fed in small amounts or if you have allowed the clippings to dry completely.

How long does it take for grass clippings to decompose? ›

How Long Does It Take For Grass Clippings To Decompose? If you allow grass to decompose on your lawn, it'll be gone soon, usually within a few weeks. If you compost grass in a pile and turn regularly, it'll turn into compost in a few months.

Do mice eat grass clippings? ›

Be warned, farm mice also enjoy a grass-clipping snack!

How to get rid of excess grass after mowing? ›

Put them in your compost bin. Or, change your mower setting to mulch and leave them on your lawn. Use mulching mower - Cut to 4 inches - Leave the mulched clippings -Sharpen blades after every 25 hrs of use.

Should you bag grass clippings in summer? ›

During the spring and early summer months, grass grows much quicker than in the later summer months. It might be best to bag your clippings in the spring and early summer when your lawn isn't as pressed for moisture. During the summer months when the grass is growing slower, bagging might not be as necessary.

When not to cut grass? ›

Never mow wet or frosty grass

This can damage your turf and compact the soil. Wait until later in the day when the lawn has dried out or defrosted, or postpone mowing to another day.

What happens if you don't bag your grass clippings? ›

Grass clippings quickly decompose and return essential nutrients, such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, back to the soil. Use grass clippings to fertilize your lawn or to make compost to help fertilize your plants. Leaving your grass clippings on the ground can fulfill up to 25% of your lawn's fertilizer needs.

Do grass clippings grow more grass? ›

The short answer is yes, according to lawn care experts. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn can actually be healthy for the grass, as it helps build a strong and nutrient-rich soil. This practice is known as “grasscycling,” and it has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Is there a downside to mulching grass? ›

However, mulching also has some potential drawbacks. For example, if too much mulch is applied, it can smother the grass and prevent it from getting the oxygen it needs to thrive. In addition, mulch can also provide a hiding place for lawn pests, which can lead to infestations.

Do grass clippings turn into soil? ›

Just as you can add other plant and organic matter, such as leaf litter, coffee grounds, and cutting from your flower beds into a compost pile, lawn clippings can be left on the ground to break down and add organic matter to the soil.

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