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Leave those grass clippings lie

By Ruth Davis, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Denver County

How can you save time on lawn care chores, money on fertilizer, pay lower water bills and help the environment? By doing less and relaxing more in your garden!

The preferred lawn mowing height is 2 1/2 to 3 inches. Why? Grass at this length has more leaf area for photosynthesis resulting in more food production. This enables the plant to build deeper and healthier roots that are more drought, weed, insect and disease resistant. The extra shade from taller grass keeps soil cooler and discourages weed germination.

Instead of raking and disposing of cut grass from mowing, consider letting clippings lie on the lawn. Clippings break down quickly and encourage beneficial microorganisms and earthworms that digest thatch and maintain healthy soil.

Clippings from overly long grass can not be left on the lawn because they mat and smother the grass. Mow frequently enough that no more than one-third of the grass blade is removed. Grass plants undergo less stress when the amount clipped off is short compared to the amount remaining.

This may mean mowing every five days instead of waiting a full week when grass is growing fast in the spring. Studies show that it takes less overall time to mow more often and leave clippings on the lawn, compared to mowing weekly and bagging clippings.

If grass becomes excessively long between mowings, it will be necessary to bag or rake clippings to avoid matting on top of the lawn. Raked clippings can be recycled as a mulch in the garden or used in making compost.

Grass clippings are a free source of nitrogen that can substantially reduce by one-third to one-half the fertilizer you'll need to buy. Clippings also prolong the effects of any fertilization by returning nitrogen in an organic, slow-release form that promotes steady grass growth.

Maybe the best point in favor of not collecting clippings is that it eliminates bagging and hauling for people and trash trucks, saving both human and fuel energy. And couldn't we all do something else with this energy and time?

If you have questions about leaving grass clippings on the lawn, call your local office of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. 

Photo by Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010