Did you know that a 1 per 2-acre lawn in Pennsylvania produces more than three tons-nearly 260 bags-of grass clippings each year? Think of all the time, money and effort it takes to bag all those clippings. Why go through all that hassle when it's not necessary?

Leave Grass Clippings Where They Fall

It's simple. Grass clippings left on the lawn decompose and act as a natural organic fertilizer. This lets you reduce the amount of commercial fertilizer you need to apply. Your lawn will remain healthy and green because each time you mow, you will be returning valuable nutrients to the soil.

Mowing Techniques & Tips

Any mower can recycle grass clippings. Just remove the grass catcher. Ask your lawn mower dealer if you need a special safety plug or adapter kit to convert your mower into a "recycling" mower. Installing a mulching blade also is helpful.
  • Never cut off more than 1 per 3 of the grass blade in one mowing. Keep grass mowed to 2 inches in early spring, gradually raise the height to 3 to 4 inches by summer, then gradually reduce to 2 inches by late fall.
  • Mow when the grass is dry.
  • Keep your mower blade sharp. Dull mowers tear the grass blade, injure the plant and cause a brownish cast to the turf.
  • If the grass gets too high, mow over the clippings a second time to further shred and scatter them.
  • To prevent excess growth between mowings, raise the mower height, mow, then gradually lower it over a span of several mowings. This will help prevent shock to the plants.
  • When it's time to replace your mower, consider a mulching, recycling or nonpolluting reel mower. All of them do a good job of shredding and scattering grass clippings.


Thatch, a matted layer of dead roots and stems, usually is caused by too much water and fertilizer. Clippings don't produce thatch because they are 80% water and decompose quickly. A thatch layer of more than 1 per 2 inches should be removed.

Uses for Clippings

  • Compost: Fresh clippings should compose no more than a third of the compost pile They are an excellent source of nitrogen. Mix thoroughly with "brown" materials such as leaves or straw and turn the pile regularly to aerate it and prevent odors.
  • Mulch: Pile about 1 inch of dried clippings on the soil to reduce weeds and moderate soil temperature. Mulching also controls erosion, run-off and evaporation. If using herbicides, wait at least two mowings after treating the lawn to use the clippings.
  • Soil Additive: Mixing fresh grass clippings into the garden improves soil texture, promotes moisture retention and adds nutrients and organic matter. About once a month, turn 2 inches layer of grass into the soil to a depth of 6 inches.

Fertilizer Application

Most grasses need modest amounts of nitrogen for controlled growth and good color. Too much fertilizer increases growth and results in more frequent mowing.

It is best to fertilize around Labor Day and again at the end of October. Fall fertilization promotes a vigorous root system and helps the plant survive winter, but does not lead to the excessive top growth of spring fertilization. Apply only half of a pound of nitrogen per 100 square feet of lawn. To calculate how many pounds of fertilizer should be applied per 1,000 square feet, divide 100 by twice the percentage of nitrogen (N) in the fertilizer.
common fertilizer rates
Fertilizer NPK Rating
100 / (2 x N%)
Pounds per 1,000 square feet
12-4-8 100/24 4.1
16-8-8 100/32 3.1
20-5-10 100/20 3.1
10-10-10 100/20 5.0

Produced by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in cooperation with the Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island Departments of Environmental Protection. 2500-PADEP1714 Rev 6/94

For more information, please email our recycling address.
Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Land Recycling and Waste Management
Rachel Carson State Office Building
P.O. Box 8472
Harrisburg, PA 17105-8472
Phone: 717-787-7382