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Recycle Grass

It's OK To let It Lay

Grasscycling is the natural recycling of grass by leaving clippings on the lawn when mowing. Grass clippings decompose quickly and release valuable nutrients back into the soil. It is simple, easy, and it works!

Why Grasscycle?

Each year, it is estimated that the average St. Mary’s County household generates between 500-1000 pounds of grass clippings during the average growing season. Multiply that figure by thousands of homes and you can begin to see how much space grass clippings can take up in our landfills. Approximately 9,000 tons! You can help to reduce this amount by leaving clippings on the lawn where they break down in about one to two weeks.

Grass clippings and other yard waste account for about 20% of the municipal solid waste deposited in landfills. A properly maintained lawn can play an important part in our overall quality of life, both for recreation and as part of a landscape design. A lawn can also enhance environmental quality by slowing runoff from rain and melting snow, preventing erosion, trapping sediments and chemicals before they enter streams and waterways, and also contribute to cleaner air by capturing dust and airborne particulate matter.

On the other hand, oversized, poorly sited, or improperly managed lawns can contribute significantly to environmental degradation. Potential impacts can include loss of habitat and bio-diversity; harmful runoff and wasteful water consumption through poor irrigation practices; water and soil pollution through over-fertilizing, use of synthetic fertilizers, and dependence on toxic chemicals; and drastic ecological disruption (including human poisonings) through pesticide use and misuse.

Grasscycling Benefits

  • Reduces the amount of lawn fertilizer needed because the clippings provide about 1/4 of a lawn's annual needs. Clippings contain valuable nitrogen. The Earth-Friendly Way To Mow Your Lawn!
  • Reduces the fertilizer residue moving through the soil and into the groundwater and urban streams. This has a positive effect on the health of regional watershed and saves money.
  • Reduces air pollution. Studies have shown that using a gas mower for one hour creates as much pollution as driving a car 50 miles; electric mulching mowers have no emissions. Keep Your Lawn Greener While Making the Air Cleaner!
  • Saves time: no clippings need to be raked or bagged and set out at the curb! This greatly reduces the tonnage of organic materials that are composted at regional facilities.
  • Reduces the amount of water needed by lawns since the clippings are about 80 85% water.
  • Reduces noise pollution from lawn mowing. Electric mulching mowers are much quieter and push mowers quieter still
  • Reduces yard waste as clippings stay on your lawn. A Recycling Center In Your Back Yard!
  • Reduces time spent in the yard. It is recommended to mow every 5 7 days during peak growing times and to keep the grass length at about two inches, but overall time won't increase because you no longer empty the grass-catcher, bag or rake the grass.

Leave grass clippings on the lawn

Grass clippings are 75% to 85% water. When you mow regularly, clippings quickly decompose and release nutrients to fertilize the lawn. Grasscycling is an ecologically and financially sound program for your lawn. Most rotary mowers work well for grasscycling. Keep the mower blades sharp and properly adjusted and mow off about one half inch of grass at each mowing. Since rotary mowers don’t chop the clippings into small pieces, they will take longer to settle into the soil. This will be true if the clippings are longer than an inch.

Here are a few simple guidelines for mowing, fertilizing, and watering. If you follow these suggestions, you will no longer need to bag clippings, and your lawn will grow at an acceptable rate, retain a green color, and develop a deeper root system.

Basic Mowing Checklist

Mow at the appropriate height. Refer to the table below for guidelines on mowing heights. Cut grass when the surface is dry and keep mower blades sharp. Mow your lawn frequently enough so that no more than one-third of the length of the grass blade is cut in any one mowing.

Recommended Mowing Heights**Cool weather grasses can be cut approximately a 1/2" shorter in fall and winter; warm weather grasses a 1/2" taller.

Turfgrass Variety Set Mower to this Height Mow at or before this Height
Cool Season Varieties Kentucky Bluegrass 2.5-3' 4'
Fine Fescue 2.5-3.5' 4'
Tall Fescue 2.5-3.5'  
Perennial Ryegrass 2.5-3' 4'
Warm Season Bermudagrass .5-1' 2'
Zoysia .5-1' 2'

MowFacts About Grass Clippings

Since January 1, 1993 state law prohibits yard waste, including grass clippings, from being discarded in landfills. Yard waste can account for 20% of the solid waste in local landfills, and up to 50% of all yard waste is grass clippings. Grass clippings are recyclable and do not need to take up valuable landfill space. To deal with this solid waste situation, all of us must continue to make major changes in the way we handle yard waste. Contact our Solid Waste Manager at (301) 863-8400 for more information.

Using grass clippings as a source of fertilizer for your lawn can save time and money and help protect the environment. Leaving grass clippings on your lawn can generate up to 25% of the lawn's yearly fertilizer needs and reduce the amount of time and money you spend fertilizing and bagging. Lawns stay greener and healthier when clippings are left on them.

Grass clippings don't cause thatch. Thatch is caused by excessive growth from over-fertilizing, by allowing grass to get too high before mowing, or by incorrect watering. Too much thatch leads to uneven mowing, scalping, and drought stress. Research has shown that grass roots are the primary cause of thatch build up, not grass clippings.

