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Mulch Your Small Kitchen Garden with Lawn Clippings

In 9 days my pile of lawn clippings had shrunk. On top, it looked as though all the grass was drying out.

I’ve explained in earlier posts how I add humus to my small kitchen garden; a task that every kitchen gardener should perform at least annually. In a post titled Small kitchen Garden Soil Preparation 2, I explained how I usually excavate only where I’m going to plant: a full row for seeds, or individual holes for seedlings. To the holes and furrows I dig, I add compost.

But this meager compost-application isn’t the only way I add humus and nutrition to my soil. I explained my composting and mulching activity in a post titled Compost for my Small Kitchen Garden: I explained that I mulch around my vegetables with lawn clippings.

Miracles of Mulching

Mulch is awesome… and a heap of lawn clippings can do a lot of work for you. Here’s an example of the power of mulch:

Nine days ago, weeds in my kitchen garden bed were in fine shape. They had grown unchecked since the ground thawed, and many were in full bloom. Amazingly, there were forget-me-nots in full bloom; seeded, apparently, from a bed a quarter of the way around the house from the vegetable garden.

When I raked the mound of clippings aside, I revealed very dark, decomposed material. The clippings were already breaking down into the soil. In some years, I’ve added clippings whose original depth would have totaled four feet. By the time I finished in the garden in the fall, those clippings were nearly completely gone: rotted away while the vegetables grew.

Also nine days ago, I mowed my lawn for the first time this season. The grass and weeds were tall, and I ended up creating a pile in my garden that was about two-and-a-half feet deep, three feet across, and eight feet long.

Here’s the point: I made the pile of grass clippings directly on the weeds growing in my planting bed. I didn’t cut the weeds; I didn’t stomp them down; I simply piled on the clippings.

Yesterday and today, I started tilling. The pile of grass clippings had shrunk to about half its original depth. I used a rake to move the heap aside so I could dig, and lo, the weeds I had buried only nine days earlier were all but gone! Better still: the clippings had already decomposed significantly!

This is, of course, the whole point of mulch: it keeps weeds down and it decomposes slowly, releasing nutrients into the soil. It also holds in moisture: When I tilled where the grass clippings had been, the soil was moist and easy to work. When I tilled soil that hadn’t been covered, it was drier and harder to dig into.

Mulch Your Small Kitchen Garden

If you’re one of the lucky who doesn’t have enough lawn clippings to mulch your garden, look for a reasonable substitute. I’ve seen people lay down old carpet, cardboard, newspaper, and black plastic in vegetable gardens to suppress weeds around the desirable plants. Leaves will also work, though it’s best to shred them before applying them as they may move around easily in heavy winds.

Whatever you choose, mulch! If for no other reason than to reduce your need to weed, mulch!

Two caveats if you use lawn clippings as mulch:

  1. When it rains, the clippings will throw off a distinctive odor. The odor doesn’t arise from older, decomposing clippings… so you won’t get the odor if the clippings sit for a few days before it rains. In any case, the odor goes away in a day or two.
  2. Grass clippings stick to your feet. Leave your gardening shoes outside, or brush them off thoroughly before you go inside!

Some other discussions involving mulch:

  • Frugal Backyard Landscaping Ideas » Blogging Away Debt – The other day, I asked if you had any questions for me in regards to how I keep our costs low. I received a question on whether I had any frugal backyard ideas and I do! 1.) Use old things and turn them into landscaping …

  • As the Garden Grows | Do you put mulch on your garden beds? – Do you put mulch on your garden beds? Posted in Garden Maintenance, Garden Tips, Home and Lifestyle, In The Garden, Plant health, Summer in the Garden on Aug 14, 2007. If you’ve been reading my garden stories you know I …

  • Sea grass mulch – We got the idea of using it as mulch from our friend Jess, who wrote about her mulching technique on her blog, Dame de Fleur. We figured she and her dad couldn’t have taken it all, and there was probable enough left for …

  • Mulch types – – I’ve got a bit of landscaping needing a little mulching. I’ve laid down 4 or 5 layers of news print and topped it with some dyed mostly pine bark.


