Realistically, every landscape requires some degree of maintenance that will produce trimmings, no matter how carefully it was designed or installed to prevent waste. These trimmings can be managed in many ways, including composting. However, from an efficiency perspective the best way to manage landscape trimmings is to simply leave them in place! Nowhere is this practice easier than on those green areas that make up a huge part of Californias landscapeslawns.
As we continually note, yard trimmings make up the largest single component of Californias municipal waste. It is estimated that grass clippings make up about half of all yard trimmings over the course of the year, and much more in areas with expansive suburban lawns.
University studies have shown that the average California lawn generates 300 to 400 pounds of grass clippings per 1000 square feet annually. This can be as much as eight tons per acre each year! Significant quantities of water, fertilizer, and labor go into producing all those clippings, and it is a shame to see that all go to waste if the clippings are thrown away. By practicing responsible turf management, including "grasscycling," a landscaper can both reduce those inputs, and at the same time eliminate the waste.
What Is Responsible Turf Management?
Responsible turf management refers to installing and maintaining a lawn in an environmentally sound and cost effective manner. By doing it right from the start, turf can be managed with only moderate water and fertilizer requirements, and the headaches of thatch removal and disease control can also be minimized.
By preparing the area correctly before laying turf or seeding, long term management can be eased significantly. Make sure that the area has good drainage, achieved through proper grading and underground conduits. Avoid installing turf on berms or severe slopes unless necessary. Other drought resistant ground covers might serve the purpose better than turf. Whether native soils are sandy or clay, the turf will benefit from the addition and deep tilling of well composted organic material. This helps the soil and grass plants better manage water and nutrients. Allowing for deep root growth will contribute to overall turf health and resilience.
Turfgrasses vary in their need for water. Most grasses in California need about one inch of water every five to seven days in the growing season and much less during slow growth months. Lawns watered too frequently tend to develop shallow root systems which may make them more susceptible to stress and disease. Deep, infrequent watering produces a deeper, extensive root system which enables turf to resist disease and stress. Overwatering not only is wasteful, it also causes lawns to grow faster and require more mowing.
It is a good idea to regularly check irrigation systems for even coverage. A simple audit can be performed by placing empty containers in a number of locations around a lawn, and then run the system. (Empty tuna cans work great, and are just about two inches deep.) See if the containers fill evenly, and how much water is delivered during a regular watering. Adjust sprinkler heads to avoid dry or soggy spots.
The best time to water is early morning, as less water is lost due to evaporation, and water pressure is at its peak. Try to avoid watering in the evening because prolonged damp conditions may encourage disease development.
Proper fertilization is essential in maintaining a healthy lawn. However, over-fertilization can weaken a lawn by causing excessive and succulent top growth. For moderate, even growth, use a combination of fast acting fertilizers (ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, or urea) and slow release nitrogen sources such as sulfur-coated urea, urea formaldehyde, IBDU or organic fertilizers. Avoid using large quantities of fast acting fertilizers. These fertilizers produce very fast growth for short periods.
Check with a local turf specialist to determine the fertilization rates for your grass type. Chances are you can get by with less than the recommended amount of fertilizer and still have a beautiful lawn.
Regardless of the grass type and its fertility needs, as a general rule, it is better for the lawn, and grasscycling, to apply smaller quantities of fertilizer more frequently rather than larger amounts less frequently.