Grass clippings as mulch or compost?

limpiefootAugust 18, 2008

I'm a newbie gardener and compost'er in GA. Our soil is mostly clay, and rain has been sparse this year. My sister is an avid gardener in upstate New York. She suggested putting a few inches of grass clippings throughout my vegetable garden (~4'x15') to help keep the soil moist and cool. I have been composting kitchen scraps, grass and leaves for a few months now. Would the soil be better served by composting the grass, then mixing it in with the clay soil, or does putting a layer actually help anything? It seems to be attracting bugs more than anything.

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Any kind of organic material works well as a mulch and is very beneficial for the garden. Many use grass clippings after letting them dry a bit first. Just search 'grass clippings' here for many discussions on this question.

I don't have much grass so I use old hay. The key is to layer it on thickly.


    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 12:33PM
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I've tried grass clippings as a mulch and it was an utter failure. Our grass goes to seed at an incredibly short height, so all it brought was new grasses throughout my vegetable patch. Grrrrr! Even if there were no seeds in the clippings, I won't use them again because they just matted together to form a giant carpet that even our large rototiller had trouble with. I dry my clippings for compost browns now. My pile seems to get hot enough that I'm sure the seeds will die (from what I've read, this is my first compost pile).

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 2:32PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

macky77 - Dried grass clippings are "greens" (nitrogens), not "browns" (carbons). This has been discussed here numerous times.

I'm not sure why you experienced such an "utter failure" given that so many report a high degree of success using grass clippings, but I would agree that composting them is also quite beneficial. Meanwhile use something else for the needed mulch. The important thing is to mulch. ;)


Here is a link that might be useful: Mulching FAQ

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 2:52PM
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I tried using fresh cut grass clipping as mulch a time of two. It would fall at the bottom of my list for types of mulches, but I have seven compost piles. Grass tends to form clots or bunches; and water tends to run off rather then being stored as with compost.

Finely cut fresh grass clipping are one of two favorite greens for starting a compost pile. Like used coffee grounds they heat up very quickly when mixed with shredded leaves. Also like grounds they are a good starting ingredient because they do not smell or draw pests, when mixed in the proper ratio.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 3:13PM
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Mulch is a good think to help moderate the soil temps and moisture. Grass clippings can be great or bad depending on the situation. If it is full of grass and weed seeds, it might not be great in the veggie garden. If it is cut from one of those lawns with no weeds or seed heads, it will probably be much better as mulch though you want to get it spread quickly before it can mat together into nasty clumps (grass left sitting for much time in plastic bags can turn into ugly stuff.)

As to bugs in mulch, well it does offer habitat to bugs. The first season of organic gardening after many seasons of chemicals in a garden, the bad bugs might be overwhelming. With some time, the populations of creatures should even out a bit so the good will balance the bad and the garden can grow healthier.

I've not gardened in hard clay soil but I've heard many people who have made their clay more workable by keeping it mulched and moist. I can say my sandy soil is greatly improved by keeping it mulched and moist. In my hot humid climate, organic matter breaks down quickly so I have to add lots of mulch often to keep a good thick layer going.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 8:39PM
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adirondackgardener(Western Maine)

I use lots (and I mean lots) of grass clippings for both mulch and in compost. I don't mow the lawn anymore. I harvest mulch.

Using them as mulch gets priority, especially early in the season. I like how I can spread them very thinly over newly seeded beds to offer some shade and hold moisture while small seeds are germinating. I like how I can easily tuck them in the narrow spaces between closely-planted plants like beans and spinach. I like how I can toss a well-aimed handful and smother weeds that poke through.

I use them sparingly so maybe that's why I don't have the problems that others seem to have with them. (Just about any mulch will provide a good habitat for insects.) Since my huge garden needs lots of mulch, I don't pile them too deeply. I don't subscribe to the idea that a good mulch needs to be very deep. I only pile them deep enough to keep the weeds down, keep moisture in and slowly feed the soil. Anymore is wasted on the beds and will do more good in the compost.


    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 10:57PM
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gnomey(7b SC zip296)

I would say compost the clippings and use the compost in the garden. As others have mentioned, if you get grass clippings too thick, as I think you'd want to do to keep the soil underneath cool and moist, they tend mat together and then the water runs off. I don't have any grass, but my neighbor's grass clippings go in my bin.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 1:44AM
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To have enough grass clippings to do any real good would require a fairly thick layer, thick enough that if the clippings are too fresh they heat generated by the digestion would kill you plants. Many people plunk down less than an inch of any mulch material and then when the soil does not retain sufficient moisture and when the "weeds" grow up they say "mulching is a failure, it does not work" and they did not put enough material down.
Since it can take a fairly long time for grass clippings to dry enough to be used as mulch, if they are collected for that purpose instead of being mulch mowed right back where they came from, it would be better to compost them so the Nitrogen in them is not just lost to the atmosphere.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 7:24AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

I think the best place for grass clippings is to mulch them back into the lawn. Its much easier to mulch them in place and feed your lawn with them than it is to bag them and move them someplace.

I use shredded leaves, coffee grounds, compost in the garden and leave the grass clippings on the lawn.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 12:14PM
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You have the same kind of soil in GA as I do in my section of Maryland-rocky clay. Digging a hole to plant the tinest plant meant a pick ax and a 5 gallon bucket of rock. There was no budget to truck in topsoil to plant a lawn.

Throughout the years, tons of free municipal mulch was used to top the hardpack to what is now pure black topsoil.

The lawn has managed to build several inches of topsoil to sustain itself and digest the clippings. So, you may want to leave the clipping lie to enrich your lawn. As far as regular planting areas, you may want to just loosen the hardpack and use raised planting beds but it does take years to build really good, rich soil. You are lucky that you can puchase pine needles in bales which make great mulch for azaleas and rhodos.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 1:01PM
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In our dry Mediterranean climate, grass clippings are invaluable as a mulch for keeping moisture in the soil and keeping the earthworms slowly but well fed.

It also looks quite attractive if done properly.

HINT: Let them dry out completely before you spread 'em, and they'll be much easier to work with.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2008 at 11:56PM
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My first visit to this forum was yesterday, soon after I had filled a plastic bag lined garbage can with grass and leaf clippings from the yard, cleaning up storm damage. Sat it, uncovered in the shed to use later as mulch, I thought. Just happened to read the post about "(grass left sitting for much time in plastic bags can turn into ugly stuff.)" from tclynx later in the day.

So, this morning I check on my grass mulch. Wow - I stuck my hand down in it, and there was some heat! Plus, it was already getting funky. So, I dragged it down to the compost pile instead. Thanks for the heads up.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 4:24PM
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adirondackgardener(Western Maine)

I never dry the grass clippings I use as mulch, I usually put down a couple of inches which is usually enough to do the trick and though they are always applied fresh, I have never had them generate heat enough to kill plants. Ever.

Though maybe I've just been lucky these past 35 years or so.


    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 10:29PM
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