Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

eddie_ilMay 30, 2008

I've heard two schools on thought on this 1) mulching is good since it will eventually put nutrients back into the ground 2) mulching causes thatch and is not good for the lawn.

Any thought on whether I mulch or bag my grass clippings? Thanks...

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okcdan(7 OKC - Bermuda)

You should mulch-mow, or in my case, since I don't have a mulching mower (I use a reel mower) I just leave the clippings. So Mulch mow, or leave the clippings please... Why?

a) Grass clippings are 80% water and decompose quickly releasing nutrients into your soil.
b) Mulching provides a portion of the lawnÂs fertilizer needs providing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and trace amounts of micronutients.
c) Mulching reduces the amount of time you spend bagging and fertilizing.
d) Grass clippings donÂt cause thatch. (over watering and over fertilizing do)
e) Mulching reduces yard waste by 20-40%.
f) Mulching reduces the amount of water your lawn needs.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2008 at 10:04AM
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Mulch mow always.

There are tons of post with this subject do a search.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2008 at 10:07AM
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egghead2004(5/Central MA)

Mulch mowing can only HELP your lawn...unless your mower leave big clumps behind.

I always mulch mow with two exceptions.
- If there are a lot of POA seedheads in the spring, I bag 'em.
- If we are having a cookout or other some typew of outdorr gathering, I mow and bag the morning of or the day before so there will be no clippings being tracked into the house. DW does not like clioppings on her clean floor.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2008 at 2:43PM
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Another vote for mulch. You can reduce your fertilizer requirements by mulching.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2008 at 3:50PM
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In almost all cases, mulch mowing helps reduce thatch because it adds organic matter and aids in decomposition.

The one exception is zoysia grass. Mulch mowing zoysia grass can create thatch problems. If you've got zoysia in IL, you want to kill it, since it will only be green for a couple of months a year.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 12:50AM
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Another vote to mulch....The only time I bag my clippings is when I go to overseed the fescue in the fall or spring.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 3:06AM
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Leave clippings on the lawn, but make sure they are not in large clumps that can brown out grass.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2008 at 10:32PM
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I will definitely be mulch mowing. That's what I was leaning towards but wanted to make sure I wouldn't be causing a thatch problem. I also read that the top 1/3 of the grass height decomposes easily and much faster than the rest. Thanks everyone for the advice!

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 7:45AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

About the only reason that clippings would cause a problem is if they're (clippings) too long. That would be caused by mowing too infrequently, or fertilizing too much.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 12:48PM
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I usually mow once a week but was out of town and did not mow for almost two weeks. When I mowed this past Saturday the clippings were very long but I tried to go over them several times to mulch them into smaller pieces. I thought I did well but all of a sudden my grass is thinning out in places that were fine before I cut it. Is there something I can do to turn this around or do I have to just wait it out. By the way I know I wasn't suppose to but I cut over 1/3 of the blade. (The mower was at the highest setting so I had no choice.)

    Bookmark   June 18, 2008 at 12:25PM
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It will be fine, wait it out. You just stressed it out more than its use to. Do pay attention to signs of drought stress and water as soon as you notice wilting. Do this until conditions improve.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2008 at 2:03PM
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jdgt225innh(z5 NH)

Thatch is dead shallow grass roots, not clippings. I agree with egghead's process and will start this year. I will only bag those days when the annual bluegrass is dropping seeds(spring AND fall) and when I am having guests outdoors. I just ordered a dedicated mulching deck for my tractor which I will be using most of the time. Imagine all the time I will save.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2008 at 8:56PM
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And you'll do much better than just saving time. David Hall, when he was here, or at least on the organics forum, used to say that the two most important things for organic lawncare were watering properly (same formula as when using synthetics), and mulching the clippings. I never disagreed with that advice but never really got it. But I finally got the point when I realized just HOW MUCH organic matter is in those clippings. I mean, you could fertilize every month with massive amounts of grains and assorted organic whatnot, and still not even approach the amount of organic matter put down by just leaving the clippings from every mowing. You don't need organic fertilizer to get organic matter. Just think about how much those clippings weigh when you either throw them on the compost pile or bag them, realizing also, beyond their weight, how much nitrogen is there.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2008 at 9:24PM
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jimtnc(7b Raleigh tttf)


    Bookmark   June 19, 2008 at 6:49AM
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So I moved into a home where the previous owner was running each sprinkler zone for almost an hour daily. It was super thick and green when we moved in but I knew that with that much water, the roots had to be very shallow.

