3 Ways to Use Grass Clippings in the Garden

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Turn your lawn into a valuable resource for your plants!

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Benedict Vanheems

If you have a lawn, you'll have plenty of grass clippings.

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If you’ve got a lawn, you’ll no doubt produce plenty of grass clippings throughout the growing season. This is fantastic stuff, full of nutrients and goodness. Here are three ways to use grass clippings—a no-cost plant food—in the vegetable garden.

When you think about it, grass is a superb resource most gardeners have regular and easy access to. It’s a great source of nitrogen, but contains many other plant nutrients too, including potassium and various trace elements. It’s also free! This makes the grass clippings we take from our lawns a real bonus and one that’s available exactly when we need it – during the growing season.

Don’t Mow Too Short

We always advocating letting the lawn to grow a bit longer before cutting it. Mowing it really short and very frequently does wildlife no favors, and also it isn’t great for the lawn itself. We mow each area of lawn maybe just once every three weeks, but you may decide to mow a little more often than that. When you mow, set the blades a bit higher, say at least an inch (3 cm) high, to allow areas for helpful bugs to bed down and so that the crowns of any wildflowers contained within your lawn aren’t damaged.

Avoid Weed Killers

We no longer use any weed killers on our lawn to grow a rich and varied expanse, making the lawn fantastically friendly to both wildflowers and beneficial bugs. And it means that any clippings raked up are clean and safe to use, particularly around my edible plants; we wouldn’t want weed killers there! 

Leave most grass clippings to just fall back onto the lawn. This way they’ll gradually rot back down into the ground or be taken down into the soil by worms to return their nutrients and help feed the grass and keep it lush and green… without the need for artificial fertilizers.

Feed Your Compost

The most obvious use for our nitrogen-rich clippings is as an ingredient for the compost heap. Like other fresh, leafy growth, grass clippings are ‘greens’ which will help to balance out more carbon-rich ‘browns’ such as prunings or torn up cardboard.

Apply the clippings in thin layers with other ingredients. This will stop them turning into a gloopy sludge, which can sometimes happen if you add too much in one go. If you have lots of clippings you need to compost you can do that, just be sure to create a lasagna effect with layers of browns, so you’re getting a good mix and keeping everything nice and open and airy. Or you can spread them out in thinner layers to dry out on the compost heap then add more, gradually, allowing each layer to dry before the next is added.

Learn more about how to compost.

Mulch Around Plants

Don’t put all your clippings in one basket – share the nutrient value of this ready resource by simply scattering them over the soil surface as a mulch. 

Two arguments levied against using grass clippings as mulch is that they can mesh together into slimy mats, and will undoubtedly attract slugs by offering them a safe haven. But just like when we add them to the compost heap, this can be avoided by spreading them nice and thin – up to an inch (3 cmm) thick at a time, or just the merest scattering so the soil surface is barely covered if slugs are especially determined in your garden. You can always re-apply another scattering in a few days’ time.

Another way to dodge the slugs is to dry your clippings before using them. Spread them out onto a hard surface or a tarp in the sunshine for a day or two. Then once they’re crisp and dry, go ahead and spread them as thick as you like. If you’ve seen frogs and toads in my garden, and hopping about in the grass, there’s no doubt the clippings are, in fact, contributing to slug control by encouraging these hungry amphibians to the party.

Grass clippings do all the usual good stuff that any mulch will do. They help to suppress weeds and will shade the soil so that it holds onto moisture for longer and keeps roots cool. Then as the clippings decompose or get drawn down by the worms, they’ll gradually release their nutrients, all while adding valuable organic matter to the soil that will help improve its structure and moisture-retaining ability. Plus, there’s some evidence that by covering the soil surface with clippings you’re making things a lot harder for pesky root maggots. Good news all around!

If you leave most of the grass clippings where they fall after moving to keep the lawn nice and lush, you may not have many clippings to spare. So, prioritize the clippings I do use for larger vegetables like tomatoes and corn. Their higher nitrogen content also makes them ideal for use around leafy greens like chard or kale.

Grass clippings from organic gardens are great because they contain lots of other leaves too, from all the lawn flowers growing in it. That makes for a more varied and open mulch and makes them far less likely to mat together. Grass clipping mulches will dry out and rot down over time, so top them up whenever they get very thin.

Ben demonstrates all the tips shared in this article from spreading mulch to making a grass tea.

Make a Grass Tea (for Plants)

A varied lawn of grass and lawn flowers is a fantastic starting point for a refreshing brew of grass tea: though we won’t be drinking it – this is our own garden-sourced liquid feed. 

To make a grass tea simply pack your clippings into a bucket, pressing them down a little as you go, then fill with rainwater until the leaves are just covered. As well as grass clippings you could also add seed-free weeds to the mix, particularly our old friend the stinging nettle. A good mix of leaves from different plants will create a more balanced nutrient profile in the final tea – and it’s a great way to process all manner of green material coming off the garden. 

Now it’s just a question of covering this over and leaving it to steep for at least two weeks. Then strain off the liquid concentrate at this point and throw the gunk that’s left behind onto the compost heap. Then dilute the concentrate so there’s about one part concentrate to ten parts water.

See our article all about homemade fertilizer tea from plants.

But what if you’re after an even quicker and punchier alternative to grass tea? Tweak the grass tea by adding one cup of processed poultry manure or chicken manure pellets to a bucket along with a couple of generous handfuls of grass clippings. Again, you could use stinging nettles in place of the clippings or perhaps some comfrey.

And now let’s fill the bucket with water and give it all a good stir. Then just cover it over and leave to infuse – this time for no more than two to three days. The resulting brew can be strained then diluted one part to five parts water to use around your deserving plants! This quick-off-the-mark, organic and truly wholesome brew is best used fresh, so make up regular batches as you need them.

This ‘pokier’ grass tea with the added chicken manure is less diluted/more concentrated because it has been brewed for just a few days. However, it arguably offers a more balanced nutrient profile because of the added chicken manure. The grass tea without the manure is brewed for a much longer time - a few weeks - so it must be diluted further to compensate.

Who would’ve thought our lawns could be the source of so much goodness? If you’d like to find out more about how to pep up your plants midseason see our article on 10 natural fertilizers.

About The Author

Benedict Vanheems

Benedict Vanheems is the author of GrowVeg and a lifelong gardener with a BSc and an RHS General Certificate in horticulture. Read More from Benedict Vanheems

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