Don't Waste Those Clippings! How to Improve Your Lawn with Mulch

Don't Waste Those Clippings! How to Improve Your Lawn with Mulch - My Store
Maintaining a lush and vibrant lawn requires more than just regular mowing and watering. One often overlooked yet essential aspect of lawn care is mulching. In this article, we'll delve into the world of mulching, exploring its benefits and various methods. Whether you're a seasoned gardener or a novice homeowner, understanding the significance of mulching can make a remarkable difference in the overall well-being of your outdoor oasis. 

What is Mulch?

Mulch refers to any material that covers the soil surface, providing a host of benefits that contribute to the overall health and appearance of your lawn. At its core, mulch acts as a protective shield for your soil. It can be composed of a variety of materials, both organic and inorganic, that are spread over the soil surface. This protective layer creates a barrier between the soil and the elements, offering a multitude of advantages that go beyond the surface.

Types of Mulch Materials

Shredded Wood Matter

Shredded wood mulch, a favorite among garden enthusiasts, offers a plethora of advantages for nurturing your landscape:

Organic Enrichment: As shredded wood breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil, improving soil structure and fostering a healthy microbial ecosystem.

Temperature Regulation: The layer of shredded wood acts as an insulating blanket, protecting plant roots from extreme temperatures, be it scorching summer heat or chilly winter frost.

Weed Suppression:
With its dense composition, shredded wood forms an effective barrier against weeds, reducing competition for nutrients and water.

Plant Compatibility: Shredded wood is suitable for a wide range of plants, making it a versatile choice for flower beds, garden paths, and around trees and shrubs.

Grass Cuttings

Person mowing lawn with lawnmower

Don't dispose of those freshly mowed grass clippings. Instead, use them to provide a nutrient boost to your landscape. These clippings contain essential nutrients that can nourish your plants as they break down.

Nitrogen Boost: Grass clippings are notably high in nitrogen, an element vital for healthy plant growth. As they decompose, they release nitrogen into the soil, acting as a natural fertilizer.

Slow Release: Unlike synthetic fertilizers, the nutrients from grass clippings are released gradually over time, providing sustained nourishment to your plants.

Weed Suppression: Applying a layer of grass clippings around your plants can inhibit weed growth, helping to maintain a cleaner and more manageable garden space.

Moisture Retention: Grass clippings create a protective barrier that reduces water evaporation from the soil surface, promoting consistent soil moisture.

Recycling at Its Best: Utilizing grass clippings as mulch supports a sustainable and eco-friendly gardening practice. Instead of sending these clippings to landfills, you're returning their nutrients to the earth.


As leaves break down, they infuse the soil with nutrients, contributing to improved soil fertility and the overall health of your plants.

Moisture Retention: The layer of leaves acts as a protective barrier, reducing water evaporation and maintaining consistent soil moisture levels.

Weed Suppression: Leaf mulch creates a barrier that inhibits weed growth, lessening the need for frequent weeding.Faster Decomposition: Shredding leaves into smaller pieces accelerates their breakdown process, allowing them to integrate with the soil more efficiently.

Resource Recycling: Using fallen leaves as mulch is a sustainable practice that repurposes a natural byproduct of your garden, reducing waste and minimizing environmental impact.

Natural Pest Control: Some leaves, such as oak and cedar, contain compounds that act as natural insect repellents, contributing to a healthier garden ecosystem.

Chipped Bark

Chipped bark serves as a versatile mulch, offering the dual benefit of preventing soil erosion and adding aesthetic charm to your garden spaces.

Erosion Shield: Chipped bark forms a protective layer over the soil, preventing erosion caused by heavy rainfall and wind. This is especially beneficial for sloped areas where soil displacement is a concern.

Weed Suppression: Chipped bark acts as a natural weed barrier, helping to minimize weed growth and maintenance efforts.

Moisture Conservation: This mulch aids in retaining soil moisture, reducing the need for frequent watering, especially during warmer months.

Durability: Chipped bark has a longer lifespan compared to some organic mulches, which means fewer replacements and less maintenance over time.

Natural Material: Derived from tree bark, this mulch is a renewable and eco-friendly choice that supports sustainable landscaping practices.

