push reel lawnmower on cut grass

Too often, environmentalism is viewed as “extra.” It feels like a separate thing that you have to do on top of everything else in your life, instead of an integral framework for the way we live. Since modern society is designed around overconsumption and waste, it is true that being environmentally responsible requires more intention and effort than just not thinking about it.

But every now and then, environmentalists get lucky. Sometimes being green is about doing less and not working so hard. This is often the case when it comes to your lawn. Take, for example, grasscycling.

What Is Grasscycling?

Grasscycling is as simple as mowing the lawn and leaving the clippings lying on the ground.

If you’ve been raking and bagging, congratulations! You can now free up hours of your summer. If you have a self-bagging lawn mower, all you really have to do is remove the bag.

Some lawnmowers have a special setting for grasscycling that chops the clippings into smaller pieces to speed decomposition. If your lawnmower has this setting, by all means, use it. But if you don’t have it, don’t feel the need to buy a new mower. Even with regular mowing settings, grass clippings will break down quickly in the lawn.

Why Grasscycle?

Grasscycling saves time and reduces waste. Grass clippings and other yard waste account for over 12% of solid waste in U.S. landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But in the summer, yard waste can be as much as half of the municipal waste stream. Grasscycling saves money because you don’t need to buy bags and pay for disposal. But the primary benefit is to your lawn.

Grass clippings contain about 4% nitrogen, 2% potassium, and 1% phosphorus. Leaving them on the ground can provide up to 25% of your lawn’s fertilizer needs. The organic matter in decomposing grass also encourages healthy soil bacteria and earthworms, further contributing to lawn health. The extra work of removing lawn clippings is not just wasted effort, it is literally robbing nutrients from the soil.

Grasscycle Wisely

In some instances, grasscycling is not the best thing for your lawn. If your lawn is diseased, it might be better to collect and dispose of clippings until the problem is under control. Leaving clippings on the ground could help spread the disease around the yard.

Take a moment to check how high your mower is set from the ground. Healthy grass should be cut to three inches in height. When mowing cuts half or more of the lawn height, the resulting clippings can be four or more inches long. Leaving very long clippings on the lawn can smother grass, which contributes to the dreaded thatch. In this case, it’s better to collect the clippings and put them in the compost, where they will be a valuable source of nitrogen.

Following a grasscycling practice is easy, good for your lawn, and can save you time and money compared to the less environmentally responsible alternatives. So, relax this summer and let your grass clippings do their natural work.

Feature image by rseigler0 on Pixabay. This article was originally published on August 3, 2018.

By Gemma Alexander

Gemma Alexander has an M.S. in urban horticulture and a backyard filled with native plants. After working in a genetics laboratory and at a landfill, she now writes about the environment, the arts and family. See more of her writing here.