Grass clippings in compost


Grass Clipping Composting: Making Compost With Grass Clippings

Making compost with grass clippings seems like a logical thing to do, and it is, but you do need to be aware of some things about composting lawn grass before you go ahead and do it. Knowing more about composting with grass clippings means that your overall compost pile will be better off.

What to Know Before Composting Lawn Grass

The first thing to know before adding grass clippings to your compost pile is that you don’t have to compost your grass clippings. Gathering up cut grass to compost can be a big chore and if you mow your lawn properly, it is an unnecessary chore. Cutting your lawn at the proper height and with the proper frequency means that the clippings will decompose naturally on your lawn without posing any harm. In fact, allowing grass clippings to decompose on your lawn naturally will help to add nutrients to the soil and reduce your lawn’s need for fertilizer.

If you need to remove your lawn clippings though, you still need to know more about the process of making compost with grass clippings. Most importantly, you need to be aware that freshly cut grass is considered a ‘green’ material in your compost pile. A compost pile needs to have a proper balance of green and brown material in order to decompose properly, so when you are composting with grass clippings that are freshly cut, you need to make sure that you also add browns, such as dry leaves. But if you have allowed your grass clippings to dry out completely before you add them to your compost pile (they will be brown in color), they are then considered brown material.

Many people also have concerns about composting lawn grass that has been treated with herbicide and how that will affect their compost. If you are composting residential lawn clippings, then the herbicide that can legally be used on your lawn is required to be able to break down within a matter of a few days and should not pose any further danger to other plants that receive compost made from these grass clippings. But if you are using grass clippings from a non-residential location such as a farm or a golf course, there is a significant chance that the herbicides used on these grass clippings may take weeks or even months to break down and therefore, can pose a threat to plants that receive compost made from these kinds of grass clippings.

How to Compost Grass

One may think that grass clipping composting is as easy as just tossing the grass into the compost pile and then walking away. This is not true, especially if you are talking about fresh grass clippings. Because grass is a green material and tends to form a mat after being cut and piled, simply tossing grass clippings into your compost pile can result in a slow and/or smelly compost pile. This is due to the fact that grass can become compacted and overly wet, which prevents aeration and leads to the death of the microbes that make composting happen.

In other words, improperly handled grass clippings in the compost heap can result in a putrid, mucky mess. Instead, when making compost with grass clippings, make sure that you mix or turn the grass clippings into the pile. This will help distribute the green material evenly through the pile and will prevent the grass from forming a mat in the pile.

Composting with grass clippings is a great way to recycle the nutrients your lawn uses and to add much needed green materials to your compost pile. Now that you know how to compost grass, you can take advantage of this abundant resource and help keep landfills just a little less filled.

Grass Clippings, Compost and Mulch: Questions and Answers

Chris Starbuck
Department of Horticulture

Yard waste, such as grass clippings, leaves and branches, was banned from Missouri landfills in 1992. These materials are a valuable landscape resource when composted or used as a mulch. Grass clippings do not need to be collected and can actually benefit the turf by returning nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

Grass clippings

What is the “Don’t Bag It” lawn care plan?

This MU Extension educational program involves recycling grass clippings. Instead of collecting clippings, the “Don’t Bag It” plan encourages people to return them to the lawn.

What benefits do grass clippings provide if returned to the lawn?

Grass clippings returned to the lawn provide up to 25 percent of your lawn’s total fertilizer needs. Clippings contain about 4 percent nitrogen, 2 percent potassium and 1 percent phosphorus. While decomposing, they also serve indirectly as a food source for the bacteria in the soil, which are doing many beneficial things (such as decomposing thatch) for a healthy turf environment.

Figure 1
Grass should be mowed tall and clippings should be returned to the lawn to produce a healthy lawn. Set your mower at a tall setting so clippings easily fall into the lawn. For cool-season grasses, set your mower at 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 inches, and for warm-season grasses use a setting from 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 inches. Mow frequently so you remove no more than one-third (about 1 inch) of the total plant height.

Do my mowing practices need to be changed to follow the “Don’t Bag It” plan?

Regular mowing with a sharp blade is essential for reducing the need to collect clippings. Grass must be mowed often enough so that no more than a third (about 1 inch) of the vertical grass height is removed with each cutting. Figure 1 shows recommended cutting heights.

“Don’t Bag It” does not mean you should leave an excessive amount of clippings piled on the lawn surface after you mow. Leaving too many clippings will damage the lawn.

Returning clippings to the lawn usually means having to mow more than once a week during the few weeks of rapid growth during the spring and early summer. Mowing more frequently is not as much work as it may appear, because lawns mowed at the proper height cut more easily and quickly. As lawn growth slows in the summer, grass can be mowed less often.

Figure 2
A comparison of turfgrass mowed at two heights.

  1. The closer-mowed turfgrass has fewer roots and uses water inefficiently
  2. The higher-mowed turfgrass has a more extensive root system and is more drought resistant.

Why recommend taller mowing heights?

When you set your mower at a higher cutting height, the grass plant produces a deep and efficient root system that can reduce the need for watering (Figure 2). Taller mowing also helps to “shade out” many weeds. Simply remember to set your mower at a tall setting so clippings fall easily into the lawn.

Do clippings returned to the lawn contribute to thatch problems?

Thatch is a layer of undecomposed or partially decomposed grass roots, stems, crowns, runners and lower shoots that accumulate between the soil surface and actively growing turf. Grass clippings contain 80 to 85 percent water and decompose much more quickly than other grass plant parts. Research at MU and other universitites indicates that clippings do not contribute to thatch buildup on any cool- or warm-season grasses, including zoysiagrass.

Before you start returning clippings to your lawn, make sure the thatch layer is no more than 1/2 inch thick. A layer more than 1/2 inch thick will prevent clippings from coming into contact with soil microorganisms. If thatch is a problem in your lawn, use a vertical lawn mower or power rake to reduce the thatch layer. Use the thatch as a mulch or add it to your compost pile.

Can my mower’s bagging attachment be removed safely?

Be cautious about removing the bagging attachment from any lawn mower. Because many mower bagging attachments affect safety, it is very important to understand manufacturer guidelines before you consider removing the attachment. Some manufacturers have adapter or converter kits that can be purchased to change from a bagging mower to non-bagging type. Remember, never assume your mower is still safe to operate after removing the bagging attachment. Refer to your owner’s manual or equipment dealer.

Are mulching mowers any more effective than regular lawn mowers?

Mulching mowers are rotary mowers that cut clippings into smaller pieces and disperse them uniformly back into the lawn for decomposition. Removing only a third of the vertical green growth is very important when using a mulching type of mower. Well-designed mulching mowers distribute clippings more evenly across the lawn surface than regular lawn mowers.

How does lawn fertilizing affect clipping production?

This question will be answered in two parts, beginning with the cool-season grasses (Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue and perennial ryegrass) and then the warm-season grasses (zoysiagrass and bermudagrass). Cool-season grasses should be fertilized primarily in late summer and fall (September and October). Nutrients applied at this time encourage root growth and turf thickening. Fall applications also result in early spring green-up without causing excessive leafy top growth.

Given proper fall fertilization, spring applications may not be required. High rates of nitrogen (more than 1 pound per 1,000 square feet) in the spring will stimulate unnecessary flushes of leaf growth and may predispose the lawn to greater summer damage. No more than one spring fertilization should occur. This can be in late March or early April with a weed-and-feed treatment for crabgrass or in May with a slow-release nitrogen source.

Warm-season grasses should be fertilized when the grass begins its active growth in late spring and early summer (May-June). Again, for slow and even growth, use a fertilizer containing a slow-release nitrogen source. Warm-season grasses should not be fertilized in September and October.

Are there any situations when I should collect the clippings from my lawn?

When the lawn is heavily diseased, removing clippings can help to decrease the population level of disease organisms. Clippings can still be used for compost.

If the lawn must be mowed when wet or excessively tall, clippings will mat together and may not be evenly distributed. The lawn may be damaged under clumps of clippings.