Over the last three years I have been trying to slowly lessen the water needs but the lawn seems to have gotten worse. I do have to admit there was one of the years when we waited way, way too long in between mowings.

Basically it we seem to be getting more and more thatch every year. The grass is seems like it has a lot of dead grass mixed in with it. When I rake it, I get tons of dead material coming up (possibly all of the old shallow roots that have died). In short I am sure it needs to be de-thatched. The green grass mixed in grows great otherwise, but the lawn looks bad because of all the dead material mixed in.

I have always bagged my clippings, but after reading these posts, I think it might be time to try mulching. What do you think? With the thatch as bad as it is, would mulching just compound the problem. It is too late in the year to de-thatch with a power rake (will probably do it in the fall). Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 12:01AM
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Where in Utah are you? There are big differences in climate and even the kinds of grass that can be used depending on location.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 1:32AM
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wrager(Z5 OH)

The same rationale applies to fall leaves. Why bag them when you can mulch them and add a great source of OM.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 9:25AM
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I live near Brigham Young University in Utah County. I get a fair amount of snow in the winter. We just past our last frost date.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 10:16AM
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rcnaylor(z7 Tex)

As for cool season grasses: Go to organic fertilizers, and even then don't over fertilize, mow so as to take off no more than 1/3 of grass, water deeply and only when it is starting to show it needs water. Also, to help the lawn, aerate once or twice if there is any chance its too dense or compacted (high sand soils probably don't need it, nor, after you get started on a good set of practices, will most other soils).

Do these things consistently and I can almost guarantee you you will not have a thatch problem, ever.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 10:45AM
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"I live near Brigham Young University in Utah County. I get a fair amount of snow in the winter. "

I should also have asked whether you have clay or sand. Sand doesn't hold water as well so if you have sand, you'll probably need to water more often. If you've got clay, the water may start running off before you get enough water down.

I live about 20 miles north of Salt Lake City, so our conditions are fairly similar.

How often do you fertilize and with what? You've cut aback on the water, but how much have you cut back? How often do you water and how much do you water each time? If you can, get some empty tuna cans (other cans work, too, but tuna cans are a good size) and put them around the yard before you water and measure the amount of water in the cans after watering is finished. I have culinary water and get a lot less water in an hour than my neighbors who have secondary water, so the length of time that you water tells less than the amount that goes down when you water.

Mulch mowing will not contribute to thatch and can even help get rid of it by helping it decompose. Thatch is caused by over watering and/or over fertilizing.

If you mulch mow, you shouldn't have to fertilize more than three time a year (once in spring and twice in the fall, with the last one after top growth has stopped but while the grass is still green). If you use synthetic fertilizers, fertilize with something that has X-0-0 for the numbers (21-0-0, 46-0-0, 34-0-0) and use enough to apply 1 lb of actual N per 1000 sq ft. To calculate this, divide the number of sq ft in your lawn by the first number, then divide the result by 10. For example, I have about 4000 sq ft, so if I use 21-0-0, I'd use 4000 / 21 = 190; 190/10 = 19. Since the bags are usually 20 lbs I round up and use 20 lbs.

Have you started watering yet? Most of my neighbors have, but my lawn is still doing fine and we've got rain in the forecast, so I'm holding off.

Do you have any Starbucks near you? There's probably not a big market for coffee right around BYU, but there are several Starbucks in Davis county now, so maybe there are some in Provo, too. Starbucks gives used coffee grounds for free to anybody (you don't need to buy anything and you're doing them a favor by hauling them off). If you can get some and throw them around the lawn, they'll provide organic matter to the soil and also provide some fertilizer (they're all I've used for the past few years).

In addition to mulch mowing, you should also be mowing high. I mow at about 3.5 to 4 inches. That helps shade the soil so water use is reduced and it also gives the grass more surface for photosynthesis so it's healthier and develops deeper roots.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 10:53AM
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Thanks for all the great advice. First off I believe my soil is pretty good. I don't have a lot of run off and it doesn't seem too sandy. I have not tried the tuna can idea yet, but I will. The previous owner was watering daily. I am trying to comply with the city request that we only water three times a week (I am watering four times usually). I would cut back to three but the grass seemed to be struggling too much when I did.

