September 11, 2012

Lawn Care: Leave or Bag Grass Clippings?

Spring, summer and fall are the seasonal times for mowing the lawn. Week after week, homeowner’s power up their mowers to cut the grass, leaving behind neatly manicured lawns. When it comes to grass clippings, some may wonder whether it is better to bag them or mulch them back into the lawn. There are benefits and drawbacks to both methods, but knowing how to manage grass clippings can make the difference between a struggling lawn and a healthy one.

Not to Bag

Mulch grass clippings back into the lawn to give the grass necessary nutrients to grow strong and healthy. As the lawn mower cuts through the grass, it spreads the grass clippings evenly over the surface of the lawn.

The best time to mulch the lawn with grass clippings is in the early spring, but mulching can continue throughout the growing season. Cut the grass when it reaches 2 1/2 inches in height.

Grass clippings break down easily and release nitrogen and other nutrients back into the soil. Worms and microorganisms then feed on the degrading grass matter. They, in turn, enrich the soil with organic matter and lessen the amount of supplemental lawn fertilizer needed throughout the season.

Thatch Formation

Leaving grass clippings on the lawn does not cause thatch to form. Only the leaf parts of grass stems are cut, and these decompose rapidly once in contact with the soil.

Grass clippings can promote thatch breakdown. The microorganisms and worms who feed on the nutrients from the grass clippings multiply and consume thatch. But if thatch exists in the lawn, the grass clippings will not reach the soil to break down into nutrients.

Aerate a lawn riddled with thatch before deciding to leave the grass clippings behind. Once air and light is able to reach the lawn’s soil line, the grass and soil will benefit from grass clippings.

To Bag

Lawn mowers equipped with a bag to collect grass clippings shoot the cut grass into the bag as it mows. Bagging grass clippings is necessary at certain times during seasonal lawn maintenance and in the fall.

Choose to bag the grass clippings when you’re addressing a weed problem and you need to remove the weed’s seed heads from the lawn. Bagging grass clippings is also necessary during fertilizer treatments when the lawn’s soil surface needs aeration.

Grass clippings make a good compost addition for use in flower and vegetable beds, and around trees and shrubs. To add grass clippings to your compost without depriving your lawn of regular nitrogen-rich grass feedings, consider bagging every other week.


The decision to leave grass clippings or bag them depends on the needs of your lawn. Inspect your lawn for weeds, thatch or overgrown grass. In these cases, bag your grass clippings. On the other hand, consider leaving your grass clippings if you have a healthy lawn to cut back on garbage waste and to reduce your lawn’s fertilizer demand.

About the Author

Andy Hall is an online marketing manager for Cornerstone Homes. He writes about Calgary home builders, interior design, and home improvements.


Phil Goold is a retired landscaper of 30 years. He loves being outside more than anything else, except maybe pie. He enjoys connecting with other landscapers and gardeners because everyone brings something new and fun to the table. Connect with Phil on Twitter and Google+.

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