Can you compost just grass clippings

RyanC95(7B)June 6, 2014

I kinda ran out of leaves from the fall and I have about 1/2 arces of grass being cut every 2 week. Do you think I can pile the grass and turn it a lot to prevent it from becoming slimy, I doubt there is much I can do about the smell without adding browns. I don't have much of a source of brown materials (im not going to pay for some either), I try doing things paperless (no newspapers, no scrap paper around the house, no paper bags, etc.) and the only other stuff I have is junk mail which is filled with bleached paper and other stuff I don't want to compost.

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Sure you can unless they have a lot of ammonia-nitrogen in them. If you have not used an herbicide, fungicide or fertilized with heavy nitrogen, you sure can. Otherwise, I would not use. Spread them out a bit to dry them if you recently watered or it has rained.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 1:41PM
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johns.coastal.patio(USDA 10b, Sunset 24)

As Patricia says, the dryer you can make your greens, the more brown they can become. I guess if you had the equipment to cut one day and collect a few days later that would be ideal. Kinda like making hay.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 1:44PM
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Spread the grass out and let it really dry and bleach.

You'd have to turn it every few hours for the usual clippings to not rot.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 1:47PM
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Do you avoid paper because you might not want to add to the pressure to produce more, or is discarded paper (that's already been made, used, and trashed) something to avoid too?

If it's the first thing you could hit the recycling infrastructure to pull paper from the landfill stream and use that. That's a clearly positive step.

You seem to be willing to turn the composting materials a lot, but you could also have a cold pile (if there's room and an obscure enough spot) and just let that slimy stuff sit; it will sort itself out given enough time. Undisturbed grass piles seldom stink.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 1:54PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Yes, you can pile up grass and let it rot and you will get compost.

The advice to spread grass out to dry, does not make it brown so much as preserve its 'greenness' for use later. i.e. you can bag it up when dry and it will sit until you wet it.

As a chemist, I see nothing wrong with using bleached paper in compost. I might be slightly concerned about colored inks and metals although, over time the printers have moved more and more away from metals toward other inks.

How about sawdust or wood shavings? Find a sawmill or (more likely) a cabinet shop? Just make sure there's no treated wood being cut. Or a horse stable, often their cleanings have more straw than manure and need more greens anyway.

I do not see any reason why fertilized grass should not be used in compost. There is no chemical difference between nitrate/ammonia/other forms of N when derived from natural sources vs. fertilizer. As for pesticides, it's your call, but unless you're using persistent herbicides like chlorpyralid and picloram, the others will generally decompose in the compost pile.

Next fall, save more leaves. ;-]

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 5:18PM
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Why do the grass clippings need to be removed? It's usualy wise to mulch and leave it.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 2:29AM
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On a couple of occasion I had to make some very large piles (10+ feet) of grass clippings. When I eventually had to deal with them it was not pretty. Will endeavour never to do that again.

Yes it can be done, I'd rather not.


    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 7:55AM
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johns.coastal.patio(USDA 10b, Sunset 24)

I tried to check you on that chemistry, tox. I only found this: When fresh green grass is cut it continues to respire until all the oxygen is used up. Respiration involves the oxidation of carbohydrates to Carbon dioxide which means a loss in food value in the vegetation.

It was my intuition that more was going on than simple dehydration. And yeah, that dehydration was a factor in brown-ness.

Anyway, I might give it to you on points ... but I don't feel "browner" is really that bad a characterization.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 12:22PM
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I have too much thatch in the grass when I just mulch it up and leave it on the lawn and its annoying as heck to remove the thatch. So I just collect my clippings, compost it and spread the compost on the soil instead of grass clippings.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 6:57PM
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gumby_ct(CT it says Z5)

I compost my grass clipping each time I cut the grass. I add water as I build the pile to help make it moist. By the next day the temp will be 130 or >.

Grass will compost fine w/o browns and won't get slimy unless you add way too much water. When it heats up it will need more water even.

I don't turn mine, just add more water to the outside.

IF you have browns you can certainly add them but cut grass is the perfect balance to compost with just water.

I say - Give it a go.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 12:56PM
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JWW_1(8B / 9A Foley, AL)

I will have to agree with Gumby. I usually add my clippings to my compost bin. I turn it over when I add kitchen scraps and other miscellaneous organic materials. There is a wet hay smell (not pleasant or unpleasant) each time I turn the mass for about a week or two after the grass clippings are added.

I may be wrong, but I add continuously through the growing season and then let it mature through our short winter. I add to raised beds with no issues.

I have been thinking about mixing in newspaper with the clippings to have more browns. I do not have leaves to gather in the fall. I refuse to pay for browns. I may look into cabinet shops and horse stables as mentioned above.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 9:34AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

In case it was not mentioned, your local elec utility tree trimming service may offer free wood chips and may even deliver them to you.

