lawn.jpg It is that time of year again. Here in the northwest, the weather has been wet and warm, which means the grass is growing like crazy. For some of you in the northeast, you may be seeing your lawn for the first time in months. In those places and almost everywhere in between, people are starting to pull out their lawnmowers and trim their lawns. Lawn clippings are an ideal candidate for recycling (or technically composting, which I consider a form of recycling). They are a terrific source of nitrogen-rich “green” material, which compost needs in order to break down effectively. However, there are some tricks to using lawn clippings in a home composter. We have a couple of best practices for your consideration. In most places that offer curbside yard waste pickup, you can place your lawn clippings in your bag or bin. Or, if you prefer, you can simply leave your clippings on your lawn and let them compost in place. Contrary to popular belief, it is good for your lawn.

Why it is important to recycle lawn clippings

When organic materials like lawn clippings and food waste break down in landfills, they give off methane, a greenhouse gas. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. When lawn clippings break down in compost piles or other aerobic (oxygen-rich) environments, they do not give off methane. That is why it is very important to recycle your lawn clippings rather than throwing them away.

Composting basics

What is compost? How do lawn clippings help your compost pile? And what is this whole thing about “green” materials? Compost is decayed organic matter. It resembles dark, crumbly dirt and has a rich, earthy smell. The material is rich in nutrients that plants need to grow. Besides providing plants with essential minerals, compost improves soil quality (which is particularly helpful in the many parts of the country that have very clay-rich or sandy dirt). Applying compost to your garden will help you decrease the amount of water it needs, as the material prevents evaporation and improves the soil’s ability to retain water. Another benefit: Compost contains beneficial bacteria that can fight off organisms intent on damaging plants. To make compost, you need two basic components: nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials. The bacteria that do much of the hard work to break down your compost need nitrogen for amino acids and other essential nutrients. The richest sources of nitrogen are often green, so they are called “green” materials. Greens include lawn clippings, living plants and alfalfa pellets. Coffee grounds, manure and kitchen scraps are also great green material. Green materials have the added benefit of helping a compost pile heat up (if added in the correct amount). This will make it break down more quickly and kill off weed seeds and harmful bacteria. Carbon serves as a food source for bacteria, so it is also important to a compost pile. Many carbon-rich materials, such as dead leaves and twigs, are brown. Thus, these materials are referred to as “browns.” Straw, paper and wood shavings are also good brown materials. Brown materials often serve the added role of adding structure to the pile, which allows oxygen to flow through it. This keeps the bacteria and other microorganisms alive and happy.

How to recycle lawn clippings

You may be able to recycle your lawn clippings by putting them in your curbside yard waste recycling bin. Many cities now offer curbside green waste collection. Examples include Charlotte, Lincoln (Nebraska), Allentown (Pennsylvania) and Columbus. However, not all cities that collect yard waste accept lawn clippings. West Lafayette, Indiana, recently banned grass from their green waste bins. You can also add lawn clippings to your home compost pile. If you do, make sure you do not leave them in one giant heap, especially if they are wet. Combine the lawn clippings with a voluminous brown material, such as branches and dry straw. This will ensure oxygen can continue to get into that portion of the pile. If you do not take caution with your lawn clippings, you may notice your compost pile has developed a foul odor. This means anaerobic bacteria have taken over and are giving off methane. Mix in some brown material to allow oxygen to begin flowing into the compost pile again.

Grasscycle your lawn clippings

If your lawnmower does not have a bag, or gives you the option of chopping and spreading your lawn clippings on the grass as you mow, consider using it. According to the website for CalRecycle, California’s recycling policy agency, lawn clippings are good for your grass and will not cause diseases or attract pests. Compost is great for lawns, just like it is great for gardens. But rather than hauling bags of compost to your yard and spreading it by hand, why not use the resource you already have in your grass clippings? They break down quickly and send valuable nutrients back into the soil. This also means you will not have to fertilize as much, which is a big bonus for the environment (and your wallet). Many people have heard that this is bad for lawns. However, most of the bad things people have heard about leaving lawn clippings in the grass are myths. The biggest one, according to Montgomery County Environmental Protection in Maryland, is that the practice can cause thatch (a thick build-up of dead grass near the surface of a lawn). Some people have also heard that grasscycling can cause other diseases. Neither of these things is true. Some people worry that grasscycling means leaving ugly, brown clumps on their pristine lawns. But Montgomery County points out that lawn clippings break down quickly and will disappear from your emerald expanse in a couple days. So not to worry. Compost your lawn clippings in place and be rewarded with an ever nicer, lower maintenance lawn.