So, you would like to have a beautiful lawn - but if bagging those grass clippings is not a labor of love and you really want to help conserve landfill space.

If you are starting from scratch or starting over, you probably want to know which is the best type of lawn grass for the area.  The best type lawn grass will depend on a number of factors, such as how often you are willing to mow, how much shade must one contend with, how much abuse will the lawn be subjected to, etc.  Hence, there is no ideal lawn grass for all growing situations.

Most area landscapes include St. Augustine grass as the major turfgrass.  However, some people have bermuda, a few Zoysia and people are now beginning to ask about a new grass called Buffalo grass.  There are several different varieties available for each type lawn. Dr. Duble will discuss the pros and cons for each type lawn grass.

Most homeowners already have an established lawn.  The single most important factor in maintaining a beautiful lawn is proper mowing.  Poor mowing practices can have many devastating effects on the lawn that no amount of fertilizer, no amount of water, and no amount of pesticides can correct.  The three most common mowing errors are improper cutting height, improper frequency of mowing and mowing with a dull blade.

Turfgrass researchers have identified the ideal cutting height range for each of the turfgrasses we commonly use here for our lawns.  Cut St. Augustine grass at 2 1/2 to 3 inches; for the hybrid or "Tif" bermudagrasses, 1/2 to 3/4 inch; and for common bermudagrass, 1/2 to 1 inch.  Make sure you know which turfgrass is in your lawn and set your mower accordingly.

Of equal importance to cutting height is mowing frequency.  Associated with mowing frequency is the somewhat controversial subject of whether or not the clippings should be removed from the lawn.

The frequency at which the lawn should be mowed is dependent on the growth rate of the lawn.  The lawn should be mowed when the height of the turf is such that no more than 1/3 of the grass blade is removed at one mowing.  If the mower is set for 3 inches, then the lawn should be mowed when it reaches 4 1/2 inches in height.

If this criterion for mowing frequency is followed, clippings will not need to be removed.  The grass clippings simply fall back into the turf and the nutrients they contain (up to 3 percent nitrogen) will be available for future use by the lawn.

Since mowing frequency is dependent on the growth rate of the lawn and since fertilizer plays an important role in determining the lawn's growth rate, you must also use common sense when fertilizing your lawn.  If you have to mow the lawn too often, you should consider reducing the fertilizer application rate and using a fertilizer that has at least 50% of its nitrogen in a slow release form (i.e., sulfur-coated urea).  Use of a slow release form of nitrogen is beneficial in reducing the rapid flush of growth that can occur when nitrate and/or ammonium sources of nitrogen are used.  The nitrogen source(s) is provided on each fertilizer bag.

If your lawn is a mixture of two turfgrasses, such as common Bermuda and St. Augustine, use the proper height for the grass you want to encourage.  If you want St. Augustine, cut at 3 inches; the Bermudagrass will hate it.  If your lawn is shaded or receives heavy use, move the cutting height up a half inch or so from the above ranges.  Also, mowing at the highest level of the stated ranges helps conserve water by creating a living mulch, shading the ground and reducing evaporation.

Then be sure to fertilize correctly and mow at the proper height and interval for your lawn grass.  And don't forget to bag those clippings - NOT!

The garbage barge roaming the high seas in search of a place to dispose of its cargo symbolizes the solid waste disposal dilemma in the United States.  No, this is not a scare tactic article proclaiming that an impending local landfill crisis is at hand.  However, City of Galveston officials recognize the need to take steps now to help conserve our remaining landfill space.  In that regard, the Mayor and City Council passed a proclamation proclaiming the city's adoption of a time-tested and proven lawn care program developed by Texas Cooperative Extension specialists and known as the "Don't Bag It" Lawn Care Program.  The "Don't Bag It" program is co-sponsored by Clean Galveston, Inc., and the Galveston County Extension Office as an alternative to landfill disposal of grass clippings.

Mr. John Sanchez, Recycling Coordinator for the City of Galveston, notes that "Between April and October, the volume of solid waste collected by the City of Galveston increases significantly because of grass clippings.  If all residents stopped bagging grass clippings, the City, and ultimately its citizens, could realize a savings in disposal costs.  More importantly, we would all be conserving very valuable landfill space and residents can still have beautiful, green lawns." 

Surveys have shown that in some neighborhoods as much as one half of the solid waste pickups during the summer is grass clippings.  It was estimated that in one Texas city of about 18,000 homes, over 700 tons (that's 1,400,000 pounds) of grass clippings per week were set out for solid waste pick up.

The bagging of lawn clippings also places an extra burden on the homeowner who has to stop every ten minutes or so to collect those clippings which then have to be carried to the curbside.  Fortunately, traditional lawn care practices can be adjusted easily to remedy the problem.  The "Don't Bag It" program reduces the time, money and labor involved in caring for lawns.  In fact, studies have shown that homeowners who practice the "Don't Bag It" program spend 38% less time in mowing the lawn as compared to the time required when bagging the lawn clippings.  In addition, having to purchase plastic lawn bags is avoided.

One of the first reactions most homeowners have when it is suggested that the lawn clippings be left on the lawn during mowing rather than bagged is that these clippings will cause thatch.  This is simply not true.

Grass clippings simply do not contain a great deal of lignin and they decompose fairly rapidly. These grass clippings are high in nutrient value.  They usually contain 4% nitrogen, 2% potassium and around 1/2% phosphorus, as well as smaller amounts of other essential nutrients plants need.  These all will be returned, in time, to the lawn.  The return of grass clippings to the lawn is the same as giving it small amounts of fertilizer continuously with no risk of creating a thatch problem at all.

The "Don't Bag It" Lawn Care Program recommends fertilizing, mowing and watering practices that allow you to leave grass clippings on the lawn.  Spring fertilization for the typical lawn should be with a 3-1-2 NPK ratio fertilizer such as 15-5-10 which is widely available under several brand names. It is important to not over-fertilize.  When using 15-5-10, seven to ten pounds per 1000 sq. ft. is the recommended application rate.

This web site is maintained by Master Gardener Laura Bellmore, under the direction of William M. Johnson, Ph.D., County Extension Agent-Horticulture & Master Gardener Program Coordinator.

All digital photographs are the property of  the Galveston County Master Gardener Association, Inc. (GCMGA) 2002-2006 GCMGA - All Rights Reserved.