If your mower is unsafe to operate without a bagging attachment, clippings can be collected. Use the clippings as a mulch or for compost.

If clippings are collected, can they be used for mulch or in a compost pile?

Yes, grass clippings used as a mulch should be built up gradually to a 1-inch layer using dry grass. Greater thickness can inhibit the penetration of moisture and oxygen into the soil, and excessive heat and foul odors may develop. Mulching thickness can be increased by mixing in a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of compost, dry leaves or wood chips with fresh grass clippings.

Grass clippings also can be used in a compost pile. The additional nitrogen grass clippings supply will help speed up the microbial process. However, large amounts of fresh clippings, all at one time, can create odor problems. These temporary odors can be reduced by mixing compost, dry leaves or wood chips in a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio with clippings before composting.


What is composting?

Composting is the process of breaking down plant materials such as leaves and grass clippings to a more usable organic soil amendment or mulch. Composting yard, garden, and some food wastes creates a valuable soil amendment.

Compost improves the drainage and aeration of heavy clay soils and increases the moisture-holding ability of sandy soils. Adding compost to soil increases earthworm and soil microbial activity that benefits plant growth. With yearly additions of compost, a more desirable soil structure is created, and the soil becomes easier to work. Compost also contains nutrients needed for plant growth.

A well-managed compost pile with shredded materials under warm conditions usually will be ready in one to four months. But if a pile or bin is left unattended and material is not shredded, the pile may take a year or longer to decompose.

What materials can be composted?

Yard residues and other organic materials are suitable for composting. These maerials include leaves, grass clippings, straw, hay, sawdust, vegetable and fruit trimmings, coffee grounds and wood chips. While grass clippings can be composted, they are more beneficial if left on the lawn. If clippings are composted, they should be mixed with other yard wastes or soil to aid in decomposition and reduce odors.

What kinds of materials should not be put into the compost pile?

Human, dog and cat feces should not be placed in compost piles because of the possibility of disease transmission. Meat scraps, bones, grease, whole eggs and dairy products also should not be added to compost piles because they can attract rodents. Diseased plant material or weeds that have gone to seed may be undesirable in a compost pile. If temperatures in the pile do not go high enough (140 degrees), neither the seeds nor the disease organisms will be destroyed.

Can clippings or other yard wastes treated with pesticides be put in the compost pile?

No simple answer exists to this question. Individual pesticides react in different ways and break down under unique conditions. Research is being conducted to better evaluate the fate of pesticide products once applied to turf areas. Lawn clippings treated with a herbicide (weed killer) should be returned to the lawn for two or three mowings after the application before using them in a compost pile. Herbicides commonly used on home lawns persist in the soil from less than one month up to 12 months, depending on the chemical. If some treated clippings are mixed into a compost pile, they will decompose more rapidly in a properly maintained pile than in soil.

In general, plant material in contact with insecticides registered for home use is safe to use in a compost pile. Insecticides sprayed on plant material break down rapidly in light, and the plant material usually can be used in the compost pile within one week of application. Fungicide-treated material should also be kept out of the compost pile for at least one week.

Can wood ashes and barbeque ash be used in the compost pile?

Wood ashes act as a lime source, and if added to compost should be used only in small amounts (no more than 1 cup per bushel of compost). As with adding regular lime, excessive amounts of wood ashes result in loss of nitrogen from the pile. Charcoal is just a partially burned form of wood. So long as no other chemicals have been added (check labels on packaging to be sure) barbeque ash should be a safe compost addition.

How can unpleasant compost pile odors be avoided?

Odors may arise from adding too much wet material such as grass clippings or fruits, from overwatering the pile or by not periodically turning an actively decomposing pile. A properly prepared and adequately turned pile generates little or no objectionable odor. Keeping compost as moist as a wrung out sponge but not waterlogged prevents unpleasant odors. Adding lime does not necessarily reduce odors and may result in the loss of nitrogen from the pile. Excessive lime may make the compost too alkaline. Incorporating high-pH compost into soil may reduce availability of micronutrients such as iron.

What are carbon to nitrogen ratios?

The microorganisms in compost use carbon for an energy source and nitrogen to make proteins. The proportion of these two elements used by the microorganisms should be about 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen by weight. Given a steady diet at this 30:1 ratio, microorganisms can decompose organic materials quickly. For instance, sawdust has a high C:N ratio (100-500:1) and decomposes fairly slowly unless some additional nitrogen is supplied. Grass clippings have a relatively low C:N ratio (12-25:1) and decompose relatively quickly.

A general rule of thumb for a good C:N balance is to mix roughly equal weights of fresh green material (grass clippings, weeds) and dried brown wastes (leaves, straw, wood chips, dead plants) or use a 2:1 ratio of dried brown wastes to fresh green material. Blending of materials to achieve a workable C:N ratio is part of the art of composting.

Should compost piles be covered?

A compost pile with a good moisture content will benefit from being covered with plastic or carpet scraps. Covering helps to keep piles moist in summer and prevents them from getting too soggy in winter. However, if a pile is too dry or soggy to start with, covering may make the problem worse.


What does mulch do?

Mulches such as wood chips, leaves and compost suppress weeds, conserve soil moisture and modify soil temperatures. Mulch also protects sloping ground from soil erosion and can stop soil compaction caused by driving rain. In addition, mulch provides a good environment for earthworms and other soil organisms that are necessary for healthy soil. Mulches can reduce maintenance as well as provide a feature of your landscape.

Can walnut hulls be used for mulch?

The hulls from black walnut contain a chemical plant inhibitor (juglone) that can restrict the growth of some plants such as tomatoes and cabbage. Compost the hulls for about three months before using them as a mulch. Partial decomposition of the hulls will oxidize the juglone, making them safe to use on plants.

Will mulching with wood chips or sawdust rob nitrogen from plants?

Carbon-rich woody wastes will not compete with plants for nitrogen if they are placed on the soil surface around plants. However, these materials should not be mixed into soil without extra nitrogen fertilizer Use wood chips and sawdust to mulch trees and shrubs where the soil is not tilled and the mulch stays on the surface. Sawdust is safest to use as a mulch if it is not fresh and has had six months to a year to age.

Can oak leaves be used as a mulch?

Yes. An old myth exists that oak leaves are too acidic for most plants. Acid content is not a major concern with mulches. Remember, a mulch is used on top of the soil and pH is measured in the soil. Although oak leaves do contain tannins, the tannins do not affect the growth of the mulched plants.

How deep should a mulch be applied around my trees and shrubs?

Most mulches should be only 2 to 4 inches deep. Air and water exchange are dramatically reduced and the soil becomes an inhospitable environment for roots if the mulch is applied too deeply. Do not apply mulch right up to the trunk or stem of a tree or shrub as this encourages the development of decay fungi.

Do my mowing practices need to be changed to follow the “Don’t Bag It” plan? Thatch is a layer of undecomposed or partially decomposed grass roots, stems, and material is not shredded, the pile may take a year or longer to decompose. So long as no other chemicals have been added (check labels on packaging to. Composting grass is a great way to recycle vital nutrients. Gathering up cut grass to compost can be a big chore and if you mow your lawn properly these grass clippings may take weeks or even months to break down and. Composting grass clippings is a great way to get nitrogen rich compost ‘greens’. Add to Instead of mowing, bagging, moving, piling and then turning your grass There are at least two long lived herbicides that do not fully break down in the.

Lawn clippings break down more rapidly than almost any other that decompose readily, allow your grass to grow higher and never cut off more than by plants with roots, rhizomes, crowns,and stolons that take a long time to decompose. Letting grass clippings and fallen leaves decompose where they fall can take from Cutting the material into tiny pieces helps it rot faster, and so does collecting. Compost is the best way to get rid of grass clippings after mowing. Learn how to How long does it take for grass clippings to decompose?.

