Yard Waste, Composting and Landscaping Tips

The City of East Lansing offers the following tips to maintain a healthy and "green" yard:

Recycle Your Grass
Grasscycling, or mulching, is the process of cutting your grass and allowing it to fall back onto the lawn without bagging it. Grasscycling saves time and money, helps build a healthy turf and soil, won't cause thatch and is good for the environment.

Grasscycling works best when you adhere to these guidelines:
  • Cut your grass when it is dry
  • Cut your lawn so that you are removing about 1/3 of the grass blade
  • keep your mower blade sharp.
Proper mowing will produce short clippings that will not cover the grass surface. These clippings will slowly decompose, releasing nitrogen back into the soil.

Most lawnmowers manufactured today are capable of mulching. If you have an older lawnmower, consider retrofitting it for grasscycling. Local lawn mower dealers can help you choose the right mower or parts.

Proper Mowing Height
Lawn should be cut between 2.0 and 3.75 inches high. Preference should be given to keeping your lawn longer, especially during hot and dry periods. Studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between cutting height and the amount of roots that grass can sustain. Shorter cut lawns have smaller root systems. Smaller root systems decrease the grasses ability to absorb water and nutrients and therefore make it more dependent on supplemental watering and fertilizing and more susceptible to stress.

Longer cut lawns are more stress tolerant. Longer cut grass which is properly fertilized and watered can help shade the surface soil. This shading reduces germination of weed seeds and helps retain soil moisture.

Water Properly
Many factors determine when and how much to water. Turfgrass naturally experiences peak growth in May and June and then again from late August through October. These periods generally are cooler and often have more precipitation, which promotes grass growth. Turfgrass growth is greatly reduced and may even go dormant during the hot dry summer months.

Residents who desire a low maintenance lawn can take advantage of seasonal changes in growth and local weather patterns. Eliminating supplemental watering will allow the grass to go dormant during the summer and reduce maintenance needs. Residents who prefer a lush lawn will likely need to supplement occasional rainfall with irrigation. Most lawns need between 0.5 and 1.5 inches of water per week. Lawn grown in sandy soils will require more water than lawns grown in clay soils which hold more water. The general rule of thumb has been to provide your lawn about 1 inch of water per week by watering once during the week during the morning hours. However, more recent research by Michigan State University (MSU) suggests several smaller applications are more beneficial. MSU Extension recommends applying 0.1 to 0.2 inches of water per application, applied in the early afternoon.

Fertilize Properly
A combination of grasscycling and proper fertilization will supply your lawn with adequate nutrients. A good way to determine fertilizer needs is to take a soil sample of your yard. A soil sample will tell you what mineral elements your lawn needs and you can then fertilize appropriately.

Don't over fertilize your lawn as it can negatively impact your grass and our environment. Too much fertilizer can burn your lawn. In addition, excess fertilizer can wash off your lawn and enter our water systems. Remember to sweep up any excess fertilizer that falls on sidewalks and driveways to prevent it from washing away.

According to research at Ohio, the most beneficial time of the year to fertilize is in the fall or late fall. A fall application can be made in late August or September while grass is still active. A late fall application can be made in November. Fall applications produce more root mass and a deeper root system, resulting in a healthier lawn.

Several alternatives to chemical based fertilizers exist such as organic fertilizers and compost. Consider using one of these products as a more environmentally friendly alternative. Several local suppliers sell them or compost can be made in your own back yard.

Keep in mind that the overall reason for fertilizing your lawn is to produce a healthier turfgrass. A healthy lawn is more capable of tolerating disease, insects, weeds, and environmental stresses. This will reduce the need for supplemental watering, excessive nutrient input and herbicides. Don't fertilize just to "keep up with the Jones!" Know what nutrients your soil needs, determine the amount of maintenance you want to put into your yard, and understand how and when to apply fertilizer before you start.

Use Mulch throughout Your Landscape
Natural mulches used in gardens, around trees / bushes, and in flower beds provide numerous benefits such as:
  • Reduce watering and weeding maintenance
  • Reduce soil compaction
  • Stabilize soil temperatures
  • Hold moisture in the soil
  • Enrich the soil through gradual decomposition and slow release of nutrients
  • Provide an alternative to herbicides
Several mulches are readily available both in your back yard and through local stores. Instead of placing common yard waste at the curb for collection, try using it as mulch. Shredded leaves, grass clippings, pine needles, compost and wood chips can all be used. Mulch should be applied thick enough to inhibit weeds. Three to four inch layers are usually adequate. For trees and bushes, apply mulch from near the base of the tree (keep mulch a couple inches away from the trunk of the tree) out to the edge of the canopy of the tree.

Instead of paying to dispose of your yard waste, why not save some money and compost at home. Composting is easy to do and it is nature's recycling system. Leaves, grass clippings, flowers, plants and other yard trimmings can be easily composted. Composting produces a dark, rich, organic soil-like substance. It is an excellent soil conditioner. It improves soil structure, retains water, encourages root growth, aerates the soil, slowly releases nutrients, and supports beneficial organisms such as earthworms.