Published on 07/01/96

Recycling Nature's Treasures a Gift for All

Eventually, all things return to the earth.

But will it be at the landfill or as nutritious food for your landscape?

"Georgia landfills are filling up and closing. Yard refuse, especially grass clippings, is one of the major problems we face," said Wayne McLaurin, a University of Georgia Extension Service horticulturist.

"One lawn can produce 1,500 pounds of clippings per year," McLaurin said. "Grasscycling is a natural solution."

Grasscycling is recycling grass clippings by leaving them on the lawn when mowing instead of bagging them. It's a simple, effective way to save landfill space while saving time, work and money in the landscape.

"Grasscycling may mean an extra mowing per month," McLaurin said.

Proper mowing is key to successful grasscycling. Cut the grass at the recommended height. Keep the mower blade sharp. Mow when the grass is dry. And mow often enough to remove no more than one-third of the grass height.

"This generally requires mowing every five days instead of seven," McLaurin said.

All mowers can grasscycle. No special equipment is needed. Many manufacturers sell attachments that chop clippings into smaller pieces and improve a mower's grasscycling performance.

Some people have thought removing grass clippings would slow thatch development.

"Research shows that thatch buildup is caused by grass stems, shoots and roots," McLaurin said. "The clippings decompose fast and release valuable nutrients into the soil."

Grass clippings can be combined with leaves and other landscape trimmings, too, to make mulch.

Mulches conserve moisture, insulate plants' roots from temperature extremes and help control weeds. They also provide a barrier to some soil-borne diseases that feed on plant foliage.

As organic mulches decompose on the soil surface, they add valuable plant nutrients. They also protect sloping grounds from erosion and prevent soil compaction from driving rains.

Mulched areas require little routine maintenance and can save you time and energy.

To make mulch, recycle what's available.

"Leaves, grass clippings, pine straw and trimmings are excellent mulches for landscapes or vegetable gardens," McLaurin said.

Shred large leaves and twigs before using them as mulch. A simple way to shred them is to place them in small windrows, six to eight inches high and two feet wide, on the lawn. Then, with the lawn mower set for the highest cutting height, run over them once or twice.

A grass catcher on the mower is handy for doing this. Some companies sell mulch attachments for lawn mowers.

Large limbs and stumps may require a mechanical grinder or chipper. Check your local government for recommendations on utilities, public works departments and tree service companies that provide this service.

A mixture of organic materials provides the best-looking, most uniform mulch. Some fine-textured mulches, like grass clippings, tend to mat and decompose fast when used alone.

To mulch properly, place three to four inches of mulch under trees and shrubs. On newly planted trees and shrubs, extend the mulched area at least six inches beyond the canopy spread.

Gradually expand the mulched area as the plant grows.

"The roots of established ornamental plants spread two to three times the canopy spread of the top, so mulch as large an areas as possible," McLaurin said.

Excess mulch can be used to insulate plants from winter freeze, to line animal pens, cover a garden path or line fence rows to prevent weeds.

Recycling nature's riches saves precious landfill space, which is at a premium in Georgia. It returns nutrients to the soil and helps save water.

During summers, when many counties face outdoor water restrictions or bans, mulching can save money, water and your landscape's life.

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.