I vary the length of time I water based on the time of year. I just started watering (two weeks ago) and am running most zones (all rotary sprinklers) for about 10 minutes each twice (I run the cycle twice, back to back, for a total of 20 minutes per zone in the early morning). In the heat of the summer I end up running each zone for about 40 minutes (give or take 5 minutes depending on the zone).

I have be using commercial fertilizers about two or three times a year (usually with a weed killer or insect killer mixed in).

I have a starbucks around the corner. Are the coffee grounds small enough to use them in my drop spreader? That's a great idea.

Regarding the height, I have a question. Are we talking about the height of the lawnmower blade from the ground or the actual length of the blade of grass after cutting? Since the wheels ride on top of the grass, I have to keep my blade about 3 inches above the ground to keep by grass about 4 inches high (roughly). I had just begun to wonder if my grass is too high. I have some neighbors that keep their grass incredibly short and their lawns look great.

So you think the mulching will help with my thatch then? I was looking at it more closely today (I raked up a bunch) and while a lot of it seems to be coming up from the base of the grass, a lot also seems to just be dead, upright grass mixed in with the green.

One last thing, my lawn seems to be getting bumpier each year. Also as a side note I have been aerating once a year as well.

Thanks again for all you responses.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 5:26PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Your lawn is probably getting bumpy because it was rototilled in preparation for the current lawn. As rototilled soil settles over the years, it settles bumpy. The books and magazines are wrong on rototilling and have been wrong since I was in college in the early '70s.

Your frequent watering explains the thatch. You are giving the grass so much continual moisture you might even be growing roots above the soil rather than in the soil. Because of this you are running the water 40 minutes per day, 4 days per week in the summer. By contrast I run my water 2-4 hours per day, one day per week in the heat of summer. This is not an apples to apples comparison - I'm just pointing out the other end of the water time/amount spectrum. My soil surface dries out and becomes hard for 2-3 days before I water again, but the grass plants never suffer. This works because the water is deep in the soil...and my grass roots are, too.

Organic fertilizers don't do well in drop spreaders. Coffee comes to you wet and won't go through any spreader. You have to dry it out or mix it with something to use it in a spreader. If you don't have a large lawn, you can fling it out by hand like you were feeding chickens. That's what I do.

Don't think too hard about adjusting the mower height. Put it all the way up or a notch lower and forget about it. bpgreen explained why you want it tall. The point is to have taller grass rather than golf green grass. Golf greens have a different kind of grass and equipment than most of us.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 5:51PM
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I agree with what David says.

Just to let you know that this approach can work here in the desert, the last measurable rainfall we got was May 4 and I have not turned on my water yet. I'll go longer this year than I would normally because I'm working on replacing my KBG with native grasses, but at this point, all of my grass is still green including the KBG, so if you can train your grass to develop deep roots, you won't need to water so often.

If you've got a Starbucks right around the corner, you should be able to fertilize exclusively with coffee grounds. What I do is start in a corner, walk backwards and fling the coffee grounds around until I run out. I make a mental note of where I left off and the next time I get grounds, I start there. When I've covered the entire lawn, I start back at the beginning. I don't put them down when it's really hot because my wife says they smell (worse or longer, not sure) when it's hot. As with mulch mowing, the coffee grounds should help decompose the thatch. Also, depending on how many of them are wet, they may also help reduce the amount of water you need.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 6:15PM
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The overwhelming verdict is that mulching grass clippings is the 'better way'.
That's, let's call it, what the book says.

But then lawns are not always growing as how the book would like it.
Early and warm spring rains can cause a growing lawn to grow that much more and I think its not unusual for many homeowners to have to mow their lawns twice a week...maybe more often than that.
That is, if they can get to it.

Rain makes grass grow, the fertilizer we've put donw makes the grass grow....and when wet, makes mowing not the advisable thing to do.
Yes, soemtimes we are forced to cut damp lawns when we would rather not...but notwithstanding heavy moisture, lawns may be able to be properly cut with a sharp blade.

When damp, however, grass will often clug up under the deck of the mower and may need cleaning.
To expect clippings to properly fall onto and into the grass blades is hard to imagine.

The whole point of my suggesting is sometiems its not the best time to let the clippings lie where they fall and that's where a bag comes into the equation.