But you need to learn how to do it properly so both your lawn and compost bin are happy! Forget those long-held beliefs that grass clippings left on a lawn smother the grass Like the fellow in the image to the left, you might even take your grass To grasscycle properly, cut the grass when it’s dry and always keep your. Composting grass is a great way to recycle vital nutrients. Gathering up cut grass to compost can be a big chore and if you mow your lawn properly these grass clippings may take weeks or even months to break down and. Research is underway to determine long-term effects of recycling lawn. Grass clippings left to decompose (in place) will improve your turf. Grass clippings do not contain a keep hands and feet away from the cutting blades of any mower.

Hi,do you have any ideas on how to get grass clipipngs to decompose quickly. We’re dumping the It didn’t take long to see them vanish. And contrary to popular belief, grass clippings do not contribute to excess thatch build-up. Thatch is a Adjust the mower height to leave your lawn ½ inches long. They will break down and release nutrients to your lawn more readily. Sharpen mower blades annually and mow when the grass is dry. Discover the uses of grass clippings for your lawn such as natural fertilizer and more. if grass clippings are good for lawns and what to do with grass clippings. word that means leaving your grass clippings behind when you mow. get too long, as the clippings will pile up and take longer to decompose.

How to Add Compost To Your Lawn: A Step by Step Guide

Author: Guest Contributor

Quality, organic compost is one of the most effective means of increasing your lawn’s health and well-being. And with healthy grass comes fewer weeds, getting you closer to the perfect lawn that you’ve always wanted. But compost is also beneficial to the environment at large, adding valuable nutrients to your soil and serving as an alternative to harmful chemical fertilizers.

Here are a few helpful steps to guide you as you apply compost to your lawn. It is a fairly simple chore and is easily added to your weekend gardening projects. Here’s what you’ll need: an aerator, a shovel, a rake, and the right amount of compost for your yard.

1. First, calculate how much compost you will need to effectively cover your entire lawn to a depth of one-half of an inch. This is the optimum coverage depth. Compost is typically sold by the cubic yard. One cubic yard will cover approximately 500 square feet of lawn. Do not skimp. Buy enough to cover the entire lawn. Otherwise, your grass might grow unevenly.

2. After purchasing the compost, use an aerating tool over the entire surface of the lawn. This will punch divot holes into the ground and allow the nutritious compost to reach the roots of the grass.

3. After aerating, use the shovel to scatter compost evenly across your lawn. Add compost along the lawn’s perimeter first, and then distribute the rest as evenly as possible. I recommend walking backwards while scattering the compost, so that your stepping doesn’t compact it down onto your lawn.

4. After spreading the compost, you must then use a garden rake to smooth and level the surface of the compost. This will ensure that all plants are receiving the same amounts of moisture and fertilizer.

5. The final step in the process is to water your newly composted lawn. This helps the compost to seep further down into the soil. Use the lightest sprayer setting available, for fear of washing away some of the compost.

With the right tools and just a little bit of hard work, you’ll find that composting the lawn can be both fun and satisfying, leading to a strong and healthy turf that is free of pesky weeds. Be warned, though – your neighbors will likely be jealous.

About the Author: Philip Brown is a lover of green, healthy lawns. A former lawn care professional, Philip now spends his time sharing what he knows with others. When he’s not blogging about lawn management at The Lawn Enthusiast, you can find him tending to his own front yard down in Loganville, Georgia.

Compost Topdressing & Sustainable Lawn Care

Topdressing by definition is the application of any product on the top of any surface, such as sand on a street, salt on a parking lot, fertilizer on a lawn and compost on a sports field.

Today, compost topdressing is unique as a landscape maintenance practice because it closes the loop in the ecological cycle of sustainability. Compost topdressing takes the product compost (once a waste stream) and applies it to the soil as an amendment to improve the entire soil structure. Compost topdressing also minimizes fertilizer and pesticide inputs and has a corrective affect on soil compaction. The natural soil system is an asset that if managed correctly by landscape contractors can reduce expenses and maximize profits.

How it works

Though fertilizing is technically a topdressing, there are differences in the main objectives between topdressing and fertilizing. Fertilizing’s main objective is to provide plant nutrients to produce plant growth. Topdressing’s main objective is to improve the soil’s structure. With that being said, it must be noted that both fertilization and topdressing can have an impact on the other in real life. For example, compost has nutritional benefits that also feed plants like a fertilizer, as well as amend the soil structure.

Looking at compost topdressing as an amendment practice to the soil structure can help contractors better understand how it can work to their benefit.

Soil structure is comprised of four basic materials, which are sand, silt, clay and organic matter (OM). So from a topdressing amendment point of view, our topdressing materials then are sand, silt, clay and OM (compost) or any blends of these.

Compost can be produced from any biodegradable organic matter. It pays to access compost from an experienced compost producer. PHOTOS: ECOLAWN

Sand topdressing is used in leveling surfaces, improving soil porosity, covering up the roots of warm-season grasses and supporting the grass blade stand. This application is performed on sports fields, golf greens and tees and warm-season lawns.

Silt and clay topdressings are often components of various blends in order to repair drainage issues or for specific purposes like clay used on baseball diamonds and pitching mounds.

Compost topdressing, on the other hand, is used for the management of OM in the soil in order to enhance soil health. This application is used in agriculture and horticulture, on crop fields, lawns, sports fields and golf courses.

The basic three components of sand, silt and clay make up the 12 soil classifications. And each soil classification has varying characteristics with inherent limitations. The unique OM component and its inherent adhesive holding property can make any soil type healthy and productive.

OM is better understood as the process of decomposition of biomass that ends in humus formation, an asset in all soil types. The OM percentage in a soil, in turn, heavily improves the soil pH and cation-exchange capacity (CEC), which make up the soil system’s horsepower. And though the OM percentage in the soil structure analysis is small in comparison to the three other components, its benefits are quintessentially enormous. When the appropriate percentage of OM is preserved in a soil (5 percent to 10 percent), the soil is healthy and strong energy-wise, but at the same time very fragile when exposed to extreme weather conditions and human impacts, such as sporting activities along with routine cultural practices.

Periodic applications of compost topdressing add organic matter to lawns and enhance soil health and turfgrass vitality. PHOTO: ECOLAWN

It is imperative to understand that the OM level in the soil is the microbial habitat and sustenance, and therefore the soil’s protective buffer against stress caused by weather, activities and routine horticultural practices. For example, the best mowing practice has established the one-third cut rule. But when normal circumstances cause that rule to be broken, the OM buffer in the soil can step up to the plate to provide food energy to the grass plant (via the microbe). Mowing always causes stress on the grass plant, from which it must recover, and reduces the photosynthesis leaf surface, the leaf’s energy production chamber. Therefore the management of OM is like an insurance or asset, balancing out normal routine cultural procedures and activities.

Protecting your soil assets

Now compost topdressing is not a cure-all, but it is a valuable cultural tool for preserving and increasing the OM level in soil. However, it would be an enormous task to increase OM levels by compost topdressing alone. It would take something like 20 tons of good compost just to raise the level by 1 percent on a 1 acre field.

Compost topdressing should be a routine maintenance practice toward sustainable implementation. Studies have found that light monthly compost applications have far better results then fewer heavier applications.

The fastest way to increase soil OM is with new root growth, and compost is a great medium for germinating seed. New grass roots are also great aerators for compacted soils. This is nature’s ecological way to produce and maintain OM in the soil. Every spring and every fall, nature goes to seed and then drops its leaves or lets the above part of a plant die off as a topdressing amendment. Routine overseeding combined with compost topdressing is the quintessential soil asset builder, just as it’s seen in nature.

Some of the benefits of proper OM levels in the soil include:

  • Physically holds the soil together — humus adhesive qualities
  • Increases water and nutrient holding capacity
  • Increases microbial population, which increases mineral nutrient availability
  • Reduces the density of soil and minimizes problems
  • Improves soil porosity, buffering soil vulnerability

Compost topdressing can greatly reduce input costs and maximize soil assets so they work for your clients. Compost topdressing can become the key that closes the cycle of sustainability. And compost topdressing as an amendment to the soil is an OM management cultural practice.

