If you’ve got a lawn, you’ll no doubt produce plenty of grass clippings throughout the growing season. Trying to get rid of them all can be a headache – but wait! This is fantastic stuff, full of nutrients and goodness. Don’t waste your clippings or put them out for collection – set them to work in the garden instead!
Mow High, Less Often
Grass is a superb resource most gardeners have regular and easy access to. It’s a great source of nitrogen, and contains many other plant nutrients too, including potassium and various trace elements. It’s also free! This makes the grass clippings we take from our lawns a real bonus and one that’s available exactly when we need it – during the growing season.
I like to leave my lawn to grow a bit longer before cutting it. This is mainly to give the wildflowers found throughout the lawn a chance to grow , and it also means the likes of spiders, beetles, and toads have places to hide, scurry and scamper. All of these creatures will help your garden to thrive. I mow each area of lawn about every three weeks. Mowing it really short and very frequently does wildlife no favors, and it isn’t healthy for the lawn itself.
When you mow, set the blades at least an inch (3cm) high to allow room for bugs to bed down and so that the crowns of any wildflowers in your lawn aren’t damaged.
I allow most grass clippings to just fall back onto the lawn. They gradually rot down on the ground or are taken down into the soil by worms. This returns their nutrients to the soil, helping to feed the grass and keep it lush and green without the need for artificial fertilizers.
I’ve never used any weedkillers on my lawn. This has helped to create a rich and varied sward, making my lawn fantastically friendly to both wildflowers and beneficial bugs. And it means that any clippings I do rake up to use elsewhere in the garden are safe to use, which is particularly important around my edible plants.
Composting Grass Clippings Without the Sludge!
Nitrogen-rich grass clippings are a superb ingredient for the compost heap. Like other fresh, leafy growth, grass clippings are ‘greens’ which will help to balance out more carbon-rich ‘browns’ such as prunings or torn-up cardboard.
Apply your grass clippings in thin layers with other ingredients. This will prevent them from turning into a gloopy sludge, which can sometimes happen if you add too much in one go. If you have lots of clippings to compost, be sure to create a lasagna effect with layers of browns to help keep it open and airy.
Grass Mulch For Plants
But don’t put all your clippings in one basket – share the nutrient value of this ready resource by scattering them over the soil surface as a mulch.
Two arguments levied against using grass clippings as mulch is that they can mesh together into a slimy mat, and will undoubtedly attract slugs by offering them a safe, moist haven. But just like when we add them to the compost heap, this can be avoided by spreading them nice and thin. Up to an inch (3cm) thick is a good depth to aim for. You can always add another scattering in a few days’ time.
Another way to dodge the slugs is to dry your clippings before using them. Spread them out onto a hard surface or a tarp in the sunshine for a day or two. Then, once they’re crisp and dry, go ahead and spread them as thick as you like. I have both frogs and toads in my garden, and as well as hopping about in the grass, I’ve also seen them in my garden beds, often among my grass clipping mulches. I’ve no doubt the clippings are in fact contributing to slug control by attracting these hungry amphibians to the party!
Grass clippings do all the usual good stuff that any mulch will do. They help to suppress weeds, and will shade the soil so that it holds onto moisture for longer and keeps roots cool. Then, as the clippings decompose or get drawn down by the worms, they’ll gradually release their nutrients - all while adding valuable organic matter to the soil that will help improve its structure and moisture-retention. Oh, and there’s some evidence to suggest that, by covering the soil surface, you’re making things a lot harder for pesky root maggots. Good news all round, right?!
I don’t generate lots of grass clippings because I prefer to leave most of them where they fall, to keep my lawn nice and lush. I prioritize the clippings I do use for larger vegetables like tomatoes and corn. Grass clippings are also ideal for use around nitrogen-hungry leafy greens like chard or kale.
One of the things I love about my own clippings is that they contain lots of other leaves too, from all the lawn flowers growing in it. That makes for a more varied and open mulch, and makes them far less likely to mat together. Grass clipping mulches will dry out and rot down over time, so top them up whenever they get very thin.
Sometimes you may need to put really long grass clippings to work, and these are just the job for laying at the base of fruit trees and bushes. They’ll dry out in time and create a cool, weed-free surround to your fruit – magic stuff!
Make a Grass Tea Fertilizer
My varied sward of grass and lawn flowers is a fantastic base for a refreshing brew of grass tea. I won’t be drinking it though – this is my very own garden-sourced liquid plant feed.
To make a grass tea simply pack your clippings into a bucket, pressing them down a little as you go, then fill with rainwater until the leaves are just covered. As well as grass clippings you could also add seed-free weeds to the mix, particularly our old friend the stinging nettle. A good mix of leaves from different plants will create a more balanced nutrient profile in the final tea – and it’s a great way to process all manner of green material coming off the garden.
Now it’s just a question of covering the bucket over and leaving it to steep for at least two weeks. You can strain off the liquid concentrate at this point and throw the gunk that’s left behind onto the compost heap. Then dilute the concentrate so there’s about one part concentrate to ten parts water.
Water it onto your plants to give them a pep in their step. More grass tea, vicar? Yes please!
But what if you’re after an even quicker and punchier alternative to grass tea? I’ve got you covered! Tweak your grass tea by adding one cup of processed poultry manure pellets to a bucket along with a couple of generous handfuls of grass clippings. You could use stinging nettles or perhaps some comfrey in place of the clippings.
Fill the bucket with water and give it all a good stir. Then just cover it over and leave to infuse – this time for no more than two to three days. The resulting brew can be strained then diluted one part to five parts water to use around your deserving plants! This quick-off-the-mark, organic and truly wholesome brew is best used fresh, so make up regular batches as you need them. Who would’ve thought our lawns could be the source of so much goodness?