Clippings may do a lot more harm being allowed to stay on the lawn than to pick them up and deposit all that nitrogen into your compost where it can do some good.
Besides, there's nothing that can heat up a compost pile better than a layer of clippings.

To suggest clippings do not add to the thatch problem is not looking at the picture of just where the clippings end up. Decompostion is nice, if it goes to the soil and doesn't clog up the pores there.
But, clippings upon clippings, upon clippings, has to result in some causing sunlight, moisture and oxygen to be deprived. That buildup...if its controlled, if its generally about 1/2" or less, is can be beneficial, keeping the soil cooler than it might be otherwise, but too much will cause problems.

As I see it, when such operproduction does occur, it is foolish to not remove what would otherwise end up as more thatch buildup.
When such thatch does limit the amount of water that effectively can penetrate the grass, then it results in shallow rooting and more poor growing areas that usually might result in more fertilizer being given in an attempt to fix the problem.
That, in itself, may exasperate the problem and make the gardener question his way of doing things.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 6:42PM
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The only time grass clippings contribute to thatch is if you have certain types of zoysia grass. Otherwise, it doesn't matter how many clippings there are. They are not going to contribute to thatch. Thatch and grass clippings are two different things.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 9:41PM
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So is it possible then that all the dead material I have in my lawn is just dead grass caused from me stressing it out by watering it less that it was used to?

Like I said the previous owner watered daily, and watered a long time. Maybe in my attempts to train the roots to go deeper I have been killing off the grass with the shallow roots. Like I said it is not dying in sections, it is just like the entire lawn has a lot of dead grass mixed in with it.

If this is the case. What is the best way to train the roots to go deeper? Or maybe I am doing it right and the grass with the shallow roots dying is just part of the process. As that grass dies and I clear it out, what is left is the stronger grass with deeper roots.

Please tell me if mt theory is way off base here.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 10:20PM
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It's possible that some grass died, especially if you went from daily to weekly watering somewhat abruptly.

Thatch doesn't look like dead grass mixed with green grass. It's a layer that sits just above the soil. It doesn't look like grass blades at all (at least I don't think so).

Here is a link to an article that has a picture of a fairly normal thatch layer. Here is one that has a picture of excessive thatch.

When you're trying to figure out how often to water your lawn, the best thing to do is ignore schedules based on days of the week, etc and instead watch the lawn. If you walk on the grass and it doesn't spring back, that means it is starting to get stressed and needs to be watered. Wait until it just starts to get stressed and then water it and water it deeply. If you wait too long, the grass will go dormant. Watering it will bring it out of dormancy, but it's not a good idea to have the grass bouncing in and out of dormancy. If you water it before it starts to get stressed, it never needs to develop deeper roots.

You said you've been using fertilizer two to three times a year. When have you fertilized? If you fertilize twice, both times should be in the fall, with the second one after top growth has stopped, but while the grass is still green. If you fertilize three times, two of those should be the same two fall ones and the third one late spring. If you switch to coffee grounds, they're a mild fertilizer, so you can fertilize any time the lawn isn't snow covered (although once soil temperatures drop below about 40 F, the coffee grounds will sit there until it warms up again).

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 1:50AM
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The guy who put in my sod said to bag. The "This old house" website said to bag after seeding bare patches and the new grass gets to 3". No explanation, of course. Any thoughts? I have a Fiskar reel mower that I mostly like, but the clippings are chopped up so fine they can't be raked. I really hope I don't need a second mower for new grass...

    Bookmark   October 17, 2014 at 10:15PM
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Unless a person is cutting off so much of the grass blade that the clippings are laying like a blanket on top of the turf, I can't think of a reason for bagging. Leaving the clippings adds OM and nutrients to the soil.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2014 at 10:34AM
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Thanks, makes sense to me. Some random questions:

1) In the Toronto area when do you do your last mowing? I assume this would have to do with the frequency or hardness of the frost.
2) They guys who did some overseeding seem to have forgotten the seed part as I have lots of mud patches still. When is too late to add some seed of my own?
3) When to do the fall fertilizing?