The Benefits of Adding Compost to Your Lawn

For the incredible effect of having really lush landscapes – adding compost to your lawn is essential. Anyone who intends to support the radiant health of your landscapes – will need to generate compost for optimal organic fertilization.

What Exactly is Compost?

Compost is used for lawn seeding, and for enhancing your soil with life-affirming nutrients that cause your landscapes to glow. Adding compost to your lawn, also known as top dressing, is a natural fertilizing method that can be done by you or a professional for healthier grass. It is a very simple process to learn. The Grounds Guys® can help get your composting project started.

All you need are kitchen scraps, including:

  • vegetable and fruit peelings
  • eggshells
  • coffee grounds
  • tea bags

You can also use household waste, such as:

  • paper towels and napkins
  • paper bags
  • cardboard boxes
  • coffee filters

And you can use your yard waste:

  • raked leaves
  • grass clippings
  • dead (but not diseased) plants

Do Not Use These Items:

  • Meat
  • Bones
  • Fats, oils
  • Dairy products
  • Pet waste

The Secret “Glowing Lawn” Recipe

Left alone in nature, all organic matter eventually decomposes. But to speed things up a bit, use a recipe that includes “browns” and “greens” in a certain mix. “Browns” are things like dead leaves that are high in carbon, and “greens” are things like vegetable peelings that are high in carbon.

As close as possible, maintain a compost pile with a ratio of 4:1 — 4 parts of “brown” ingredients and 1 part of “green ingredients.” With these proportions, the components decompose quicker and lack offensive odors.

Top Dressing: The Benefits of Composting for Your Lawn

  • Breaks up heavy soil. If your clay soil is so heavy and compacted that plant roots don’t stand a chance at penetrating it, tilling or spading compost into the soil loosens it up. Plant roots can penetrate the soil more easily, and the soil drains better.
  • Bulks up sandy soil. If your soil is so sandy that water flows too quickly away from plant roots, adding compost gives the soil substance, which increases water retention.
  • Sustains beneficial microorganisms. Underneath the surface of the soil is an environment that, ideally, should be teeming with beneficial microorganisms, such as certain fungi and bacteria. These microbes are the unsung workhorses of garden soil, fixing nitrogen in the soil, digesting organic matter and converting it into usable nutrients for plants. Compost helps feed this microbial community.

Maintaining, Agitating, Turning

Aeration is essential in composting. Keeping a pile oxygenated speeds decomposition and minimizes odors. You can use a pitchfork or shovel to turn the pile; simply insert the tool into the pile, lift the contents and turn them over — as if you were flipping a hamburger.

As you turn the whole pile, add water if needed until it’s slightly damp, similar to a wet sponge that you’ve squeezed until the water no longer flows from it.

A Transformation from Garbage to Gold

Once your compost pile is dark and crumbly, and you can no longer recognize the original components, it’s “done” and ready to use as enhancement fertilization in your garden. If you have any other questions just check our blog topics at our web-based educational center.

If you are ready to enhance the visual and environmental quality of your landscape – The Grounds Guys® are the most well respected among the professionals. This is because of our dedication to educational and sustainable environmental progress. If you have any question at all – or simply want professionals to handle your composting and fertilizing – just contact us today.

By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

For years, I composted in heaps. Three piles — collected, turned, finished — three years from pitching it in to shoveling it out. And then I took a tumble.

Yes, a tumbling composter has changed my life. No longer do I wait several seasons to have rich, rewarding, garden-ready organic material to spread around my plants, add to my growing containers and enrich my precious, precious soil. No longer do I have to listen to my true love’s complaints — and, believe me (yes, dear), they’re well-informed complaints if just a bit misguided — that my piles are unsightly, surrounded by clouds of insects, odiferous (I call it “green perfume”), and offend the neighbors. Best of all, no longer do I strain my back turning the heaps with a garden fork or transferring compost from one heap to the next. Now, my compost is turned twice a week — or more — without back strain. How? By using a compost tumbler.


No need for a pitchfork when you use a compost tumbler. Turning by spinning or cranking keeps the pile fired up by allowing more oxygen to reach the decomposing materials. Done correctly, a rotating bin can cut months from the process — sometimes as little as three weeks!

What’s a composting tumbler? Simply described, it’s a barrel that can be rotated or turned. Often made from recycled plastics, the barrel is filled with organic yard and kitchen wastes. The composting process, contained within the barrel, is activated with commercial starters, manure, already finished compost, garden soil or nothing at all. The organic materials are broken down, as in the compost heap method, by zillions of microbes and other living organisms fueled by oxygen. To keep the process going at its fastest clip, the tumbler is turned twice or three times a week, mixing the microbes with the organic material while infusing fresh supplies of oxygen. The tumbler keeps the materials contained, as well as the heat the process generates. In a month or so — or even less with diligent practice and the right tumbler! — the lid is pulled from the barrel and voila! Fresh, rich compost that you’ve made yourself.

Let’s Get Ready To Tumble!

Composting practices are thousands of years old and it’s difficult to say when the first tumblers were put to use. In the 1970s when the back-to-the-land movement was really taking off, a few innovative gardeners offered plans for barrels, “compost rollers” and other schemes for containing and turning compost. Commercial tumblers have been available for decades and the choices available have mushroomed over the last several years. Plans for making your own tumbler are also numerous.

The commercial tumblers are mostly of two types: horizontal and vertical. Variations include spherical tumblers made to roll along the ground or contained on stands. Sizes vary from large bins capable of holding bushels of yard waste to smaller barrels designed for back porch use. The simplest designs are basically rotating barrels. Some horizontal tumblers have cranks to facilitate turning. All are vented, more or less, to allow in fresh air to fuel the composting process. More sophisticated models use piping to bring oxygen to the center of the barrel and paddles inside the barrel to help mix and aerate the composting materials when turned. These improvement or modifications — call them what you will — are designed for one reason: to speed the composting process.

How do compost tumblers work? Simple. You load them with green and brown waste from your yard and kitchen. When full, you give them time to work, in other words, heat up. Turning a compost pile — mixing the organic materials and the organisms it contains with heat-producing oxygen — is the traditional method of keeping the process going full steam. A tumbler does this more simply than the old strong-back-and-garden-fork method. By turning the tumbler, the organic materials are mixed and infused with fresh oxygen. When a check reveals the compost is complete — and this can happen in a matter of weeks — the same access that allowed you to fill the tumbler lets you empty it. Now’s the time to spread the results.

If you’re looking for a fast, convenient way to compost your kitchen throw-outs, grass clippings and organic yard waste, our compact unit is just right for you! The Compact ComposTumbler quickly recycles it into nutrient-rich compost.

What should you consider when buying a tumbler? First, how much compostable organic material do you produce? Most barrels will take the grass clippings from a moderate sized yard with ease, depending on your mowing habits or how tall you let your lawn get. A yard with several large deciduous trees will probably produce more leaves than any single tumbler can hold, especially when considering the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of green to brown material. If you’re composting mostly kitchen scraps and only small amounts of yard waste, you’ll want one of the smaller barrels or, again, because of the carbon-nitrogen ratio, you’ll choose to use another method altogether.

Our recommendation: start with the largest composter you think you can use. There are always yard trimmings to be collected from neighbors and other sources if you can’t fill it on your own. If you have an abundance of green material to compost, consider two tumblers. This way you can stagger the process, loading one of the barrels while the other is in the throes of composting. Producing more compost is a good thing. Even after you’ve dressed your garden plots, used it to mulch your shrubs and hedges and spread it on your lawn, there’s always a neighbor who will gladly take any extra you’ve produced for her own gardening needs.

Another consideration: while tumblers make turning compost easier than turning it by hand, they still require a bit of strength. If you have severe back, shoulder or strength issues, you may find turning large, full compost tumblers more than you want to handle. Consider the smaller tumblers or those that are rolled along the ground. For the most part, tumblers are easily turned. You’ll find it easier if you give them a back-and-forth swing or two to get them moving before completely turning them over. This is true even with crank-turned models. Also, consider how high your yard waste and other materials need to be lifted to get into the composter. The closer to the ground your tumbler’s lid, the easier it is to load. Unloading is also a consideration. Some tumblers load and unload from the same access. Others top load but empty from the bottom.

