Cranky Man’s Lawn Epistles ’12: Bag or mulch lawn clippings? An age-old question …

For those of us living in the Philadelphia region of southeast Pennsylvania, it’s quite easy to tell how healthy your lawn is early in Spring.  If you are having a difficult time cutting the grass using medium height adjustments on your mower because the grass is too thick to cut, your lawn is in very good shape!  If you are busting your hump lugging heavy bags full of fresh, moist lawn clippings to your trash can or lawn bags, your lawn is in prime condition for a healthy summer.

If – on the other hand – your can cut your lawn without bagging clippings at all (medium height setting), then you have much work to do.  If you are cutting your lawn just to make it LOOK a uniform length because the only grass growing is in huge clumps in limited areas, you need all the help you can get.

If – however – you don’t really care because you have a lawn care service doing all the fun stuff, then you haven’t been paying attention.  You should skip over this and save yourself some time.  Shame on you!

My message today deals with the Question of the Ages … Should I bag or mulch my lawn clippings?  But if your lawn is in tip-top shape and you are mowing the right way – in my humble opinion, the question really is should I TRY to mulch or should I bag?  I say this because, if you have your lawn in top shape, mulching your lawn clippings should be very difficult, if not impossible.

Your lawn in April should be in the Best Shape it will be all summer long.  The grass will be its thickest, its fullest, its greenest, and its wettest condition.  If you can cut it effortlessly while still cutting shorter than you will in the heat of summer, you might need to pay additional attention in the form of fertilizing and general care to your lawn.

This may not be an issue if you are using a heavy-duty industrial mower.  Though you still may want to mind just how deep those mulched clippings get.  Too much of a good thing is still too much.

Excess grass cuttings and clippings tend to lay on your lawn and can – if left to degrade on their own sweet time – cause damage and discoloration.  I use a fairly good but light Toro mower with a 6.5 cubic liter, 4-stroke engine.  It’s light-weight and effective as a mulcher.  However I tend to cut the lawn a bit shorter in early Spring when my lawn is particularly thick.  So when I mow,  the Toro has a difficult time keeping up and mulching the thickest Spring grass.  Rather quickly these clippings  will accumulate under the cut housing of the mower and end up spilling out the sides or from beneath the mower when I change directions.

To me it’s an unsightly mess on the lawn, and yes it can cause damage if excessive.  So bagging the clippings in early Spring is an absolute must … in my humble opinion!

Once the heat or – worse – the lack of rain thins the lawn out, I’ll raise the mower settings and mulch the clippings into the lawn whenever possible.

Funny aside … Recently we changed our waste removal (i.e. trash) contractor.  As part of the information package they provided us were tips for managing your household trash and lawn/garden debris.  One of their recommendations for disposing of lawn clippings was to “top mulch”.  In other words, just leave the clippings collect on your lawn week-after-week as you mow instead of bagging them or dumping them into the trash hopper they provide.  In other words, just let them coat your lawn so We – The Waste Disposal Company – don’t have to bother hauling it away.

This is not a recommended course of inaction! 

One more note about mulching … Do not be concerned about mushrooms appearing on your lawn.  Mulching your clippings helps to feed your lawn by recycling important nutrients.  So you should always TRY to mulch whenever it’s practical, limited by what has already been discussed here.  But these same nutrients are also a favorite condition for mushrooms, which are fungal growths that thrive on the same natural material your lawn loves.

If you need expert verification, munch on this from

You can’t get rid of lawn mushrooms without getting rid of the lawn. Likewise, you can’t get rid of mulch mushrooms without getting rid of the mulch, and you can’t get rid of potted-plant mushrooms without getting rid of the plant pot. Fungi are a vital part of every plant-based ecosystem, whether natural or manmade. Lawn grass would not be very healthy if there weren’t mycorrhizal fungi on its roots.

In short, the presence of mushrooms is a sign of a healthy, well-fed lawn!  Just make sure small children and pets aren’t eating them as they sometimes tend to do.  Most lawn ‘shrooms are non-toxic but you can NEVER be too sure.

Next Cranky Man Lawn Epistle:   To Lime or not to Lime … That is the Question!

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