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Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

Posted by eddie_il (My Page) on
Fri, May 30, 08 at 8:39

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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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

  • Posted by okcdan 7 OKC - Bermuda (My Page) on
    Fri, May 30, 08 at 10:04

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 lawns 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 dont 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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

Mulch mow always.

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


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

Another vote for mulch. You can reduce your fertilizer requirements by mulching.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

Another vote to mulch....The only time I bag my clippings is when I go to overseed the fescue in the fall or spring.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

Leave clippings on the lawn, but make sure they are not in large clumps that can brown out grass.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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!


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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.)


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

  • Posted by jimtnc 7b Raleigh TTTF (My Page) on
    Thu, Jun 19, 08 at 6:49

Mulch.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

Where in Utah are you? There are big differences in climate and even the kinds of grass that can be used depending on location.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

  • Posted by ddod UTAH (My Page) on
    Fri, May 22, 09 at 10:16

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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

"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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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 OK...it 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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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.


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RE: Should I mulch or bag my grass clippings?

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).


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