Hot Air

Venting is very important. The more air your compost is exposed to the faster the process. Too little air turns your aerobic process into an anaerobic process, which leaves behind a messy, often smelly (but still useful) product. Choose compost tumblers that are well-vented. Some composters modify their tumblers to allow for more air flow. Before poking additional holes in the barrel, do a test load with your tumbler. If your compost doesn’t heat up to at least 130˚F or if the process takes significantly more time than indicated in your tumbler’s directions, then more venting may be required. (Remember that other factors also contribute to the time it takes to make compost, especially the size of the materials composted, their green-brown or nitrogen-carbon ratio and moisture content.) Extra holes may speed the composting process.

Exceptional capacity — 12 cubic feet! The EZ-Tumbler Compost Wizard is a dream to turn, it kicks out finished compost in about two weeks, and it keeps the critters out of your food scraps. Load it up, spin once a week, and you’re done!

Vents or outlets on the ends of a vertical tumbler allow excess liquid to drain from the compost. A pan or small bucket can be used to collect these drippings — compost tea! — which can be a safe, nutrient-rich amendment when applied to the base of plants during watering.

Tumbler Tips

Commercial tumblers go together easily and require just a screwdriver and pliers to assemble. Most barrels come in two pieces. Make sure that when you screw them together that you do it tightly or else your compost tea will leak out the seam when the tumbler is turned. The stand or legs should also be assembled securely. They’ll be asked to support a lot of weight and occasionally asked to stay together while you drag your tumbler to a slightly different position. Make sure the axle is secure to the legs. You don’t want the barrel separating from its legs when turned. A level base is best for your tumbler but most will tolerate a slight slant or uneven ground.

Using your compost tumbler appears to be easy. Load it to capacity, add inoculant — something to jumpstart the process with the needed microbes such as a spadeful of garden soil, manure, a commercial activator or already finished compost — and turn it every couple days. But for best results, a little care is required.

What you load into your composter is most important. General rules do apply. What not to compost? Twigs or other woody prunings or protein foods such as meat, fat, dairy products or fish as well as bones and pet droppings. Be aware of any pesticide, herbicide or fertilizer that may have been applied to your compostable material. Even though the microbes involved in the composting process tend to neutralize some contaminants, any source of possible contamination should be kept out of your barrel.

You can obsess about the specific carbon-nitrogen ratio inside your composter — good finished compost has a C-N ratio of 10-1 — or you can go for a good brown-green ratio and let nature take its course. Most compost tumblers recommend that you load your barrel with roughly 75 percent grass clippings or green equivalent and 25 percent other ingredients such as kitchen scraps. This varies from the traditional brown-green mix in open piles or heaps. Why? Because the mostly closed tumbler system affords less chance for evaporation. Too much moisture in a tumbler’s barrel — and kitchen scraps such as vegetable peelings, coffee grounds and tea bags contain a lot of moisture — yields a runny, muddy almost putrid product. If your product is too wet, try adding dry leaves or newspaper scraps. In worst case scenarios, empty the bin and start over. Rule of thumb: finished compost should have the moisture content of a well-squeezed sponge.

Lack of moisture can also be a problem. If the inside of your barrel is completely dry, as it might be when you’ve filled in completely with fall leaves, then add kitchen scraps or, more directly, a quart or two of water. Give your barrel several good tumbles to distribute the moisture.

Size does matter. The smaller the particles that go in your tumbler, the hotter and faster your process (see Composting Physics). I’ve loaded a tumbler with tall pulled weeds and waited almost a season for finished compost. Worse, the compost didn’t heat up enough to kill the weed seeds. Feeding your compostable material through a shredder or — more economically — running over it a few times with a lawn mower helps speed up the decomposition process.

Turn! Turn! Turn!

At some point, it’s time to stop loading material into your tumbler. This isn’t as easy as it sounds as the amount of material in the barrel decreases in volume as the process proceeds. There’s always room for one more pail of kitchen scraps or another bag of grass clippings. But adding more material sets the process back and you might find unfinished carrot peeling or chopped celery garnishing your compost when it’s otherwise complete. This makes for good reason to have a second tumbler or a nearby heap to hold materials while a load is being finished (yes, dear, I promise not to take my own advice). The stand-by pile goes into the tumbler as soon as it is emptied.

A household size composter for daily amounts of kitchen and household throw outs — finished compost in 4-6 weeks! The Back Porch ComposTumbler is great for your deck, porch, right outside your kitchen door or next to your recycling bin. Capacity: 32.2 gallons (4.3 cubic feet).

How you turn your compost also has an effect. Don’t just rotate it once and consider the job done. Swing it back-and-forth a number of times after each spin to shake up the materials then spin it again. The axle on which the barrel rotates goes through the center of your tumbler and help breaks up the compostable material as it’s turned. Paddles and piping in some tumblers have the same effect. Compost tends to become compacted as it forms. Several good turns will assure that your compost has been well broken up and mixed with air. This should be done a minimum of twice a week and three or four times a week isn’t too much. Spinning daily or more than once a day (your kids will be tempted since spinning a compost tumbler can be loads of fun) doesn’t give the compost a chance to attain maximum temperatures. While it doesn’t take long for heat to build inside a properly filled tumbler, too much tumbling dissipates heat and defeats the purpose.

It’s easy to understand why your tumbler should be positioned in direct sunlight. Sunshine will help heat up what’s in your tumbler. The darker the tumbler, the more it will heat up. We’ve found that a digital, remote meat thermometer (sorry, dear, I promise to replace it in time for Thanksgiving) is a great tool for assessing temperatures inside your tumbler. Any reading short of 130-140˚F means you’re probably not killing weed seeds or getting optimal decomposition (at their most efficient, compost tumblers and bins can generate temperatures as high as 200 degrees). Naturally, you’ll want to position your tumbler strategically so that the finished product is unloaded close to where it will be used.

Tipping Point

Following these procedures carefully will yield the promised results of finished compost in a month or so. How will you know when your compost is ready? My guess is that you know good compost when you see it. The original leaves, grass clippings and kitchen scraps have given up their identities to become dark, rich humus with good clumping ability (no too much moisture), texture and particle size. The volume of the material inside the barrel will have been reduced to half (or less!) of its original bulk. No finished compost is perfect and most gardeners will screen their finished product to remove the inevitable small twigs, woody carrot ends or other non-composted material.

Ignoring even one facet of good composting practice may mean it takes eight weeks or longer for your compost to be perfect. It’s said that a well-managed pile will produce compost just as quickly as a tumbler. Such results are obtained by turning the piles as frequently as the tumblers (every couple days) and constantly applying moisture to the piles, something tumblers don’t require. To get the same results from traditional compost piles as from a tumbler requires significantly more work. And isn’t that why we use tumblers, to save time and energy?

One other benefit we’ve found our compost tumbler provides: it’s a great conversation starter. The gardeners among our neighbors come over and want to know how well it works. The most ambitious gardener on our block has a commercial, multi-tiered home composting bin and he’s constantly comparing the results (my tumbler — the EZ Tumbler, see above — works more quickly, I suspect because I show it more attention; and delivers a larger volume of compost on completion, though he claims a constant, but small supply is always waiting at the bottom of his bin). I’ve even made some friends by giving away a pail of compost here and there. What have they given me in return? Zucchini! As if I couldn’t grow enough of my own…

How To Compost Grass Clippings

Home › Lawn Care Tips › Compost

Got a stinky, slimy pile of grass clippings? Here’s how to compost grass clippings without the smelly mess.

While grass clippings can be a valuable addition to your compost pile, grasscycling is better for your lawn – and less work – than collecting and composting grass clippings.