Johns.coastal: Agreed! From what I hear dried grass has a little lower N (higher C:N) than fresh so yes it is 'browner'.

Whoever suggested leaving the clippings on the lawn, that is of course the #1 option. I don't really see a reason to bag, except I will do it some in the spring to generate greens to mix with the last of last fall's leaves for mulch and compost blends. My neighbor fertilizes like crazy, bags it all and hauls it to the yard waste dump. Gack.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 11:30AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5


you catch grass cuttings on 2 acres ...

you can solve the disposal issue.. by not doing such ...


    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 11:32AM
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Grass clippings have a Carbon to Nitrogen ratio of about 20 to 1. Optimal is about 30 to 1. Unless a higher Carbon material is mixed in with the grass clippings there will be a large Nitrogen loss and will result in that strong Ammonia odor common with large amounts of grass clippings being digested.
You can compost just grass clippings although that results in the loss of valuable nutrients.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 6:34AM
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gumby_ct(CT it says Z5)

I have been composting my grass clippings for well over 10yrs now. The pile fits nicely in a 3x3ft wire bin and heats up nicely when moistened with the right amount of water. I never have any ammonia smell, even after heavy rains.

How can I measure what I am loosing?

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 7:50AM
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For those who want to leave their grass clippings in their yard, you just need to cut less and more often. For example, it is usually recommended to cut about 1/3 of the length every week. This amount will settle into the grass without too much thatch (though it's good to watch out for that anyway, after several weeks or months of doing this).

Compost of grass will happen. One of the reasons people consider browns, greens, moisture, and turning, is because they want to have finished compost in a certain amount of time.

If you are Ok with a good supply of grass clippings every 1-2 weeks but not so urgent on when the compost is finished and available (it will be done when it's done), then it's fine to use the clippings in large quantity as you will have (and just be careful about the over-watering or smells)

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 1:48PM
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As often happens,I don't think enough consideration is being given to all grass clippings are not the same. In fact comparing clippings is akin to comparing soil from various gardens. Yours might be Tiff and clover which has been well fertilized and watered while mine consists of crabgrass,goatheads and tickle grass from soil deficent in micro-nutrents,npk and moisture. I believe yours will stink and slime far worse than mine.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 4:21PM
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JWW_1(8B / 9A Foley, AL)

This has probably been mentioned: The option to use the clippings for mulch. I have been using grass clippings for the past few years in raised beds with no problem.

I know the four problems people espouse:

1. seeds to turn weeds. In my raised beds I pull grass and weeds early in the morning while drinking coffee. It is not labor intensive.

2. It is an un-appealing color as mulch. I don't care about aesthetics in my vegetable beds. Although I do have flowers in them...maybe I do and don't find the grass offensive.

3. turns to slimy mats. I throw the clippings in my compost bin for a few days. Things get hot and brown the clippings; have felt like my hands are burning while laying the mulch. Lay down an inch or two with no problems.

4. mats up and repels water. I have never had a problem. I have checked after rainfall and the soil appears evenly wet. I run a hose for irrigation when needed. You can see the grass float up where the water is spreading underneath.

I also have the benefit of turning in the decomposing mulch at the end of the season for an additional soil amendment. I cannot find any issues with clippings as mulch.

IF you are trying this on a large scale garden, then some of the issues like "seed to weed" will be problematic. I work with 4 - 12'x4' raised beds, 1 - 4'x4' strawberry bed, and some other oddball planting areas.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 9:02AM
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1. Seeds may turn to "weeds", unwanted plant growth, if they are allowed to mature. However, if one mows weekly any seeds that might get started should not be viable in that short time frame. I doubt even dandelions can grow a flower and get that flower pollinated, and then produce viable seeds in a week.
2. The tan color that grass clippings eventually turn is less unappealing then the red dyed mulch many people use. Whether any mulch color is appealing depends on the person viewing, but a mulch color should not be the focal point, just a background.
3. A pile of grass clippings 3 or 4 inches thick can well turn slimy and stink. I have had grass clippings about 2 inches thick stink. I have seen people do significant harm to plants by putting down too thick a layer of grass clippings.
4. The only time in some 50 years of gardening
I have seen a problem with grass clippings matting, or floating because they matted, is if a too thick layer is plunked down.
You can compost just grass clippings, but you will have a stinky mess when you do, because the excess Nitrogen from that pile will escape to the atmosphere as ammonia. A compost pile should consist of a mixture of material.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 6:55AM
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gumby_ct(CT it says Z5)

If your grass clippings are turning into a slimy stinky mess - you need to follow (or avoid if you are following) the kimmsr rules of composting.

Regarding grass clippings not being the same - any differences would have to be minute enuff to be negligible to the composting process else things in nature would not compost, esp. when not mixed to the kimmsr rules.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 9:11AM
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