Which is greener, bagging your grass or leaving your clippings there?

Don't Bag It!

Longer growth means less watering because the roots absorb moisture more efficiently.
Longer growth means less watering because the roots absorb moisture more efficiently.
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If you think not bagging your grass entails more work, think again. Although you'll need to mow around every five days to follow the "Don't Bag It" program, it will actually cut your work time by up to 38 percent [source: Colt, Bell and Johnson]. Depending on the type of grass in your lawn, you'll generally let it stay between 2 and 3 inches high (5 to 7 centimeters). That means, you'll want to avoid using the lowest cutting settings to ensure that you do not remove more than a third of the blade at a time to promote healthy growth.

But before you get to cutting your grass, you may be wondering if you need a new lawn mower. Even if you have a grass catcher attachment on your mower, it will probably work fine if you remove it. However, consult your owner's manual or speak with a lawn-mower repair person to confirm that.

If you're in the market for a new mower and want to go bag-free, check out the old-fashioned push mower or an electric mulch mower. Push mowers may demand a little more muscle power to get it across the yard, but will usually cost less than a mulching model. Mulching lawn mowers are made with an extra blade that chops up the grass more finely before releasing it onto the ground [source: Colt, Bell and Johnson]. That promotes decomposition to allow the nutrients to reach the soil faster.

Speaking of nutrients, what does the grass recycling give back to the lawn? Because of the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in grass, this byproduct can provide up to 25 percent of the fertilizer your lawn needs [source: Colt, Bell and Johnson]. The healthier your grass becomes, the less water it needs because its roots absorb it more efficiently [source: Fresenburg and Starbuck].

Some people fear that leaving the clippings promotes the formation of thatch. Thatch refers to a layer of organic matter made of partially or un-decomposed bits of grass plants that chokes out new growth [source: Fresenburg and Starbuck]. According to the Environmental Protect Agency, since grass clippings are made up of 90 percent water, they break down quickly and do not contribute to thatch build-up [source: EPA]. However, if you have a layer of thatch a half-inch thick (1.2 centimeters), collect your clippings and use them elsewhere in your yard.

Where else can you use them? You can incorporate cut grass into your composting pile. Their nutrients will feed the health of the compost. Similarly, you can sprinkle it around plant beds or along landscapes as a mulch to fortify and protect it from water erosion. If you're growing a summer vegetable garden, you can mix the grass in with the soil as a natural fertilizer for the plants as well. If you have treated the grass with any pesticides, only put it in the compost since the lingering chemicals can poison the other plants.

For more lawn care tips and tricks, plow through the links below.

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  • Colt, W.M.; Rynk, R.; Bell, S. and Johnson, W.J. "Don't Bag It!" University of Idaho College of Agriculture. (May 30, 2008)http://info.ag.uidaho.edu/Resources/PDFs/CIS1016.pdf
  • Connecticut and Massachusetts Departments of Environmental Protection. "Don't Trash Grass!" Update Nov. 26, 2007. (May 30, 2008)http://www.ct.gov/dEP/cwp/view.asp?a=2718&q=325364&depNav_GID=1645
  • Environmental Protection Agency. "Give an Inch, Save a Yard: Grasscycling and Mulching." Updated Sept. 7, 2007. (May 30, 2008)http://www.epa.gov/compost/grassmulch.htm
  • Fresenberg, Brad and Starbuck, Christopher J. ""Don't Bag It" Lawn Care." Missouri University Extension. (May 30, 2008)http://extension.missouri.edu/explorepdf/agguides/hort/g06959.pdf
  • Wilson, C.R. and Koski, T. "Eliminate Grass Clipping Collection." Colorado State University Extension. Reviewed April 2004. (May 30, 2008)http://www.ext.colostate.edu/Pubs/Garden/07007.html