Grasscycling is simply recycling your clippings by leaving them on your lawn to decompose naturally. If you need to collect them, composting grass clippings is a better alternative to sending them to the landfill.

When is it a good idea to bag clippings? It’s helpful to remove clippings when your lawn must be mowed and is wet or excessively tall – leaving grass clumps. You can also quickly clean a lawn full of leaves/debris by mowing with your grass catcher.

How NOT To Compost Grass Clippings

I used to work as the gardener for a large estate. The owner insisted on collecting ALL of the grass clippings, and we generated a lot of them. There were concrete bins near our shop that were stockpiled with mulch and topsoil. Instead of hauling the clippings and spreading them in one of the fields, I decided to “compost” the grass clippings in the spare bin. We accumulated a large pile of grass clippings that quickly turned into a stinky, slimy mess.

It rained a lot that summer so the pile stayed wet. We turned it weekly with the skid steer, while continuing to add more grass clippings, garden trimmings and some soil. Our mountain of lawn cuttings remained a foul-smelling mess.

What did we do wrong? (We should have googled how to compost.)

A pile of grass clippings has a very high moisture content and tends to form a compact mat that restricts air movement. This was causing our heap to compost anaerobically – emitting the foul smell. There was too much nitrogen and moisture and not enough bulk material – leaves, wood chips, hedge clippings, straw, etc.

Grass clippings are a great addition to a compost pile, they are rich in nitrogen that the microbial population uses as they decompose the organic matter. Dry leaves, wood chips or straw need to be mixed in a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio with clippings to produce good compost and reduce odors.

How to Compost Grass Clippings

If you bag your lawn cuttings, you will be collecting them faster than they can compost. The best way to handle a continuous supply of grass clippings is to have multiple compost piles at different stages of decomposition. You will then have a place to dump fresh clippings while moving materials that are starting to decompose into your other piles.

Keys to a successful compost pile:

  • Everything organic has a given ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C:N) in its tissues. Compost microbes use carbon for energy and nitrogen to build proteins and grow. The ideal C:N ratio for these microbes is 30:1. Lawn clippings alone have a 15:1 ratio.
  • Shredded materials – leaves, bark and chipped wood – will compost easily and are important to use with your lawn clippings because they add bulk that creates air space and increases the ratio of carbon to nitrogen.
  • Your pile needs to be moist – not wet. Dry organic matter decomposes slowly, a wet pile will lead to anaerobic conditions.
  • Microbes need nitrogen for their own metabolism and growth. Your grass clippings are rich in nitrogen and enhance decomposition when mixed properly with other yard wastes. For example, two parts leaves to one part clippings.
  • Speed up the composting process by mixing your pile at least once a month.
  • It usually takes 3 months to make good compost. Your compost will be ready to use when it is dark, crumbly and smells earthy.

Composting Tips

This is a really good step-by-step video:

Drums and Tumblers

Compost tumblers or a compost drum will make compost fast. They also save space and contain odors, which is perfect for small properties. These are easy for the handy DIYer to make (like the one pictured on the left) or purchased from a retailer. There are several styles to choose from.

  • Spread out your grass clippings to let them dry out before adding them to your compost pile.
  • Don’t use lawn clippings treated with an herbicide (weed killer) for at least two to three weeks after the application. Do not use grass clippings from Lawns treated with Clopyralid – sold as Curtail or Confront – this chemical does not break down rapidly during the composting process.
  • Compost tumblers or a compost drum will make compost fast. They also save space and contain odors, which is perfect for small properties.
  • A common belief is that lime needs to be added…you don’t need to add lime to your compost pile.
  • Cover your pile with a tarp during wet weather to avoid excessive wetness. Uncover it after heavy rains to let it breathe
  • Compost is not a fertilizer, it contains a tiny amount of plant nutrients. However, it improves soils by adding organic matter.
  • How To Compost: Building a Compost Bin Find plans and instructions for several types of compost bins.
  • Composting with Worms A new 13-page booklet by the Oregon State University Extension Service gives detailed instructions on how to build a worm compost bin and how to compost with worms in a process called “vermicomposting.”

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Professor Rot says:
What can I say? Grass clippings are invaluable to composting.

But you need to learn how to do it properly so both your lawn and compost bin are happy!

During the spring and summer months grass clippings can occupy up to 50 percent of one’s total yard trimmings. Most homeowners quickly realize that their compost bin or system cannot handle all that grass! The following information will help you to better understand how to recycle those grass clippings.

The catchy word that describes the whole new movement to educate homeowners about composting and recycling their grass clippings is Grasscycling. So, let’s start there.


Forget those long-held beliefs that grass clippings left on a lawn smother the grass underneath or cause thatch. Grass clippings are actually good for the lawn. From now on, don’t bag your lawn clippings: “grass cycle” them.

Grasscycling is a simple, easy opportunity for every homeowner to do something good for the environment. Grasscycling is a responsible environmental practice and an opportunity for all homeowners to reduce their waste. And the best part is, it takes less time and energy than bagging and dragging that grass to the curb. Like the fellow in the image to the left, you might even take your grass clippings out for a Sunday bicycle ride; now that’s grasscycling taken to the extreme!

Grasscycling, in short, is the practice of leaving grass clippings on the lawn or using them as mulch. Grass clippings are over 80% water, so they decompose quickly and release nitrogen and other nutrients back into the lawn and soil naturally, thereby improving lawn quality. Grass clippings add water-saving mulch and encourage natural soil aeration by earthworms.

Advantages to Grasscycling

  • No bagging or raking the lawn (Whew!)
  • Plastic lawn bags don’t wind up in the landfill
  • 50% of your lawn’s fertilizer needs are met, so you reduce time and money spent fertilizing
  • Less polluting: reduces the need for fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides
  • Non-thatch causing, thus making a lawn vigorous and durable
  • Makes you feel good and green all over! Yahoozy!

Not only does it make caring for your lawn easier, but grasscycling can also reduce your mowing time by 50% because you don’t have to pick up afterwards. Leaving clippings on the lawn also slows water loss through evaporation and reduces the needs for fertilization. To grasscycle properly, cut the grass when it’s dry and always keep your mower blades sharp.

More tips to help maximize the advantages of grasscycling clippings on your lawn:

  • Remove no more than 1/3 of the leaf surface area with each mowing.
  • Mow when the lawn is dry.
  • Use a sharp mower blade. A dull mower blade bruises and tears the grass plant, resulting in a ragged, tarnished appearance at the leaf tip.
  • Aerate your lawn. In the spring, rent an aerator which removes cores of soil from the lawn. This opens up the soil and permits greater movement of water, fertilizer, and air by increasing the speed of decomposition of the grass clippings and enhancing deep root growth.
  • Water thoroughly when needed. During the driest period of summer, lawns require at least one inch of water every five to six days.
  • Make sure you follow the proper lawn care schedule for your type of turfgrass.

Grass Composting Tips

Grass clippings, being mostly water and very rich in nitrogen, are problematic in compost bins because they tend to compact, increasing the chance of becoming soggy and emitting a strong ammonia-like odor. Follow these tips for composting this valuable “green”, thereby minimizing odor and matting, and increasing quick decomposition:

Tip #1: Compost in thin layers, intermixed in a 2-to-1 ratio with “brown” materials such as dry leaves or plant debris (saving/bagging Fall’s leaves is perfect for Spring/Summer grass composting). Always put a thick layer of course brown material at bottom of bin for aeration.

Tip #2: Let grass clippings dry out for a couple of days before composting.

Tip #3: If your bin is stuffed full of grass clippings, turn the pile (use a compost aerator tool) every few days for very fast results. Especially do this to bring air into matted, smelly piles.