Private Grass Recycling Saves Lawn Care Costs

  • Fertilizer - Grass clippings can supply up to one-third of a lawn's nitrogen fertilizer needs.
  • Time - Recent Idaho trials confirmed leaving grass clippings on the lawn saves one-third of the mowing time.
  • Water use - Clippings shade grass roots, cool the soil, return moisture, add moisture holding organic matter, and thereby reduce lawn watering needs.
  • Soil Health - Clippings decompose rapidly, feeding soil organisms that keep soil healthy and help prevent turf diseases.
  • Thatch - Studies proves that grass clippings do not cause thatch build-up.

Private Grass Recycling Saves Municipal Costs

  • Saves waste management - A typical lawn of 2000 square feet generates about 30 lbs. of grass clippings per mowing.
  • Saves collection costs - Collection and transportation of this material is costly. Curbside collection of clippings increases trash hauling and handling costs.
  • Saves landfill space - Grass clippings can represent from 20 to 50 percent of the solid waste going to area landfills in the spring and summer.
  • Saves environmental costs - Clippings contribute to landfill gas and leachate production, risking water and air quality
  • and raising environmental management costs.
  • Saves nuisance problems - Grass clippings increase odors during storage, collection, and disposal of trash.

How to Keep Your Lawn Green Using Less Water

  • Water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep root growth - light, frequent watering encourages shallow roots and may lead to increased disease and stress injury.
  • Water only when the grass is dry - most lawns need no more than 1" of water per week.
  • Water in the morning, between 6 and 10, to avoid losing up to 60% of the water to evaporation.
  • Avoid watering at night - a damp lawn after dark is more prone to disease.

How to Have a Beautiful Lawn with less Fertilizer (Less Time and $$ Too)

  • Use less fertilizer - more is not better! Most grasses require modest levels of nitrogen for good color and controlled growth; excess fertilizer makes grass grow faster, requiring more mowing!
  • Apply needed fertilizer in small amounts only two or three times during a growing season (mid-late May and early-mid September are best).
  • Fertilize in the falla fall application boosts spring growth. Fertilize in spring if the lawn needs it, and let clippings do the job through the summer. Clippings supply 1/3 or more of your grass nutrient needs.
  • For slower, more uniform growth, choose fertilizers with the label "water insoluble nitrogen" or "slow release nitrogen." These increase the amount of time the grass can use the nutrient.

Mow high and often

  • Set your mower height to 2"3" Mowing high reduces shock to the grass plant because less of the blade is removed. Grass looks healthier because it is!
  • Even though mowing high requires mowing a little more often (about every 5 days), studies show that most homeowners still reduce mowing time by about one third.
  • Keep your mower blade sharp
  • Dull mowers tear the grass blade, injure the plant, and cause ragged, brown edges on the top of the turf, inviting disease.

Mow when the grass is dry

  • Wet clippings may lie on top of the grass; dry clippings settle between grass plants more readily, giving a clean, neat appearance to your lawn and minimizing tracking.
  • Water just enough to wet the entire root system. Too much water will eventually damage the roots and may cause disease. Frequent but light watering will also cause a shallow root system.
  • Any mower can do the job, but if you plan to buy a new mower, consider purchasing a mulching mower
  • Mulching or recycling mowers, as well as nonpolluting reel mowers, do a good job of shredding and scattering clippings so they fall between the grass plants. Mulching mowers cut up grass into finer pieces so that it decomposes quickly but you can grasscycle with any mower if you follow proper mowing techniques. Electric mulching mowers are designed to chop grass clippings into tiny bits and blow them into the turf where they break down quickly and provide nutrients and moisture. Push or reel lawn mowers can also be used in grasscycling, but length of the clippings will be longer than with a mulch mower, and may take longer to settle into the soil.

Are there alternatives to Grasscycling? Yes!

  • Grasscycling is not feasible in every situation. Prolonged wet weather, mechanical breakdown of mowers, or infrequent mowing are situations where grass clippings should probably be bagged since an excessive volume of clippings may be generated.
  • Do not throw the clippings away! Grass clippings are an excellent addition to a backyard compost pile. Clippings can also be used as mulch to provide weed control and prevent moisture loss around flower beds, trees, and shrubs. Mulching with clippings should be avoided, however, if they are of an invasive variety, such as bermudagrass, or if herbicides have been applied recently to the lawn. Bagging grass clippings removes valuable nutrients otherwise provided by the decomposed grass blades.
  • Reduce the size of a lawn by expanding planting beds, creating new mulch "islands", mulching under and around tress and shrubs, and replacing grass with ground covers, especially under trees and on steep slopes.
  • Tuneup your lawnmower every year: an efficient engine will provide a cleaner, healthier cut while reducing emissions.
  • Sweep up clippings on driveways, sidewalks, and in street gutters (add them to your compost pile). Stormwater can carry those materials into streams, polluting them with nutrients and sediment.