Making Bay Friendly Choices

Who would have thought that the grass under all this past winter’s snow would ever start growing? Now that it has, homeowners, Michael and Gail Hollander have something else to worry about-mowing it. Michael tries to practice Bay-friendly lawn care but sometimes he runs into a snag.

One of the components of Bay-friendly lawn care is to maintain a Kentucky bluegrass lawn at the height of 3-4 inches and never remove more that one third of the total height of the grass at one time. Frequent spring rains cause lawns to grow rapidly. Unfortunately, Michael can only mow on weekends. This sometimes poses a problem for him when the grass grows so quickly. Occasionally his grass does get a little taller than the recommended height. What should he do?

University studies suggest never mowing more than 1/3 of the grass height for this simple reason. On a blade of grass the photosynthetic (the ability to turn sunlight into energy) ability is the strongest at the tip. Since when you mow you remove the tip you’ve then diminished the grass blade’s efficiency to process energy. Grass as resilient as it is can produce more blades but this takes time and expends energy to reproduce more blades. After cutting the grass is most susceptible to weed invasions. Thus, removing as little as possible of the grass’s surface area is the best way to maintain a healthy stand of grass. Most lawn mowers cannot be adjusted much higher than 4 inches. Sometimes one is forced to remove more than the recommended amount of grass. This then leads to another problem.

When very tall grass is mowed the long clippings form a barrier between the sun and the remaining grass. The newly mown grass can’t photosynthesize under those clippings, hence it’s unable to grow well. Michael’s best option has been to remove the long clippings. Michael lives in a community where the local sanitation department collects yard waste separate from garbage and recycles it. The collected yard waste, (i.e., grass clipping, fallen leaves, & brush), is taken to a site and composted to produce organic matter. This is a good option for Michael and his community but there are better options.

Michael can easily recycle his long grass clippings right on his property. Last fall he and his sons, Jamie and Josh built a compost pile. They saved several bags of fallen leaves and plan to mix them with grass clippings and kitchen scraps throughout this growing season. The end result will be rich compost which Michael has already planned to use on his tomatoes. Even if he didn’t have a compost bin, Michael could recycle his grass clippings. The second option would be to spread them on the driveway or a back pavement to dry for one day. Then use the dried clippings as mulch in flower or vegetable beds.

The worst choice, anyone in Michael’s situation could make, would be to put those long ,grass clippings in the trash where they would be hauled off to a landfill and dumped with regular trash. Since our landfills are filling up and we are running out of places to put our trash, we must make Bay-wise decisions. Recycling grass clippings are an easy way to preserve our environment.

Another component of Bay-friendly lawn care is to return clippings to the lawn so they can decompose and return nutrients back to the turf. This assumes that the clippings are relatively short, about an inch long. These clippings fall through the turf and come in contact with the soil. Microorganisms which live in the soil break the clippings down and release nutrients in the soil. The released nutrients become available for the grass roots to absorb and use again. Raking and removing; the clippings breaks this nutrient recycling which may cause the need for additional fertilizing,

Michael went out last year and purchased a mulching mower which re-cuts the mowed grass into small pieces and distributes it back onto the lawn. The lawn mower does have a detachable bag so he has the option of leaving his clippings on the lawn or removing and using them in his compost pile. Michael and Gail are excited about their new lawn mower because they have several options for handling the clippings from their lawn. And all of those options are Bay-friendly!

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