Gravel, Chippings, and Stones

Two yellow chairs on a gravel path

Non-organic mulch materials like gravel, chippings, and stones offer a range of benefits that extend beyond aesthetics. Whether you're aiming for a sleek modern look or seeking a low-maintenance solution, these options can help you achieve your landscaping goals while adding a touch of sophistication to your outdoor space.

Drainage Management: Gravel and stones provide effective water drainage, preventing soil saturation and root rot, particularly in areas with poor drainage.

Low Maintenance: These materials require minimal upkeep compared to organic mulches, making them ideal for busy homeowners or spaces with limited accessibility.

Weed Suppression: The dense nature of gravel and stones helps in suppressing weed growth, minimizing the need for constant weeding efforts.

Limited Decomposition: Non-organic mulches don't break down over time, reducing the need for frequent replacement and contributing to a longer-lasting landscape solution.

Resource Efficiency: Opting for non-organic mulches supports efficient resource utilization, as these materials are often sourced from naturally occurring deposits.

Mulching with Grass Clippings

How to Mulch Grass Clippings

rake grass clippings on a lawn

Mulching with grass clippings requires a systematic approach to maximize its advantages while ensuring a well-maintained lawn:

Mow Regularly: Mow your lawn regularly, keeping the grass at a manageable height, typically not removing more than one-third of the grass blade.

Use a Mulching Mower: Equip your mower with a mulching blade or kit that finely chops the clippings, promoting even distribution and quicker decomposition.

Dry Grass Clippings: Allow freshly mowed grass clippings to dry for a short period. This minimizes clumping and encourages proper distribution.

Spread Evenly: Apply the dried clippings in a thin, uniform layer across the lawn. Uneven distribution can lead to patchy decomposition and potential matting.

Avoid Excess: While a thin layer of grass clippings is beneficial, avoid creating a thick layer that might smother the grass and hinder sunlight penetration.

When Not to Mulch Grass Clippings

While grass clippings can serve as a valuable mulch resource, there are certain scenarios where using them might not be the best choice. It's important to consider these situations to make an informed decision about mulching with grass clippings.

Herbicides and Pesticides: If you've recently applied herbicides or pesticides to your lawn, avoid using the clippings as mulch. These chemicals can linger on the clippings and impact the health of your plants or soil.

Tall Grass: When your grass has grown exceptionally tall between mowing sessions due to neglect or other reasons, it's best to bag the clippings rather than mulching them. Thick clumps of tall clippings can smother the lawn, leading to uneven decomposition and potential damage.

Wet Grass Clippings: Mulching wet grass clippings can result in clumping and matting on the lawn's surface. This can hinder proper decomposition and create an unattractive appearance.

Spreading Weed Seeds: If your lawn has a significant weed problem, mulching with grass clippings can inadvertently spread weed seeds, exacerbating the issue.

In situations where using grass clippings as mulch is not advisable, consider bagging the clippings and disposing of them through your local green waste collection or composting program.

Pros and Cons of Mulching Grass Clippings

According to Chris Starbuck from the Department of Horticulture at the University of Missouri, "Grass clippings returned to the lawn provide up to 25 percent of your lawn's total fertilizer needs. Clippings contain about 4 percent nitrogen, 2 percent potassium, and 1 percent phosphorus." But mulching grass clippings has more advantages than providing valuable nutrients.

Pros of Mulching Grass Clippings

1. Nutrient Recycling

Natural Fertilization: Grass clippings contain valuable nutrients like nitrogen, which enriches the soil as they decompose.
Saves on Fertilizer: By mulching clippings back into the lawn, you reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers, promoting a more eco-friendly approach.

2. Moisture Retention

Water Conservation: Mulched grass clippings act as a protective layer, reducing water evaporation from the soil surface.
Steady Hydration: Consistent soil moisture levels contribute to healthier plant growth, particularly during dry spells.

3. Time and Effort Savings

No Disposal Needed: Mulching eliminates the task of bagging and disposing of clippings, making lawn care more efficient.
Quick Breakdown: Finely chopped clippings decompose relatively quickly, integrating into the soil ecosystem.

Cons of Mulching Grass Clippings

1. Proper Management Required

Even Distribution: Uneven distribution of clippings can lead to patchy decomposition and potential matting.
Excess Clippings: Applying too many clippings at once can create a thick layer that smothers the grass and hinders sunlight penetration.

