by Judy Ryan
What is grasscycling?
As environmentally conscious citizens, we dutifully carry our bins of plastic, glass, metal and paper to the curb each week. In addition, many village residents drag to the curb heavy bags of grass clippings.
It turns out that’s a chore we can give up without guilt. Grasscycling means leaving grass clippings in place to nourish our lawns with nitrogen and other organic nutrients. Clippings also hold in moisture, and if we add proper lawn watering techniques, we can significantly reduce water usage. According to Planet Natural, the EPA “estimates that watering lawns accounts for 30-60% of water [usage] in summer.”
I’ve gleaned my information from a myriad of excellent websites (listed below). Information is available from environmentally focused organizations, but also from businesses selling lawn products. Some are geared to those obsessive about their lawns, and some are for the rest of us. Cornell Cooperative Extension offers three detailed pages of information about lawn care without pesticides. Gardening Know How assures me that “you’re probably already [grasscycling] and just didn’t know. Essentially, it is “mow and go.”
An old adage is that not removing grass clippings can lead to thatch (a mat of tangled grass), but grasscycling can actually prevent the growth of thatch. Only if clippings settle in clumps is there a risk of thatch. In that case, use a rake to spread out the clumps evenly over your lawn.
Here are some tips from Planet Natural:
- Don’t cut the lawn too short. Cut no more than 1/3 of a blade. Taller grass exposes more leaf surface to the sun, and also shades the soil from rapid evaporation.
- Make sure your mower blades are sharp, so as not to tear grass.
- Let grass clippings settle on their own – only take a rake to clumps.
- Water thoroughly but not often. Thorough watering encourages deep root systems; it’s shallow roots that can lead to thatch. And make sure grass is dry before you water. It’s best to water in the early morning, when the air is cooler and water won’t evaporate too quickly.
- It’s a good idea to add high quality organic fertilizer in the spring, but you’ll need less because of the nitrogen in the clippings.
- It isn’t necessary to buy a mulching mower, but if you do, it can mulch leaves directly into your lawn in the fall. This also contributes to a healthier lawn … but more about that in the fall.
- We don’t see old-fashioned push mowers much any more, but the newer ones are lightweight, easy to maneuver, and their spinning blades are ideal for clipping grass. You can skip your walk that day!
A blog on Lawnstarter’s website quotes Cassy Aoyagi, a landscaper in Los Angeles, where droughts are intensifying: “Grass is 80% water, so in essence you’re watering your lawn a bit by leaving clippings in place.” According to Planet Natural, “Much of [our] money for lawn products goes to those that degrade the soil, pollute any water they reach, and pose … health threats to humans, … pets, and wildlife….” The writer states that “60-70 million birds die from pesticide poisoning each year in the US alone.”
Yard waste in landfills is another major issue on a planet filled with garbage. Since 1980 yard waste in landfills has been reduced from 27 million tons to10.8 million tons according to the Lawnstarter blog. Many states have passed laws limiting or banning yard clippings in their landfills. Composting grass clippings has become common. But leaving most of them in place remains the healthiest option for your lawn, as regular mowing and mulching “provide a barrier to weed seeds, preventing them from taking root.”
Since we’re heading into late summer, you may want to check the Cornell University Cooperative Extension website to learn how to prepare and plant your lawn in September, as the air cools. Even us “mow and go” folks can follow some of its simple tips, like loosening soil compaction and incorporating topsoil, if needed, into the soil beneath. Others can dig into its extensive information about a truly beautiful pesticide-free lawn.
Grasscyling is not a burden. It makes lawn care easier, requiring only that we leave grass clippings in place, water with care, and fertilize organically only in spring. It turns out that the practice of leaving grass clippings on our lawns is a win for our lawns, a win for our environment, and a win for the health of everyone.
Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Village of Upper Nyack Board of Trustees.