In the warmer months, mowing the grass is an important step for good lawn maintenance. However, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of grass clippings you get from it.
The best way to compost grass clippings is to make a “base” layer with dried twigs, finished compost, and water. Once this bed is made, add your grass clippings to the top of the pile, and cover them with water and food scraps. Turn once per week with a shovel, and you’re done!
Let’s take a closer look at the best way to compost your clippings below.
Composting Your Clippings: The Basics
Keeping and maintaining a compost pile can have significant benefits to the soil in your garden. Composting is typically done using water, nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen.
Grass clippings are considered a “green.” This means they are high in nitrogen and feed the microbes that live in the compost. Dead leaves are considered the “browns.” These leaves are high in carbon, which are broken down by the microbes.
Why Compost Grass Clippings?
As mentioned by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, using compost in your garden provides your plants with an abundance of rich and healthy soil to help them thrive.
In order to effectively break down the material in a compost pile, the internal temperature needs to reach high enough to kill any harmful pathogens. This is usually around 130°F (54°C) or higher.
The biggest benefit of using grass clippings in your compost pile is how quickly it will heat up because of the higher levels of nitrogen. Fresh clippings are best because dry clippings are lower in nitrogen.
Regardless of wet or dry, grass clippings provide your compost with a great source of nitrogen to help break things down faster.
Risks of Composting Grass Clippings
If you try to compost just grass clippings alone, without a “brown” mixed in, you can end up with a smelly, and a very hot pile of green mess.
When cut grass is piled up, it forms a dense mat that kills the microbes your compost needs. Due to the finely cut pieces and because grass is 80% water, there is very little room for air to circulate, and the resulting trapped moisture fuses the clippings together in a bad way.
Avoid the Mess
To avoid the mess, you’ll want to mix the grass clippings into a large amount of brown material, such as shredded leaves. You’ll also want to use thin layers of grass clippings in between the bigger layers of brown material.
Don’t forget to keep turning your compost to circulate the airflow throughout the pile. When you turn it, this is when you should add in more of your grass clippings.
You should turn your compost one to two times a week to evenly aerate the pile and speed up the process.
What if My Grass Clippings Have Pesticides?
There’s much debate on what to do exactly with grass clippings from a pesticide-treated lawn. However, it is highly suggested that you should leave the clippings on the lawn for two or three mowings after it’s been treated with an herbicide before using it in a compost pile.
Chemicals to treat weeds and insects can slow the decomposition process down by killing the much-needed microbes in the compost pile. This can be true as well for certain plants in your gardens.
There are some chemicals such as some pesticides that, when broken down, they become harmless. However, not all of them do.
The safest way to guarantee your compost isn’t affected by any pesticides is to not use grass clippings that have been treated.
How Long Does It Take?
Grass clippings will generally decompose faster than other greens.
If they’re left in the lawn as you cut, they’ll typically be gone within a few weeks.
In a compost pile, it could take three months to make good compost. You’ll know it’s ready to use when it’s dark, crumbly, and smells earthy.
During the Spring and Fall months, it’s likely you will have more grass clippings than they can decompose. If this is the case, the best option is to multiple compost piles that are at various stages of decomposition.
This will give you a system to handle your continuous supply of fresh grass clippings. As one pile starts to decompose, you can move it to another pile to make room for fresh grass in other piles.
Other Recycling Methods
While composting is a great way to get rid of your unwanted grass clippings, there are other ways to make your cut grass work for you.
“Grasscycling” is one of the easiest methods of recycling your cut grass. It’s also potentially the most beneficial for your lawn.
Grass clippings will decompose rapidly if they are left on your lawn. The best way for this to be accomplished is to keep your grass clippings short as long clippings can smother your lawn.
You’ll want to keep the height of your grass about 2 to 3 inches high and only cut one-third off the top of the grass each time you mow.
Similar to composting, you want to keep the layers of grass clippings on your lawn thin, so they don’t mat and suffocate your lawn.
When using grass clippings to mulch, you’ll want to remember the same rule as with compost. Keep the layers thin. You’ll want to make sure that you’re getting enough water and air to your plants.
Similar to compost, there are liquid plant feeders you can make using grass clippings. A popular one is compost tea.
To make this, you can take a 5-gallon bucket and fill it with untreated water. Mix four or five handfuls of fresh grass clippings and let it sit in a partially shaded area for two weeks. Make sure to cover it with a mesh covering that keeps out mosquitos.
When it’s done sitting, you can use it to water your garden and plants. While it’s unclear if there are any true benefits to compost tea, it is certainly another way to dispose of unwanted grass clippings.
Check out our page on Compost Tea to learn more.
How to Avoid Thatch
You may have heard of thatch and that leaving grass clippings on your yard will cause it. Many gardeners will suggest you avoid grasscycling because they fear it will cause thatch.
What is thatch? Thatch is a brown, spongey matting that seals off your lawn from water and air.
It’s an organic material caused by the lignin found in grassroots. Lignin is slow to decompose and is the main cause of thatch.
Some other causes of thatch are vigorous grass varieties, excessive nitrogen fertilization, infrequent mowing, and low soil oxygen levels.
To avoid this, you’ll want to keep your lawn watered and mow often. Watering helps break down the materials on your lawn’s surface and prevents thatch from forming.
You’ll also want to cut less off when you mow, as longer grass clippings can smother your grass and increase your risk of thatch.
Can You Take Grass Clippings to the Landfill?
Something to keep in mind when making the decision to compost or not, most landfills or recycling centers are no longer taking grass clippings.
In fact, yard waste is one of the top ten items banned from landfills.
This means that depending on where you live, composting your cut grass might be the best option you have in order to get rid of your unwanted grass clippings.
You will have to find out from your local land fill sites on which items are banned or not in your area.
Figuring out what to do with your grass clippings can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Not only can composting your cut grass be a simple solution, but it can also benefit your yard or your garden in just a few short months.