Homesteading, Gardening, and Off-Grid Living

10 Benefits of Mulching Grass Clippings Instead of Bagging

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Mulching your grass clippings is great for your lawn. As the clippings degrade, they provide essential nutrients for your lawn. They help in maintaining soil moisture and maintaining an even soil temperature. If you mulch, your lawn will look healthier and more lush. You can also save a good amount of time and money by mulching. This guide outlines 10 benefits of mulching grass clippings instead of bagging. I’ll also outline some situations where you may not want to mulch.

10 Benefits of Mulching Grass Clippings

What is Mulching?

Mulched grass clippings are different from regular grass clippings. Mulched grass clippings are chopped up into tiny pieces. These fine particles of grass are small enough to filter down to the soil level. There, they are decomposed quickly by microorganisms in the soil. As they decompose, they release nutrients into the soil.

Grass is mulched with a special lawn mower blade called a mulching blade or a 3-in-1 blade and a mower with a closed deck. A mulching mower is designed to keep the grass in the deck longer so each blade can be cut multiple times before it is blown down onto the lawn. Mulching blades have a curved design to increase the surface area on the blade. They are also shaped to create turbulence in the mower deck, which circulates the grass clippings around. 

Regular grass clippings are cut once and then discharged out of the side of the mower or they are bagged. They are much larger. When you remove the grass clippings, you’re also removing valuable nutrients as well as moisture.

Benefits of Mulching Grass Clippings

Mowing the lawn

1. Grass Clippings Provide Valuable Nutrients

As the grass grows, it stores nutrients in the leaves. After you cut the leaves, microorganisms in the soil quickly decompose them. As the mulch breaks down, nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus are released back into the soil. The grass can reuse these nutrients. The mulch acts as a natural fertilizer. 

These nutrients improve the soil fertility. Your grass will grow faster, healthier, and greener. You also won’t have to use as much chemical fertilizer on your lawn. 

The extra nutrients also help to create a healthier ecosystem for the beneficial bacteria that break the grass down. The microbial activity increases. This helps make your grass more resistant to disease and fungus. It also helps the clippings break down faster.

2. Mulching Improves Soil Quality and Promotes Soil Creation

The grass clippings turn to humus as they break down. Humus is the organic component of soil. It is made from decomposed plant material. Microorganisms consume the grass clippings. After they are digested and released, they become humus. Humus is brown or black. It has a crumbly and kind of spongy texture

This hummus builds soil mass. It also helps the soil retain moisture better. In addition, humus contains helpful nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. It also helps keep the soil looser so the grass roots can more easily spread. The soil will be more fertile if you mulch. 

Mowing long grass with a mulching mower

3. You Don’t Have to Water as Often

Mulching allows the soil to retain moisture better. The mulch shades the soil and blocks the wind so the water doesn’t evaporate as quickly. This is helpful during hot summer months or if you live in a region where drought is an issue.

As mulch breaks down, it also adds organic matter to the soil. This also helps retain more moisture. Organic matter can absorb more moisture than regular dirt. 

Not having to water as often saves you time. You’ll also save money on your water bill. Of course, water conservation is also better for the environment.

4. Mulching Saves Time 

When you mulch, you just leave the clippings on the lawn. You don’t have to stop mowing and empty the bag. You don’t have to carry heavy bags of grass clippings around and dispose of them. In addition, you never have to transport grass clippings to the yard waste disposal site. 

Mulching also saves time on cleanup You don’t have to rake up piles of discharged clippings after you mow. You don’t have to sweep clippings off your sidewalks and driveway. 

You can also mulch leaves and other organic matter. If there are a few leaves or pine needles on your lawn, you can just mulch them with the grass while you mow. You don’t have to rake first. They will break down and improve soil quality. 

When you mulch, you also won’t have to water or apply fertilizer as often. The mulch retains moisture and fertilizes your lawn.

All of this saves you time. You don’t have to spend as much time doing yard work. You can spend more time enjoying your yard.

A robot mower
Automatic robot mowers are mulching mowers

5. Mulching is Better for the Environment

Mulching reduces the amount of waste that goes to the landfill. This is important because, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), yard waste takes up over 12% of the space in landfills. Mulching frees up space in the landfills. We won’t need to build as many landfills if there is less yard waste. You also won’t need to use plastic bags for yard waste.

