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Composting Lawn Clippings

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 24 Feb 2015 | comments*Discuss
 
Grass Grass Clippings Mowing Lawn

Trying to compost your lawn clippings can often end up being a thankless task. You put in all that effort and in the end, instead of the ideal compost you dreamt of, all you have to show for your endeavours is a large piles of soggy green squelch!

It’s all pretty disheartening and a few failed attempts like that and you begin to understand why so many gardeners have a pile of cut grass lying in a hidden corner, simply left to do its own thing.

It doesn’t have to be like this; grass can make surprisingly good compost. It just needs a little help along the way.

Co-Composting

Although grass cuttings are not ideal for adding into a traditional compost heap or bin on their own, in a suitable mix, they can be a very useful addition, largely because of their relatively high nitrogen content, which can help kick start the process.

To reap the benefit, however, it’s important to get a good mix of other compostable material, but achieving this can often be a problem, since during spring and summer, grass clippings are usually far more abundant than other kinds of garden or kitchen waste. Co-composting is mostly restricted to smaller gardens, with small areas of grass to cut, but it can also be helpful in larger gardens in the late summer or early autumn, as the need to mow gradually reduces and prunings and finished annuals become available in larger quantities.

Grass Boarding

If you do find that your lawn simply generates too much cut grass to accommodate in a normal composting set up, a technique called “grass-boarding” might be the answer.

It’s not difficult to do and has the advantage that it also helps recycle any of the old cardboard you have around the house – but it does call for a fair bit of space. All you need to do is lay alternate layers of grass and torn up cardboard, remembering to keep the grass fairly thin to avoid it getting compacted, which then allows it to go wet and smelly. It isn’t the quickest compost you’ll ever make, but when it is ready it should be of very good quality, so it’s worth the wait. This kind of grass compost is also weed free, which is another obvious benefit if you’re planning to use it in pots or around the rest of the garden.

Alternatively, if you have a large number of trees in your garden, a good, nutrient-rich compost can be made by replacing the cardboard with last-autumn’s leaves.

Like grass-boarding, it needs to done in a separate container with lots of holes in it to ensure good ventilation or a dedicated compost heap but this time, instead of keeping the two materials layers separate, mix them all up together. It is also a fairly slow process, but like the preceding cardboard method, it produces another high quality product – and deals with two quite troublesome gardens wastes into the bargain.

Soil Layering

One final method to consider for making compost out of your grass clippings involves layering them beneath a thin covering of soil and allowing some of the bacteria which normally live in the ground to help the process along.

Once again, the idea is a very simple one; start off with 8 inches (20cm) or so of clippings, add a thin layer – about an inch (2.5cm) – of sawdust, thin twigs or shredded paper and then finish off with an inch of soil on top. Once you have used up all the clippings in this way, cover the top of your pile with plastic or some kind of water-proof lid to make sure the whole pile stays dry. Repeat this as many times as you have to over the mowing season but remember whatever else you do, don’t turn the heap – it’ll stop it from working properly.

One advantage of this method is that it tends to be a bit quicker than the others described. Provided you are fairly successful at keeping the rain off it, the grass you cut this year will be compost in time for the spring of next – and it might even be ready for this autumn’s planting, if you’re really lucky.

Whichever method you choose, although a certain amount of moisture is essential for the composting process, it’s important to make sure that things aren’t allowed to get too wet. Grass naturally becomes rather soggy as it breaks down, so if you can allow your clippings to dry out a bit before you add them to your mix, so much the better. It’s not always possible, but it’s a useful tip to try, if you do have sufficient storage space.

Grass clippings certainly aren’t the easiest material to deal with, but with a bit of careful management, you can have a great looking lawn and save on your compost bills into the bargain.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
@Gandalf - I have included a link from HDRA- the Organic Association herewhich I hope will help.
LawnExperts - 26-Feb-15 @ 1:52 PM
I have just moved to Mauritius and have a large lawn. Does the advice on composting lawn clippings still apply intropical climates? Thank you
Gandalf - 24-Feb-15 @ 3:24 PM
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