Spring is in full swing – and that means your grass is growing, maybe as fast as it ever will this year. This year, heavy spring rains and ideal temperatures for grass growth might even create more clippings than may comfortably be discharged into your yard. But don’t worry: This is also the time of year when your compost pile can greatly benefit from the natural nitrogen found in grass clippings.
Grass clippings contain anywhere from two percent to five percent nitrogen, as well as small amounts of phosphorous and potassium. That makes grass clippings a free, slow-release organic fertilizer for your yard. Clippings from grass mown at proper heights not only return nutrients for turf growth; they also add organic matter beneficial to soil and microbe health. Advances in mulching mower blades make it even easier to leave grass clippings in the lawn, and university research has shown clippings left from grass cut at proper heights do not increase thatch buildup.
But there will be times when the volume of grass clippings may be too great for your lawn – especially in the spring. That’s because you may not get to mow in time because of rains or a busy spring schedule. Or the grass may still be damp as you’re mowing and create clumps of clippings; although mowing wet grass is not recommended, it may sometimes be unavoidable. These are times when collecting grass clippings for the compost pile may be the best practice.
Excess clippings can be raked up or gathered using a blower after mowing. This is easiest when clippings are dry. But dry clippings may be lower in nitrogen than green clippings, and nitrogen is the big benefit from grass clippings for your compost pile. That makes collecting fresh grass clippings, with a lawn collection system like the Cyclone Rake, quite beneficial for adding grass clippings to your compost pile.
Grass clippings can be layered or mixed into the compost pile or bin. Grass clippings are “green” compost, meaning they are much higher in nitrogen than carbon. So to effectively compost grass clippings, they should be layered or mixed with a “brown” material high in carbon, like shredded leaves or wood chips.
If you are building a layered compost pile, a good rule of thumb is to use a one- to two-inch layer of grass clippings with a two-inch to four-inch layer of browns. Start turning (mixing) the compost within a couple of days. Grass clippings can also be mixed directly with high-carbon brown in equal parts, or up to a 2:1 brown-to-green ratio, according to the University of Minnesota Extension Service.
You don’t even need a compost pile or bin to put the grass clippings to use; the 1:1 ratio can also be applied to clippings used as mulch for landscaping or flower beds. Try spreading a layer of grass clippings, topped with wood chips, shavings or shredded leaves, in the plantings. The grass clippings will help provide nitrogen needed as the high-carbon material decomposes – just another sensible way to apply composting principles to harness the nitrogen contained in grass clippings to your yard’s benefit.