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Bagging Grass Clippings – Should You Do It?

grass clippings flying up from rotary lawn mower

Every time you cut your lawn, you have a choice: bag the clippings or leave them on the grass. Leaving the clippings in your yard after cutting the grass is the easiest. Also, it is the most beneficial choice for your lawn.

Why you should not bag your grass clippings

Everyone knows that lawns need nutrients to survive, and fertilizers are designed to deliver nutrients to your yard. Grass clippings contain approximately 4% nitrogen, 2% potassium, and 1% phosphorus. In effect, this is a low-strength fertilizer. Essentially, you are applying a little bit of fertilizer every time you cut your grass. In fact, many experts claim a yard can receive 20% – 30% of its annual nutrient intake from clippings alone. Finally, clippings also foster a healthy environment for bacteria and other microorganisms in the soil. Both are essential to healthy grass growth.

If you wish to take advantage of the natural benefits of using your grass clippings, you must follow a few rules:

1. Cut with a Sharp Blade

push lawn mower

Using a sharp lawnmower blade ensures a clean cut of the grass, protecting it from damage and disease. A dull blade may break and tear the grass, resulting in damage and jagged edges at the end of the blade. Damaged grass blades can turn yellow after an unclean cut. Torn and broken grass blades are not only unattractive, but they are also prone to stress, disease, and insect attack. Clean cut ends will mend and recover faster and cleaner than those cut with a dull blade.

2. Cut Frequently

Attractive woman on a lawn mower, wearing a hat of some sorts.

Clippings should not be longer than one inch when returned to the lawn. Mow your grass to an approximate height of three inches. Limiting clipping size to one inch may mean more frequent trimmings in heavy growth periods and fewer in cold times of the year. Lawns that are cut to higher height tend to have a more robust root system, resulting in a healthier and more drought-resistant yard. Taller grass has also shown an ability to crowd out and prevent many broadleaf weeds.

If you happen to go too long between cuts, an extra step is required. Rake or blow any clipping piles that happen to form. This is to ensure nutrients are returned to the soil while not blocking out sunlight to grass underneath the piles.

  • Rake or blow any clipping piles that happen to form
  • Taller grass can also result in clippings piling up on top of the lawn after cutting. These should be raked or blown out of piles. This will ensure nutrients are returned to the soil and not block out sunlight to grass underneath the piles.

3. Cut When Grass is Dry

Trimming when your lawn is dry will prevent trimmings from clumping together and amassing in your yard. Dry trimmings will quickly fall back down to the soil. Wet clippings will stick to the remaining blades of grass and clump together unevenly. Wet and matted clippings can do more harm to your lawn than good.

4. Inspect for Fungus, Thatch, and Insects

Dethatch compacted grass clippings

If your lawn is experiencing an insect infestation, fungus, or other forms of disease, it is best to bag your clippings until the issue is resolved. Not bagging your grass clippings can facilitate the spread of unwanted diseases or pests throughout your yard. Also, it is essential to note the cutting a recently treated lawn may render some chemical treatments ineffective. You never want to compost freshly treated grass clippings.

Not bagging your lawn clippings does not contribute to building thatch in your yard. The high-water content of grass clippings (70%-80%) means that the clippings break down and degrade quite quickly. Thatch generally consists of more robust and fibrous matter, such as stalks or roots. If your lawn has a thatch problem, it is best to remedy it before not bagging your clippings. A thatch layer in excess of half an inch will prevent the cuttings from properly decomposing, negating their beneficial properties.

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