In addition, yard waste can undergo anaerobic decomposition when it goes to the landfill. This type of decomposition releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 

When you mulch your grass clippings, you also won’t have to water as often. Water conservation is good for the environment. You also won’t have to use as many synthetic fertilizers because the clippings will provide most of the nutrients that your grass needs. This all makes mulching better for the environment. 

Of course, if you bag your clippings, you could put them in your compost pile or use them as mulch in your flower beds. This will also keep them out of the landfill as well.

6. Grass Mulching Helps Reduce Thatch Buildup

Thatch is a layer of dead grass that builds up on the lawn. Thatch needs to be removed periodically. If too much thatch builds up, it can suffocate the grass by preventing air and water from reaching the soil. 

You may assume that mulching would increase thatch buildup. This isn’t the case. It actually helps control thatch buildup.

Mulched grass falls to the soil level and degrades quickly because the pieces are so small. The extra organic material on the soil also increases microbial activity. When you mulch, there is always plenty of food for the microbes to eat. This increases the population of beneficial microbes and fungi. When there is more microbial activity, organic matter gets broken down faster. Thatch doesn’t build up. It gets broken down before it has the chance to build up.

A push mower
Push mowers can mulch too

7. Mulching Helps Regulate Soil Temperature

The mulch acts as insulation. It keeps the soil cooler in the summer by shading the soil. It also helps trap some heat at night. Mulch can reduce soil temperature swings between the day and night.

This can be beneficial in areas with extreme weather. Temperature swings can stress the grass’s roots.

8. Mulching Can be Safer

Mulching mowers keep rocks, sticks, and other debris in the mower deck. If they get caught up in the blade, they eventually just fall back into the lawn.

Side discharge mowers can eject debris out the side of the mower. This debris could hit a person or pet. It could hit your car and scratch it. You don’t have to worry about this when mulching. The mower contains the debris.

9. Mulching Saves Money

Maintaining a large lawn can get expensive. Mulching can save you money in several ways.

First, when you mulch, you don’t have to use as much fertilizer. You may not need to use any at all. This saves you money. Particularly if you have a large lawn.

You also don’t have to water as often because the mulch helps retain water. This also saves you money on your water bill.

In addition, you don’t have to pay to dispose of the grass clippings when you mulch. This also saves you money. 

10. Your Lawn Will Look Healthier

Mulching can make your lawn look greener and more lush. This is because your grass will have more nutrients and more moisture available. The soil will become more fertile. Having a green and healthy lawn improves the curb appeal of your home. It’s also more enjoyable to spend time in your yard when the grass is healthy and lush.

Drawbacks of Mulching Grass Clippings

Black and white lawn mower drawing

Mulching Can Spread Weed Seeds

If you have a lot of weeds in your lawn, mulching will spread the seeds all over. The blade cuts up the seed pod and scatters seeds everywhere. You’ll end up with weeds sprouting up all over your yard. 

Before you begin mulching, be sure to weed your lawn. Only mulch when your lawn is weed-free. 

If your lawn has lots of weeds, it’s best to bag your grass clippings and haul them away. After the weeds are gone, you can start mulching. 

You Can’t Mulch Wet Grass

Wet grass will clump up in the mower deck. This makes the mower less efficient. It also puts additional stress on your mower. You’ll also have to stop once in a while to clean it out. 

The wet grass will also exit the mower in clumps because the water makes it stick together. When the grass is clumped up, it won’t filter down to the soil level. It will just sit on top of the soil. 

This can cause several issues. The clumps of wet grass can mold and potentially spread disease. They could also suffocate the grass underneath. Of course, it also looks bad having clumps of grass clippings on your lawn. 

It’s best to wait until your grass dries out before you mulch. This means you usually can’t mow first thing in the morning when there is dew on the lawn. You also can’t mow after it rains. This can also be an issue if you live in a wet climate. 

You Can’t Mulch Tall Grass

There are a couple of issues you may encounter if you try to mulch overgrown grass. First, it can clump up and get stuck in the mower deck. When this happens, you’ll have to stop and remove it. 

Tall grass also doesn’t get cut into small enough pieces to fall to the soil surface and decompose quickly. It will look like regular grass clippings when it comes out of the mower. It will still be visible. Sometimes it will clump up.

The grass will just sit on the surface of the lawn. It could cause thatch buildup. If it clumps, it can mold. It can also suffocate the grass underneath. 

If you waited too long to mow your lawn, you should bag the clippings instead of mulching. 

A mulching lawn mower

Mulching Can Cause Thatch to Build Up

I know I said that mulching reduces thatch buildup but there are some cases when mulching can actually increase thatch buildup. 

