For Immediate Release
May 5, 2009

KDHE Office of Communications, 785-296-0461

Mulch Mowing and Home Composting Recommended by KDHE

Would you like to save time working in your yard and help the environment at the same time?  Are you tired of lugging heavy bags of grass clippings or multiple bags of leaves to the curb only to feel guilty when the bags are taken to the landfill with your other trash?  Is fertilizing your yard a general spring, summer and fall routine?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might want to consider mulch mowing or composting. 

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) recommends a shift to mulch mowing or composting your grass and leaves instead of bagging and then disposal in a landfill. By not catching the grass clippings, the time and expense of bagging can be eliminated.  Kansans can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills by hundreds of thousands of tons per year by mulching and composting their yard waste.
What is mulch mowing?  It is simply the process of cutting the grass and letting the clippings fall back to the turf.  Kansas State University (KSU), in their publication “Recycling Grass Clippings,” explains that some lawn mowers are specially designed to be mulching mowers, but almost all mowers can be used in this way.  KSU recommends that the grass never have more than one third of the leaf area removed at any mowing.  Mulch mowing will help reduce your yard’s dependence on fertilizer because the nutrients in the grass clippings will be left in place for the grass to use.  As the grass clippings breakdown, they will also act as a mulch that will help reduce the need for watering.

If your yard only has a light covering of leaves, mulch mowing is a good way to handle the leaves from your trees, according to KSU Solid Waste Management Fact Sheet Number 12 which can be found on the Web at   Using the mower to grind the leaves allows them to sift into the grass where they can breakdown without smothering the grass.  This method eliminates the need to spend time and effort raking and bagging the leaves just to send them to the landfill.

When the grass is too tall or wet for mulch mowing or there is a heavy covering of leaves on your lawn, backyard composting is a good answer for handling these lawn materials.  Composting is a method of speeding up the natural breakdown of organic materials into a stable, humus-like material.  Finished compost will have an earthy smell and be dark brown to black in color.  Leaves and grass make a good combination in the composting bin.  Grass supplies the nitrogen necessary for the microorganisms to multiply and the leaves supply the carbon that provides the energy the microorganisms need.

Compost has properties that cannot be obtained from commercial fertilizers.  While compost does supply some nutrients like fertilizers, it also supplies organic matter, micro-nutrients, and most importantly, active microbes.  These additional properties are why compost is closer to how nature supplies nutrients for plants. 

The KSU publication “Making and Using Compost at Home” provides good information for anyone wanting to start composting in their backyard.  This publication is available through your local county extension office.  It covers how composting breaks down the grass and leaves to humus, how to build a backyard bin, and how to handle the materials as they compost.  Your local county extension or horticultural agent is the best source of information for starting and maintaining a backyard compost pile.

If composting your grass and leaves in a pile is not feasible, these materials can also be used for mulch around plants and trees in your yard and garden.  When used in the garden, grass should be placed in a layer 1-3 inches thick to keep down weed growth and help retain moisture.  Leaves used for mulch can be placed in slightly thicker layers, but they work better if they are ground first with a leaf shredder.  At the end of the growing season, the mulch can be incorporated in the soil to provide additional organic matter for plants for the next growing season.

Some communities in Kansas also have a central composting site for residents to drop-off their yard materials.  These sites provide an alternative to landfilling the yard materials generated in their communities.  Most communities provide an opportunity for their residents to pick up the finished compost either for a small fee or free.