Many people treat their lawns like a "crop:" they (over) water and (over) fertilize their lawns to encourage excessive growth. The "harvested crop" (grass clippings) is then bagged and disposed. Proper mowing, watering, and fertilizing practices result in more moderate turf growth, yet still produce a healthy, green lawn. Grasscycling can be practiced on any healthy lawn as long as the following turf management guidelines are followed.
Proper mowing is required for successful grasscycling. It is best to cut grass when the surface is dry, and keep mower blades sharp (dull blades can shred grass and create a potential entryway for disease). Follow the "1/3 rule:" mow the lawn often enough so that no more than 1/3 of the length of the grass blade is removed in any one mowing. Proper mowing will produce short clippings that will not cover up the grass surface. You may have to cut the lawn more frequently, or double cut, when the lawn is growing fast, such as in the spring, but much less when the turf is growing slowly. Additionally, in many areas of California, raising the mowing height in the summer encourages deeper roots and protects grass from drought and heat damage. (Check out our chart of recommended mowing heights.)
You can grasscycle with most any mower. Refer to your owner's manual or contact a local lawnmower dealer to learn if you can safely grasscycle with your existing mower. You may need to purchase a retrofit kit, and your mower dealer can assist you in selecting the correct one. Mulching or recycling mowers make grasscycling easy by cutting grass blades into small pieces and forcing them into the soil. You may also want to consider purchasing an electric mulching mower to reduce air pollution.
Turfgrasses vary in their need for water. Most grasses in California need about 1 inch of water every 5 to 7 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. Over-watering not only is wasteful, it also causes lawns to grow faster and requires more mowing. The best time to water is early in the morning, as less water is lost due to evaporation. Try to avoid watering in the evening because prolonged damp conditions may encourage disease development.
Check your irrigation systems regularly to avoid water runoff or over-spraying, especially if the lawn is on a slope. Look for broken, tilted, or clogged sprinkler heads, and adjust sprinkler heads to ensure even coverage. Remember to change your irrigation timer seasonally to match the water needs of the turf. Contact your local water agency for information and assistance on irrigation scheduling.
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 your local University of California Extension Office to determine the fertilization rates for your grass type. Regardless of the grass type and its fertility needs, as a general rule, it is better for the lawn to apply smaller quantities of fertilizer more frequently rather than larger amounts less frequently.