6 Good Reasons to Practice Grasscycling

  1. Grasscycling improves lawn quality. When grass clippings are allowed to decay naturally on the lawn, they release valuable nutrients, add water-saving mulch and encourage natural soil aeration by earthworms.
  2. Grasscycling saves time and work. A recent study in the United States found that 147 homeowners who quit bagging their clippings saved an average of 35 minutes per mowing. That’s an average of seven hours per season. Heck, that’s a day at the beach!
  3. All lawn mowers can grasscycle. No special mower is necessary. For best results, keep the mower blade sharp and mow only when the grass is dry.
  4. Grass clippings are a free, high-nitrogen fertilizer. When clippings decompose, they release their nutrients back to the lawn. They contain nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, as well as lesser amounts of other essential plant nutrients. When left on the lawn, clippings are rapidly broken down into these nutrients, which are returned to the lawn. There’s no polluting run-off, no use of non-renewable resources and no damage to soil organisms or wildlife.
  5. Grasscycling means there’s no need to spend tax dollars on landfilling grass. The cost of trucking grass clippings to landfill sites comes out of residents’ taxes. This is a wasteful practice: all those nutrient-rich clippings could be fertilizing people’s lawns, thereby saving money on fertilizers and water bills. And tax dollars could be spent on services and programs rather than on the labor, trucks, fuel and precious landfill space used in grass disposal.
  6. Grasscycling is a simple, easy opportunity for every homeowner to do something good for the environment. Grasscycling is a responsible environmental practice and an opportunity for all homeowners to reduce their waste. And the best part is, it takes less time and energy than bagging and dragging that grass to the curb.

The American Love Affair with Lawns

Today, 58 million Americans spend approximately $30 billion every year to maintain over 23 million acres of lawn. That’s an average of over a third of an acre at $517 each. The same size plot of land could still have a small lawn for recreation, plus produce all of the vegetables needed to feed a family of six.

The lawns in the United States consume around 270 billion gallons of water a week: enough to water 81 million acres of organic vegetables, all summer long. These same lawns make up about 1/12 the area of all U.S. farmland, or roughly the size of the state of Indiana.

Lawns use ten times as many chemicals per acre as industrial farmland. These pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides run off into our groundwater and evaporate into our air, causing widespread pollution and global warming, and greatly increasing our risk of cancer, heart disease, and birth defects.

In addition, the pollution emitted from a power mower in just one hour is equal to the amount from a car being driven 350 miles. In fact, lawns use more equipment, labor, fuel, and agricultural toxins than industrial farming, making lawns the largest agricultural sector in the United States.

But it’s not just the residential lawns that are wasted on grass. There are around 700,000 athletic grounds and 14,500 golf courses in the United States, many of which used to be fertile, productive farmland that was lost to developers when the local markets bottomed out.


Proper mowing is a critical factor in your lawn’s health and appearance. To mow properly, several issues must be considered: height, frequency, clipping removal, and blade sharpness. The chart below identifies the most common varieties of turfgrass grown in yards, and the height to set your mower.

Read the tips below for further instructions.

MOWING HEIGHT: Under most circumstances, lawns should be mown at 2.5-3-inches. This generally is the highest or next-to-highest setting on your mower.

Mowing height is critical. If you mow too short the root system will be limited and shallow. Your lawn will be more prone to summer drought and disease stress. The higher you mow, the deeper your lawn’s root system will develop. Your lawn will stay greener longer into the summer and require less water.

Some people like to mow lower at the time of the last fall mowing. If you do, do not wait to raise your mower. Raise it back to 2.5-3-inches in early spring to encourage a deep root system before summer.

MOWING FREQUENCY: Most people mow once a week, which is fine. However, mowing more frequently, especially in the spring, will improve your lawn appearance. If you mow less frequently (i.e. every other week), lawn quality will suffer.

In general, do not remove more than 1/3 of the height of the grass each time you mow. For example, if you’re mowing at 2-inches, mow before your lawn reaches 3-inches in height.

Lawns go through a natural growth surge in the early spring. Ideally, you should mow every 4-5 days during this period, although this is not practical for most people.

CLIPPINGS: Under most circumstances, do NOT remove clippings. University research repeatedly has shown that clippings do not contribute to thatch. Furthermore, clippings contain nitrogen, which becomes available to your lawn as clippings decompose. When you remove clippings you’re removing a source of this important nutrient. In addition, mowing without the catcher will reduce mowing time.

You should remove clippings under some circumstances. If you observe “clumps” of clippings on the lawn after mowing they should be removed. This occurs when the lawn grows too long between mowing, and it is common during periods of high rainfall and in early spring. Clumps of clippings repeatedly left on your lawn will lead to lawn deterioration.

BLADE SHARPNESS: Mower blades should be sharpened professionally at least once per year. Between professional sharpening, touch-up the blade yourself with a file every month or two. A dull blade will tear the grass, not cut it, making your lawn appear brown after mowing.

Composting Grass Clippings

Q. My son has been trying to make compost out of three large piles of grass contained by plastic fencing. With all the rain we’ve had, the piles have become wet, compacted, dense and very heavy. What can be done to make these piles more effective at breaking down? They have been turned, but we recently added a lot of grass—and that plus the rain has made things a compacted mess. I examined one pile today and it’s actually like “green manure”; you know, all soft and squishy. That should be really great for the garden…no?

    —Elizabeth in North Plainfield, New Jersey

A. “No” is correct, Elizabeth. ‘Green manure’ is a crop that you grow to plow into the ground as living fertilizer. What your son has is just a big green stinky mess. (Actually, THREE big green stinky messes.) This is a common mistake for rookie composters, especially in the summer, when grass clippings are abundant.

While the excessive rain in your region has made the situation worse, trying to compost green grass clippings alone is never a good idea. Those clippings are VERY high in Nitrogen—about 10%. That’s pretty much the same level you’d find in really HOT manures, like bat and bird guano. In the simplest sense, these Nitrogen rich components don’t become the compost in a pile; instead they provide food for the billions of little microorganisms that fuel the process of turning the other stuff—the so-called ‘dry browns’ that should make up at least 80% of a pile—into the garden gold our plants so crave.

Now, grass clippings are THEORETICALLY better at this feeding than your average kitchen waste, as the clippings are hot, hot, hot, and with a few exceptions (most notably spent coffee grounds), kitchen garbage is cold, meaning low in Nitrogen. The benefit of adding things like lettuce leaves, apple cores and broccoli stalks to a compost pile or bin is mostly in the soothing of your recycling conscience, not in their ability to create high quality compost.

Now you can use clippings to make great compost, but to do so you have to mix small amounts of well-shredded grass clippings in with large amounts of well-shredded leaves. Do this, and you create the distinct possibility that the living creatures that fuel the composting process will be so perfectly fed and working at such maximum speed and efficiency that you can achieve finished compost in the legendary two to five weeks, depending on how honest you are when you measure the ingredients, the size of the pile (the more mass, the faster it’ll cook), and of course, the moisture level. (The best compost piles follow the Goldilocks rule: Not too wet and not too dry. Lots of airflow too. I know, Goldilocks didn’t mention airflow. But she should have.)

Anyway, the result of such a noble enterprise is the elusive, much sought-after garden amendment known as “hot compost”. Compost that cooks up quickly with the help of a natural source of high Nitrogen is much better food for your plants and provides much more life for your soil. It’s also the kind of compost that can prevent disease when used as a mulch under plants like roses, tomatoes and lilacs. And it’s the best kind for making compost tea. “Cold compost”—the stuff that results when you just pile a lot of things up, hope for the best and actually get some finished material after a year or so—can be a good plant food and soil improver, but hot compost is MUCH better.

What you have, unfortunately, is not likely to become either kind. I fear that your big piles of slimy wet grass clippings will not improve one bit with the passage of time. Just the opposite in fact.

Ah, but your timing is good to get it right, as we are fast approaching autumn leaf fall. Let lots of leaves collect on the lawn during a dry spell (don’t let wet leaves accumulate), go over them with a mower, bag up what should be a perfect mixture of lots of excellently shredded leaves and a small amount of well-shredded grass and then empty this mixture into a big wire cage, a slatted wooden bin, a professionally made composter or something else to hold it all in place nice and neat. The physics should insure that your dry browns and hot wet greens (that sounds kind of risqué, doesn’t it?) are mixed together better than humanly possible, which is another secret to super-fast composting. (People who tell you to ‘layer’ the ingredients in a compost pile failed physics.)