    Bookmark   October 19, 2014 at 9:41PM
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There is no specific date when turf will stop growing or at least significantly slow in growth. Your last mow will be the last one needed :) Once that happens, you can do a winterization- a high first number, fast release nitrogen fertilization. Also, when temperatures stay steadily below 60F, you can lower the height to 2 1/2" (lower height helps BG spread and may help reduce matting and winter mold.) It's too late to seed, You could do what is known as dormant seeding once the ground freezes for the winter and it will germinate next spring.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2014 at 10:05PM
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1) What Yardtractor1 said. Down here in Pennsylvania, mine varies from November first (last year) to early January (the last El Nino we had). It's whenever you do the last mow.

2) Dormant seeding works, so I'd try that. If you get a very warm winter followed by a cold snap, it can cause a problem. In that case, let the lawn fill in during the summer and seed any spots next fall.

3) First fall feeding should be about two weeks after nights start to cool for fall (for me, that works out to September 1st or so, for you, earlier). Second fall feeding is a month after that. The last feeding is when growth stops--unless it usually stops less than a month after your second feed, in which case skip the second feed and just do the last one.

I feed organically, so my schedule differs. If I were to feed synthetically, that would work out to September 1st, October 1st, and usually around November 15-25th--but that last date will vary widely.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2014 at 12:49PM
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Thanks for all that guys. It seems I better get some fertilizer. On this the internet can drive you nuts. Depending on what you read you should fertilize anything from once to all the time. The most sensible and detailed thing I read described how it is best to do it when the grass is going dormant in the fall. In spring roots should be developing but fertilizer will have the grass do less of that and more top growth. They also give amounts of N P K (3, .5, and 1-2 lb per year per 1000 sq ft). Home depot has this stuff called Professional Turf Fertilizer 28-4-8 (good luck finding more info with a name like that) which comes well recommended and has about the right distribution of stuff. So, what to do, just dump about 12 lb of it on my 1000 sq ft? My detailed account says fall but is not clear if this means all at once.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2014 at 9:38PM
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Oh, no. Never put more than 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1000 sq ft at a time. With a fertilizer with 28% nitrogen, you could put down 3.5 lb on 1000 sq ft. Whether you should do that now depends on where you are. If you're in the north, you have probably missed the best times (early Sept., early Oct.) and should wait for the winterizer time (after grass stops growing, before ground freezes). You don't want to force new growth when the grass is slowing down and needs to harden off for the winter.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2014 at 11:33AM
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>>Oh, no. Never put more than 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1000 sq ft at a time.

With one exception--you can go past this when you winterize, to about 1.5 lb per thousand square feet. That's considered just fine, and even slightly preferable if the lawn wasn't well-fed during the season for whatever reason.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2014 at 12:54PM
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>>In spring roots should be developing but fertilizer will have the grass do less of that and more top growth.

The winterizer will promote root growth and early spring green-up. Roots continue to grow at some rate anytime the ground is unfrozen. The turf will use the nitrogen from the winterizer to store carbs and use those stored carbs in the spring. It's the major reason for applying a winterizer.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2014 at 1:04PM
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You guys are great. Thanks very much. If I put my 3 lb all in the fall, half just before winter, how big a time gap before that for two more feedings to handle the remaining 1.5 lb?

By the way, it doesn`t look like we will get much freezing the next couple of weeks. Still best to wait to the end and do just the winterizer?

    Bookmark   October 25, 2014 at 9:11PM
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>>You guys are great. Thanks very much. If I put my 3 lb all in the fall, half just before winter, how big a time gap before that for two more feedings to handle the remaining 1.5 lb?

A pound of N a month is the maximum under normal circumstances. So if winterization goes around December 1, and given that November tends to be a low growth, low demand month, I'd feed 1 pound of N in early September and 1 pound of N in early October.

Skipping any feeding in late October and November isn't a problem. Growth has slowed, the grass isn't particularly demanding, and you don't really need to feed.

Regardless of circumstances, a small boost in late May is a good idea. If avoiding fungal issues, use 0.5 pounds of N per thousand square feet. If not, go to the full pound.

Roots are tapped of carbohydrates by that time (partially) and trying to restore them for summer. In this case, growth doesn't stop like it does in fall, but it does noticeably slow from spring's high point. Usually that's around Memorial Day, and exact timing isn't important here.

Applied organically, all these dates will differ a bit. Generally speaking, most dates back up about three weeks--except winterization, which is done synthetically and doesn't change.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2014 at 9:54PM
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