Mowing bag or mulch, what is the best method?


Mulch or bag the clippings? This is typically the most common question asked by lawn owners. The first lawnmowers were designed to leave the grass clippings on the lawn to assure redistribution of nutrients that resulted in a healthier lawn. As self-bagging was introduced, people have been bagging their clippings. Nowadays, with people having the option of choosing to mulch or bag, this article will tell you why you should mulch rather than use a bag. 

Mowing bag or mulch, what is the best method?

In general, gardeners say do not bag your grass clippings but let them mulch on your lawn. The environment and your lawn will benefit from it. The fresh grass clippings contain 80% water and will be invisible quickly. There is also no need to water the fertilizer when you blend in the clippings. As the grass clippings decompose, they provide sufficient amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium nutrients needed by plants to grow. These grass clippings can supply almost one-third of the annual feeding requirement of your lawn.

Mowing bag or mulch, what is the best method? 1

Mulching over mowing bag

A lot of research shows that grass clippings contain a good portion of phosphorus, nitrogen, and other nutrients that plants require in order to grow and stay healthy. Mulching saves your time, whereas bagging your clippings requires you to stop and discard your clipped grass multiple times in a single mowing session.

1. Grass clippings serve as a natural fertilizer

The need for fertilizer for your lawn may decrease by half if you mulch your grass clippings instead of bagging them. Mulching reuses the nutrients from the grass clippings and provides these essential minerals. This helps your lawn become healthier and even reduces your fertilizer expenses. 

By utilizing the mulch, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium present in the grass, clippings are re-introduced in the soil, acting as a fertilizer and so benefiting your lawn.Leaving the clippings on your lawn reinstalls tons of nutrients every season.

– Nutrients in grass clippings

On average, for one season’s worth of clippings (per 1000 sq ft) that are then returned to your lawn supplies 4.8 pounds of nitrogen, 0.7 pounds of phosphorus, and 2.6 pounds of potassium. This amount is substantial, as typically, 2 to 5 pounds of nitrogen are required annually for every 1,000 sq ft of lawn. As such, mulching your lawn cuts down your fertilizer expenses and also maintains an eye-catching and healthy lawn.

2. Source of hydration for your lawn

The president and co-owner of FormLA Landscaping of Los Angeles, Cassy Aoyagi, says mulching the grass clippings provides hydration to your lawn in the hotter season. Studies show that grass clippings contain approximately 80-85 percent water that helps them in rapid decomposition and is a hydration source for your lawn. It’s like you’re watering your lawn by leaving the clippings there and not dumping them.

3. Mulching guarantees more landfill storage

It is preferable to mulch your grass clippings rather than bagging them as they reduce any dumpsite usage. Mulching your yard clippings reduces your disposal fees; hence you save money, as well as keeping the lawn dump out of already congested dumpsites. Bagging is considered bad for the environment in the absence of compost piles. Many cities collect lawn waste for composting that mostly is then just thrown into landfills rather than composting piles. You’re helping the environment by mulching rather than choosing to bag your lawn waste, as it cuts down the use of plastic from a bag too. Hence mulching is environmentally friendly.

Mulching yard clippings has been proven to be good for landfills. The US’s Environmental Protection Agency, in a 2018 report, pointed out that Americans produce about 34.7 million tons of yard clippings annually. That means 69.4 trillion pounds of waste, from which only 10.8 million tons are dumped in landfills. This was 27 million tons in 1980.

The norm has changed, and people now go for mulching or composting of their clippings. State governments have also taken measures to keep grass clippings out of their dumpsites. Data from the Composting Council shows that 25 states have rules that limit or ban grass clippings in landfills. These states include Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, New York, and Wisconsin.

4. Mulching is less time consuming

Bagging calls for extra work because it requires you to stop and empty the bag multiple times in one mowing. Mulching only requires you to mow and leave the grass clippings on your lawn. Who likes doing extra work when you can mulch and save yourself from long hours of mowing?

5. Mulch kills weeds naturally

Controlling the growth of weeds is important. The layer of lawn clippings left unattended must be less than an inch, but mowing and mulching your lawn regularly creates a barrier to weed seeds, hence stopping them from taking root.