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8 Responses to “Mulch Your Small Kitchen Garden with Lawn Clippings”

  • I have come to suspect that the dry leaves from my ten huge trees (hickory, maple & oak) on my property may be the source of aphids in my garden. Does anyone else have an opinion on this? I still used them to cover my garden overwinter, and now I am establishing several worm composting bins to accelerate their conversion to dirt, (adding kitchen vegetative waste, lawn clippings, etc.). Does anyone know if the worms will succeed in getting rid of aphid eggs, if there are any in the leaves?

  • Mulching always works best if you put it on the desired spot just before it rains. Then, after a rain, work it into the soil. At the old Sunflower Ranch, we found that using any kind of leaf mulch that came off the trees [fruit, maple] in the autumn always added more insects to the soil if not composted and turned throughout the winter. We found that the best mulch was compost from a combination of grass clippings and leaves that got plenty of sun, moisture and regular turnings throughout the winter. If you keep your mulch on your yard, you’ll have weed free grass. We turned a horrible weed infested lawn [at the new Sunflower Ranch] into the greenest, purest lawn on the street by mulching every time we mowed. It’s thick, lush, and a complete joy now with NO weeds!

  • RW Cook:

    I too leave the grass clippings on the lawn to nourish the lawn. I suppose if it was a couple of inches deep it wouldn’t be a problem, but I’d be concerned if there were grass seedheads (like the Poa Anna in my lawn is doing right now) and sprinkling them through my veggie beds?

  • admin:

    Cindy: Thanks for your comment. While it’s true that your trees most likely host aphids, it’s unlikely that those aphids would have any interest in your vegetables. There are hundreds of varieties of aphids, and the ones that eat plants tend to prefer specific types of plants. So, one that likes Hickory leaves probably won’t eat garden vegetables.

    Sunflower Ranch: Thank you for your insights. I think you’ve seconded what I’ve said in earlier posts about composting: the best soil amendments involve composting.

    Lawn care? To me a lawn is horrible whether it’s weedy or weed-free. In fact, the weed-free lawns in my neighborhood disturb me because they draw regular visits from trucks filled with chemicals. The lawns serve no purpose and consume a lot of resources and time. I’m on a 10-year plan to eliminate the lawn from my yard, and I encourage everyone to find environmentally-responsible alternatives to their lawns.

    In any case, my approach isn’t for everyone… I’m just trying to show people that there are many ways to succeed with a kitchen garden.

    RW: Thanks for the observation. I might leave clippings on the lawn but my mower offers me no choice: it puts clippings into a cloth back that I have to empty somewhere.

    When I mulch with lawn clippings, I heap it deep–six inches or more until I finish mowing. There may be areas in the garden that have no mulch for a few weeks until I’ve mowed enough times to cover all of it.

    With each mowing I introduce, perhaps, Two Million Trillion dandelion seeds to my garden, along with plantain, crab grass, and other weed seeds (it’s an ugly lawn). The clippings dry out on top and rot underneath, but the weeds in my garden tend to be “garden weeds” that I rarely see in the lawn.

    When I pull or dig weeds out of my garden, I toss them on the lawn clipping mulch where they dry out and die as the mulch rots away.

    There are better ways to manage a kitchen garden… but this suits me well because I handle my yard clippings only once from mower-to-garden.

  • I agree with the author of the text. I am a fan of mulch. It helps me to have good harvest.

  • Yes, it is the very best way to handle your situation & I love the way you only need to handle the clippings once. Sounds like a great plan to eliminate the grass problem. Unfortunately here we’re restricted by our lease [many no-nos] and have the added problem of a very thin layer of topsoil over the glacial till. Very bad soil. I garden in pots only. Just getting the yard shaped up and easy-care was all I could do. [Will make our re-sale more attractive.] This is our temporary home and when we find a good plot [with house] I am planning on having a garden again. Hubby wants to have some small animals, so they will take care of the “lawn” whatever it looks like. LOL We think about 3 to 5 acres, mostly in pasture and garden — with no lawn whatever. I will certainly follow your advice for my own kitchen garden when the time comes! :D

  • What a great idea. I am one of those people who do not have a ton of lawn clippings, particularly because we own a reel mower (which does NOTHING!). However, we do have a ton of leaves and weeds!

  • Hello there! I’m a big fan of mulching too. And just like you, I use a lot of grass clippings. It’s a lot easier than making compost. ;-)

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