Yes, this will only use a small percentage of the clippings generated by the average lawn, and that’s a good thing. Because outside of that autumn leaf drop window, you should NOT be bagging your grass clippings. Instead, “mulch them” back into your lawn with a mulching mower. I use “quotes” because there’s no ‘mulch’ of any kind involved here. A poor name for an excellent instrument of sustainability, mulching mowers pulverize clippings into an almost invisible powder that they then return to your lawn. A powder that’s 10% Nitrogen; about as high a natural number as you can get. Returning that Nitrogen to your lawn provides half the food your turf requires in a given year!

It’s also the only safe use for clippings from an herbicide treated lawn, as lawn chemicals are designed to have no effect on grass. DON’T use any clippings from an herbicide-treated lawn in a compost pile. Some of the potent chemicals in use today can survive even hot composting and could kill any plants that receive the compost later on. Oh, and stop using that toxic stuff too!!!

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How to Compost Grass?

Composting Grass/Lawn Mowings in the HOTBIN

You can compost grass and lawn mowings in the HOTBIN. It is very quick to breakdown – typically creating mulch within 7 days when running at 60°C.

Grass is so quick, we recommend it to ‘accelerate’ and raise the temperature when setting up your HOTBIN. This post focuses on composting regular weekly grass cuttings. If you want to use grass to get to 60°C, follow the link to ‘How to get to 60°C.

Composting grass successfully requires a little bit of knowledge but the real secret is matching your method to the amount of grass you generate and the time and effort you have available.

Grass lawn mowings are a paradox. On one hand it is one of the easiest materials to compost (hence why the HOTBIN team recommends it to help increase temperature quickly); on the other hand, in traditional heaps, it is one of the most troublesome materials to compost. It often generates a lot of heat and produces a very distinctive whiff (ammonia/urine) for 2 days, before it ‘collapses’ into a cold ‘wet slimy black’ mass.

The odour is caused because grass has an excess of nitrogen which the bacteria are unable to use as fast as it is released. So it forms ammonia gas and evaporates away. You are most likely to notice this when composting and/or turning large quantities of 1-2 day old grass lawn mowing. After 3 days things slow down and the nitrogen is no longer in excess. Turning grass heaps does not prevent the odour – in this instance, turning enables the gas to escape ‘all in one go’ so it is stinky after turning. (if you have done this job, you may well come back inside the house and realise your clothes wreak of ammonia!).

The HOTBIN does have a odour filter in the lid that does remove ammonia odour. But, when you add a whole box in one go without anything else, the filter gets temporarily overload for 2-3 days. To prevent the odour during the initial 2-3 days you need to balance the carbon/nitrogen ratio. You achieve this by adding a dry high carbon waste. The key here is has to be ‘easy to digest carbon’ such as corrugated cardboard or paper shredding. Woody items like sawdust, shavings, wood chips are high carbon – but they are not easy to digest, so will not balance the C/N during the critical 2-days of intense activity. Here is the challenge – you need a lot of dry carbon! A 40L grass box (a typical mower box), needs 20L of paper – that’s a whole carrier bag full. It also needs to be mixed with the grass. Not everyone wants to do this, especially after cutting the grass. Below we outline a few options about different methods you might want to follow.

The traditional heap that generates a ‘black slim’ is due to excess water and too little airflow. Grass lawn mowings have a high water content (>80%) and are low in lignin (i.e. no woody stalk). As it decomposes, the cells breakdown, becomes soft and water is produced. The grass collapses and forms thick layers reducing airflow. This in turn means the water is trapped, the process slows and a viscous circle is created which water is not removed, the heaps turns anaerobic and the ‘black slim’ is created.

Thankfully ‘black slim’ is a rarity in the HOTBIN. The excess water is removed as steam when hot composting and ensuing good airflow in the HOTBIN is a breeze – just add 3-5 hands of wood chip bulking agent for every box of grass clippings. (The wood chip helps aeration – the fact it is high carbon does not solve the ammonia odour issue).

So we can compost small and large amounts of grass in the HOTBIN. We know large amounts need extra effort to avoid odour. Is it worth it? We think so you get great compost and lots of it. However below are we outline six options/choices that you might like to consider. Often you can ‘mix n match’ routines at different times of the year to cater for the grass you generate in spring versus summer.

1. Small to medium lawns – add grass into your HotBin each week

The HOTBIN will easily compost grass from a small-medium lawn (approx 40 litres/week or 1 large grass box per week, filling about a quarter of the bin each time). We recommend adding 4 parts bulking agent to 20 parts grass cuttings.

For example, if you are adding a typical grass box of 40 litres of grass, you will need to add 8 litres of bulking agent. It is important you mix bulking agent into the grass. Adding it as a single layer before or on top of the grass will not solve the aeration issue. Adding the bulking agent into the grass box before cutting seems to mix it well!

This will generate some odour that you may well notice for 2 days. If this bothers you, there are two main ways to solve:

  • Add shredded paper or cardboard in ratio 2 parts grass to 1 part paper
  • Only add half a box, then return 3 days later add the other half.

Remember the first few cuts in spring tend to generate 2-3 times the volume of grass as later cuts, so you may well have to adjust with the season.

2. Large lawn

If you have a large lawn and generate 3, 4 or more boxes each week, then you will need to consider a dedicated HOTBIN. It will cope with 2-4 boxes (about 60-80L) per week.

The same rules apply – but adding and mixing in large amounts of paper is intensive and requires a high degree of commitment – perhaps not what you want straight after cutting the lawn! You will already probably pile the grass high somewhere to rot and have odour. We suggest you live with the odour from the dedicated grass HOTBIN and reap the benefits of fast compost without anaerobic slime.

Assuming finished compost removal every 90 days, then 80L of grass, bulk density 50%, water content 80%, degradable content 80% = 1.6Kg compost. At 1:20 ratio, 80L requires 4L bulking agent. At 50% density, 20% water, large pieces 5%degradable, small pieces 80% = 0.9Kg of bulking in compost. Each weekly cut will rapidly ‘disappear’ reducing from 80L down to 5L.

Mix each box of grass 20:1 with wood chip bulking agent, add all grass to bin each week(filling it up almost completely). After 90 days, take out first compost. This will be quite woody (50/50 ratio wood chip). Either use as mulching, or re-use as bulking agent again, gradually increasing humus content after each run. (It also reduces need for bulking agent). The above method assumes your grass is dry (i.e. cut on a warm day). If damp or moist, you will need more energy to drive of water. For wet grass, add 3-4 hands full of chopped up corrugated cardboard per box of grass.

3. Leave the cuttings to compost on the lawn

Many gardening sites now actively promote leaving grass cuttings on the lawn. Normally you use an adapted/special mower blade that chops the grass into very small pieces (2-5 mm) and thoroughly spreads them. The method is to weekly trim of top third of grass and spread this evenly so it composts quickly, adding nutrients back to soil, but not creating thatch.

If you have the grass ‘trail line’ down side of mower, then this is not ‘mulching’ correctly, or you are leaving grass too long before cutting. Although the debate still goes on whether this increases thatch, many find it does not. If you walk regularly on lawn – you may find bits get on your shoes and are walked back into the house!

4. Best of both world’s

Add the first few cuts of the year (which tend to be large (say 3-4 boxes) into your empty HOTBIN. The bin is full for a week or so, and then rapidly becomes half-empty allowing on going use with food. After the spring cut, leave grass cuttings on lawn. Occasionally (e.g. when cutting hedges) add the grass box to mower and collect grass to complement garden ‘browns’.

5. Transfer grass to Local Authority

This is unlikely to interest HOTBIN users, but it is possible to have grass collected at the kerbside and taken to the council recycling centre. We are strong believers in home composting and believe in the environmental benefits of saving fuel and transport.

We have had rave reviews on how fast and efficient the HOTBIN is with grass!

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