Mulching is, as such, a pretty good option. Yet if you decide to recycle your grass clippings by mulching, here are some key points you should keep in mind.

  • Your mower blades should be sharp.
  • Do not mow over wet grass.
  • Mow often. 
  • Adjust your mower’s height, so it’s suitable for your grass. 
  • Thatch never becomes an issue when you mulch.

When bagging becomes essential

Mulching is suggested most of the time by experts. However, there are times when bagging the lawn clippings is more preferable. 

1. Cold season calls for mowing bags

The colder season in some regions requires bagging of grass clippings as humidity is very low. Therefore it becomes hard for the clippings to decompose. Idaho calls for bagging of yard clippings in the cold season, as there are no high temperatures and humidity required to break down the clippings between mowing. However, during the hottest summer months mulching lawn clippings works best. When dead leaves cover up your lawn around fall, using a mowing bag can cut down your raking time.

Excessive grass clippings in residential settings can be irritating as they stick to your shoes, stain clothes, and even get into homes. As such, bagging becomes essential.

2. When you take long breaks in between mowing

There are times when you don’t have time to mow your lawn or decide to go on holiday. When this happens, the grass can grow several inches, and clippings covering the lawn can stop the grass below from using its nutrients. This is when bagging is better than mulching. Leaving the yard clippings for mulching can block sunlight, leading to patchiness and discoloration, hence giving a hay-like appearance to a lawn that makes it look dead. Huge piles of grass left on your lawn can rot and kill live grass below.

3. Plant diseases

If you notice any plant diseases on your lawn, you should collect and bag the clippings to stop the diseases from spreading.

Many lawn owners prefer bagging as it gives a cleaner appearance.

Always check the local and state laws when you decide to bag and dump clippings.

Commonly asked questions related to bagging and mulching

New lawn owners mostly don’t know whether to bag or mulch their lawn clippings. Here, we have listed a few key questions and answers. 

1. Can bagging be bad for the environment?

Yes, according to the research: almost 20% of solid waste disposed of at dumpsites is from lawn remains. Bagging your grass clippings and throwing them in the trash increases your area’s overall expenses and occupies precious space at landfills.

2. Is thatch produced because of the unattended lawn clippings?

No, it is a layer that occurs naturally and consists of decomposed stems and roots growing between the soil and grass blades. Decomposing of clippings is rapid, and so it has nothing to with the thatch. Suppose your lawn produces excessive, i.e. over ½ inches of thatch. In that case, it is suggested to conduct a soil test, adjust the soil’s pH, and aerate your lawn with the coordination of a core aerator annually to manage the thatch. 

3. Does mulching make the lawn healthier?

Yes, it does. In three-year-long research, lawn clippings contained approximately 46-59% nitrogen used by the lawn as a fertilizer. Reusing the grass clippings reduced the consumption of fertilizers significantly as it serves its main purpose – the production of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Bagging and throwing away your clippings means you’re wasting half of your lawn’s natural fertilizers.

4. Can excessive grass clippings cause damage to a lawn?

Yes, if you take long gaps in between mowing your lawn, the excessive clumps of grass clippings can cause discoloration and even kill the grass under it. This is why you should mow your lawn more than once weekly when grass growth is at its peak. That means you only discard a third of grass blades every time you mow. 

Mowing every 4-5 days might look like a lot of work, but it becomes worth it when your lawn looks much healthier and better. After all, who doesn’t like a greener, attractive-looking lawn?

5. What is the difference between mulching, side-discharge, and bagging mowers? 

Side-discharge and mulching mowers both leave the grass clippings on the lawn. Mulching mowers, however, chop the grass into smaller and finer pieces so that they decompose faster and don’t gather in clumps. In comparison, using a side-discharge mower means you have to spread the clippings yourself by going over the grass clumps numerous times.

The grass clippings are not even visible if you often mow with mulching mowers. Using a bagging mower consumes a considerable amount of time. It requires you to move, bag, and then dispose of the waste multiple times whenever you mow your lawn.

Final Remarks

Mulching is a natural way of recycling and returning essential nutrients to the soil. It gives your lawn a healthier and fresh look and even saves you time and money.

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