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The Benefits of Mulching: A Step Forward in Sustainability

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Anyone that’s familiar with some of my past articles knows that I’m a big advocate of working with and following the example of nature as pertaining to landscaping and lawn care. Throughout my years of experience I’ve seen great examples of this, but I’ve also seen things that would make you laugh, then cry, then pull your hair out, then laugh some more. A quick example of total lack of sustainable consideration can be found on the campus I attended university. The university wanted to transform a parking lot into a sports field. But to save time and money, instead of removing the asphalt parking lot they just poured topsoil on top of the existing pavement. They then spread the soil around and planted grass. That sports field has some of the worst quality grass I’ve ever seen. It has constant drainage issues, dingy color, weed infestation, sporadic growth, and requires an abnormally high amount of fertilizer due to the lack of nutrients available to the constrained root system. There’s a reason why in nature you’d never find a grass meadow growing a few inches above a solid, rock layer. It doesn’t work folks! 

What To Do With Grass Clippings

grass clippingsFor some people, sustainability is just a natural part of their thought process. For others, it’s a foreign, abstract, or annoying concept. Here at Nature’s Seed, we pride ourselves on striving to stay in harmony with the natural world by only providing products, information, and tips that work with nature instead of fighting with her. Keep this in mind as I address the topic for this week. 

A common question we receive has to do with the grass clippings collected from mowing, and what to do with them. Some people will tell you to remove the grass clippings to avoid “thatch buildup”, mistakenly thinking that grass clippings contribute to the thatch layer. In reality, the thatch layer is composed of the living and dead pieces of stem between the soil and the green grass blades. Other people will suggest removing the clippings and dumping them in a compost pile. Still others prefer mulching, or leaving the grass clippings on the lawn. What do we suggest? 

Mulching Grass Clippings Reduces the Need For Synthetic Fertilizer

Let’s look at what happens in nature. A grass plant grows, dies or goes dormant, and falls back to the ground from where it sprouted. This is similar to what happens when you mow your lawn. In nature does some giant machine sweep by and pick up all the dead grass matter in order to make the grasslands look neater? No way! The truth is, when the dead grass falls back to the earth it returns its nutrients back to the soil, contributing to healthy growth of the living grass in that area. Nature knows exactly what she’s doing. Leaving your grass clippings on your lawn is one of the best ways to return nutrients, especially nitrogen, back to your lawn. Nitrogen is one of the three primary ingredients found in synthetic fertilizers. Synthetic fertilizers are made in factories, contributing to energy consumption and a large carbon footprint. Synthetic fertilizer can also translocate quickly, meaning that it has a big potential of ending up in places that it wasn’t intended to be, such as waterways, reservoirs, and water supplies. This translocation of synthetic fertilizer into water supplies has been known to cause algae blooms, which can kill fish and other native aquatic life. 

Synthetic Fertilizer and Human Health

Not only does translocation of synthetic fertilizer hurt the animal kingdom, but human life can be damaged too. When ammonium nitrate (an ingredient found in synthetic fertilizers) leaches into drinking water supplies, nitrate levels can quick reach an unhealthy amount. This can be particularly dangerous for infants, and can lead to a condition known as “Blue Baby Syndrome”, or methemoglobinemia. If left untreated, this condition leads to oxygen deficiency, coma, and death. Anything we can do to limit the amount of synthetic fertilizer we apply to our lawns is a step forward in sustainable, responsible landscaping. 

How To Mulch Your Lawn

Mulching your grass clippings can be accomplished simply by using a regular lawnmower without a bag to catch the clippings. Note that if the grass is very long or thick, this method will leave big clumps of grass clippings that will not only look unsightly, but can damage the grass underneath the clumps by contributing to rot and limiting sunlight. If using a regular lawnmower without the bag, be sure the grass is short and dry enough that clump formation will not be a problem. You can also achieve a more unnoticeable mulch of your grass clippings by using a specialized lawnmower with a mulch setting. These types of lawnmowers have certain features and blade designs that chop up the grass clippings into a fine mulch that is unnoticeable, eliminating the common concern that mulched lawns are messy, unsightly, or will leave piles of grass everywhere. Mulching lawnmowers can be slightly more expensive upfront, but in the long term will save you money on reduced fertilizer applications. They will also save time by eliminating the backbreaking task of emptying lawnmower bags, reducing landfill visits, and providing you peace of mind knowing you’re doing your part in being a responsible steward of this planet we all share. 

Cut Back On Maintenance and Environmental Impact

Of course if you’d like to eliminate lawn mowing altogether while slashing the amount of fertilizer, irrigation, and pesticide required, check out our Low Maintenance Seed Blend. This blend is our most eco-friendly, carbon footprint-reducing grass seed mix we carry. 

Sustainable landscaping comes easy to a lot of us, while others are still stuck in the old “man vs. nature” mentality. The transition from old to new doesn’t have to be a huge, drastic move. It starts with the simple everyday practices such as mulching our grass clippings instead of removing them.

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