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Archive for Thursday, April 17, 2008

Grass-cycling saves time, money

April 17, 2008

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Are you still bagging your grass clippings? I know, change is hard, but if you have a catch bag on your mower, you are just making unnecessary work for yourself. Try grass-cycling this year - it's another concept of the Green Yards and Communities program. Grass-cycling means leaving the grass clippings on the lawn when you mow.

About 1,500 pounds of grass clippings are produced in one year in an average yard. Eighty-five to 90 percent of these grass clippings are water - so removing them means you will have to water your lawn more.

The 10 to 15 percent of material that is left (after the clippings dry) contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. These nutrients are the three most essential to plant health and are the same ones contained in commercial fertilizers. Grass clippings decompose quickly and return these nutrients to the soil - meaning you will purchase less fertilizer to keep the lawn green and healthy.

At my house, I even sweep up the grass clippings that land on the sidewalk or in the street and toss them back into the lawn. I see no reason to let money wash into the storm drain! I also know that the storm drain (and ditches) lead to our water supply, and the nutrients in the grass clippings add to the already existing pollution problems.

Kansas State University lists the following as further advantages to grass-cycling: 1. It takes one-third less time to mow. 2. Up to 25 percent of the fertilizer nutrients are returned in clippings. 3. Reducing trash by 10 percent means less space is taken in landfills and fewer plastic bags are taken to landfills.

Research also shows that grass clippings do not cause thatch (compressed surface roots, stems and runners between grass blades and soil). Thatch buildup is typically a result of overfertilizing in the spring.

Mowing height is also important. Fescue lawns, (the most common and best adapted for our area), should be mowed to a height of 2.5-3.5 inches. My mower is set on the highest setting, which is right at 3 1/2 inches. Try to only cut off one-third of the plant at any given time - so if your end height is 3.5 inches, mow the grass when it reaches just over 5 inches tall.

I'm not suggesting that you go out and measure your grass every time you mow - but try it once to get a feel for when it really needs to be mowed.

Mulching mowers are great for grass-cycling, but not essential. Mulching mowers have special blades and decks that chop the grass clippings more than a regular mower. A regular side discharge or rear discharge mower works fine. Either way, try to mow at the right height.

The rest of your yard waste can be just as beneficial and reusable. Start a compost pile or bin and make use of your leaves and other plant materials. Lawrence residents can purchase compost bins at reduced rates by calling 832-3030.

I know change is hard, but take a step to save yourself some work and money this year. Look at the numbers and take a lesson from the pros - leave your grass clippings on the lawn this year. And stay tuned for more information about Green Yards and Communities!

If you have questions about lawn care or other garden concerns, call a Douglas County Extension Master Gardener at 843-7058, 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, or e-mail dgemg@sunflower.com anytime.

Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension AgentHorticulture for K-State Research & Extension. She can be reached at 843-7058 or smithjen@ksu.edu.

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