For example, if you try to mulch grass that is too long, it won’t get chopped into small enough pieces to fall to the soil level. The larger pieces of grass also take more time to break down. They can build up over time. You can avoid this by mowing regularly and now allowing your grass to get too long. 

Using too much chemical fertilizer or chemical pesticides can also cause thatch to build up. These chemicals can kill off some beneficial microbes in your soil so the mulch won’t degrade fast enough between mowings. 

Microbial activity is also reduced in cold temperatures. Early and late in the season, more thatch can build up due to a lack of microbial activity. 

If you notice some thatch building up you can remove it by raking. It may be a good idea to stop mulching until you deal with the thatch so the mulch doesn’t add to the problem. 

You Have to Mow Slowly

You have to move at a slow walking pace when you mulch. This is because the mower needs to cut every blade of grass multiple times so they are small enough to fall to the soil level. It takes time for the mower to cut multiple times.

If you mow too quickly, the mower won’t have time to cut the grass small enough. For this reason, mulching mowers are best for small lawns.

If you have a large property, you’re better off side discharging or bagging your grass clippings. This allows you to mow faster. 

The Quality of the Cut is Lower

Non mulching mowers are designed to create a vacuum effect. The blades suck air up and blow it out the side of the mower. This causes the grass to stand up straight before it is cut. Each blade is cut once and then blown out of the discharge chute. This results in an even and professional cut. All of the blades of grass are cut cleanly at the same length.  

Mulching mowers don’t have this vacuum effect because they don’t have a discharge chute. There is no vacuum effect. The mower doesn’t pull the grass blades up before they are cut. Mulching blades also move slower than standard blades because they are larger with more surface area.

This results in a lower-quality cut. The grass won’t be quite as even. The cut won’t be quite as clean. Sometimes you can also still see some clippings on top of the lawn when you finish mowing. Your lawn won’t look quite as clean and professional when you use a mulching mower. 

You Have to Mow More Often When You Mulch

Because mulching mowers can’t handle long grass, you have to mow on a regular basis. On average, you’ll have to mow around once per week. If you have a fast-growing type of grass, you might have to mow even more often for best results. Ideally, you shouldn’t cut more than 1/3 of the length of the grass when you mulch.

If you let your grass get too long, you’ll have to side discharge or bag the clippings instead of mulching because you’ll have longer clippings. This means mulching may not be the best choice if you like to let your grass grow out before you mow or if you don’t have time for regular mowing. 

You Have to Clean the Mower Deck and Sharpen the Blades More Frequently

To keep your mulching mower performing well, you have to clean it more frequently than you would have to clean a side discharge mower. This is because the smaller grass clippings stick together more easily. They also stick to the sides of the mower deck.

Over time, clippings can build up and disrupt the airflow. It can make your mower cut less efficiently. You have to remove this buildup a few times per season. This gives you a little bit of extra work. 

You also need to sharpen mulching blades more frequently than regular high-lift or 2-in-1 blades. The blades need to be sharp so they can cut the grass multiple times before it exits the mower.

It takes a little more effort to maintain a mulching mower. On average, mower blades need to be sharpened once every 20-25 hours of use. For most people, this means once or twice per year. 

A lawn mower with a bag

My Experience

I almost always mulch my grass. It’s nice being able to mow my whole lawn without having to stop and empty the bag. It’s also nice not having to deal with grass clippings. They just degrade away. I also really appreciate the time and money saving aspect of it. Not having to water or fertilize as often is really nice as well. I also love the environmental aspect of it. Of course, it’s nice to have a beautiful lawn. 

There are a couple of annoyances with mulching. Sometimes I get lazy and I don’t mow for 10 days or so. When the grass gets too long, mulching doesn’t really work. In this case, I bag my lawn clippings. It’s also annoying not being able to mulch when the grass is wet. On hot summer days, I sometimes like to mow in the morning. If there is still dew on the lawn, I have to wait until evening. It also rains quite a bit where I live. Having to wait for the grass to dry is kind of annoying sometimes.

Most modern mowers are capable of mulching. If your mower isn’t set up for mulching, you can often install a mulching kit. This includes a mulching blade and a mulching plug. Most modern mulching mowers are also capable of side discharge and bagging. These are called 3-in-1 mowers because they can mulch, bag, or side discharge clippings.

Do you mulch your grass? Share your experience in the comments below!

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10 Benefits of Mulching Grass Clippings
10 Benefits of Mulching Grass Clippings

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