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Should I Bag or Mulch the Clippings?

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

With the increasing use of mulching mowers, people often wonder if and when to mulch their clippings. Mulching mowers discharge grass differently than conventional side-discharge mowers by using a special mulching blade that returns the grass clippings to the lawn through a continuous cut and re-cut motion. This process eventually drops the finely cut clippings back into the lawn as shown: Notice we didn't say onto the lawn. Many people who don't follow the 1/3 mowing rule, mow to quickly, or lack sufficient horsepower provided by the mower (see: What Mower Should I Use?) will often times leave large clumps of grass on the lawn. These clippings are not sufficiently mulched to the point where they drop into the lawn.
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In general, mulching your lawn is a good idea because it helps provide the soil with increased ground cover to hold moisture, and acts as a fertilizer. Clippings can contain up to 80% water and 5% nitrogen that can continuously fertilize your lawn! Additionally, mulching can reduce the amount of fertilizer you need to apply to your lawn. Mulching also reduces the headache of bagging your lawn and disposing of cut clippings. Again, the common side effect to mulching is development of Thatch in your lawn. As a rule of thumb, mulching is recommended during times of seasonal droughts, heat waves, and after fertilization and lawn development. Conversely, it is recommended that you try to bag your clippings occasionally, especially when you witness either a build-up of clippings on the lawn surface or an excess development of thatch in the lawn.

Buying Tip

It is recommended when buying a mower you find one with combined mulching and bagging capabilities. Even though you may only want to mulch your lawn, a "mulching only" mower does not give you a second option. With a combination mulching/bagging mower you can do both if needed. It may cost a few dollars now, but it could save you a lot of headaches and money in the future! For a list of companies in your area that carry mowers see: Lawn Mowers & Equipment Sales and Service in your Area.

About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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