2. Weed Growth

If your lawn has weed issues, mulching with clippings might inadvertently spread weed seeds, leading to increased weed growth.

Mulching with Leaves

How to Mulch Leaves

Person raking leaves in a yard

Mulching with leaves requires a methodical approach to ensure their effective use in your garden. Follow these steps to make the most of this autumnal treasure:

Leaf Collection: Rake fallen leaves from your lawn and garden beds, gathering them into piles for later use. Consider using a mulching mower equipped with a bagging attachment to simultaneously shred and collect leaves.

Shredding Process: Shred the collected leaves using a shredder or a mulching mower with a dedicated leaf-shredding mode. Smaller leaf pieces decompose more efficiently and create a finer, more uniform mulch layer.

Application Technique: Spread the shredded leaves evenly over your garden beds or around trees and shrubs. Aim for a layer of mulch that is about 2 to 3 inches thick to provide optimal coverage and benefits.

Avoid Clumping: To prevent clumping, avoid applying thick layers of shredded leaves in a single spot. Even distribution promotes uniform decomposition.

Ongoing Care: As the leaves decompose, periodically assess the mulch layer's thickness. Add more shredded leaves as needed to maintain the desired depth.

Pros and Cons of Mulching Leaves

Pros of Mulching Leaves

1. Soil Enrichment

Nutrient Infusion: Decomposing leaves release valuable nutrients into the soil, enriching its fertility and providing essential nourishment for your plants.
Organic Matter Addition: Leaf mulching enhances soil structure by integrating organic matter, creating an environment that supports the flourishing of beneficial microorganisms.

2. Moisture Regulation

Water Conservation: A layer of mulched leaves acts as a natural moisture regulator, reducing excessive water evaporation from the soil and ensuring consistent hydration for your plants.
Temperature Moderation: Leaves serve as a natural insulator, shielding the soil from extreme temperature fluctuations and minimizing the impact of changing weather conditions.

3. Weed Suppression

Mulched leaves create a physical barrier that hinders weed growth by limiting sunlight penetration and creating unfavorable conditions for weed seeds to sprout.

Cons of Mulching Leaves

1. Matting and Compaction

Matting Issues: Leaves can form dense mats when not adequately shredded, impeding the flow of water, air, and nutrients through the soil and potentially smothering plant roots.
Risk of Compaction: Thick layers of leaves can compact over time, disrupting soil structure and reducing its ability to drain effectively.

2. Potential Pest Haven

Attracting Pests: Moist leaf layers can attract pests like slugs, snails, and certain insects that thrive in damp environments, potentially impacting your garden's health.
Disease Proliferation: Damp leaf mulch can become a breeding ground for certain plant diseases, potentially affecting the overall well-being of your garden.

FAQs About Mulch

Garden beds covered with a layer of mulch, consisting of organic materials like wood chips or shredded leaves, providing a practical ground cover for moisture retention and weed suppression

Q: What does mulching do?

Mulching helps retain moisture, suppress weeds, regulate soil temperature, and provide nutrients to the soil as organic materials break down.

Q: Is it good to mulch your lawn?

Yes, mulching provides several advantages for lawns, including nutrient recycling, improved soil health, and reduced water evaporation.

Q: Does mulching your grass make it grow better?

Yes, mulching grass clippings returns nutrients to the soil, enhancing its fertility and promoting healthier grass growth.

Q: What are the disadvantages of mulching?

Some disadvantages include visible debris on the lawn, the need for proper distribution, and potential weed seed dispersal.

Q: Is it better to bag or mulch grass?

Mulching grass clippings is generally preferred as it returns nutrients to the soil, reduces waste, and requires no disposal.

Q: What's the best mulch for lawns?

Grass clippings, shredded leaves, and organic materials like compost make excellent mulch choices for lawns.

Q: How does a mulching mower work?

A mulching mower features special blades that finely chop grass clippings and leaf debris, allowing them to break down faster and integrate into the soil.

Integrating modern technology into your lawn care routine, a smart irrigation controller offers an intelligent solution to water management. By utilizing weather data and soil moisture sensors, these controllers adjust watering schedules to ensure efficient water usage. Embracing a smart irrigation controller not only conserves water but also contributes to a healthier lawn and more sustainable landscaping practices.