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Reduce Yard Waste

Leave It Lay

It has only been in the past few decades that residents have removed grass clippings from their lawns. Collecting grass clippings has been mainly attributed to the popular but false notion that grass clippings contribute to thatch buildup.

Residents should leave their grass clippings on their lawns by using a mower or mulching mower to break them into small pieces, using grass clippings and leaves as mulch, and using lawn clippings, leaves or broken or chipped twigs as garden path or playground cover. You'll reduce bagging time, save money, return precious nutrients and organic matter back to the soil, reduce the need for fertilizer applications, and keep the materials out of the waste stream.

Many lawn care experts have recommended altering our current lawn care practices in order to maintain a healthy lawn and to avoid excessive clippings. According to the Purdue University Marion County Cooperative Extension Service, the keys to a quality lawn are: proper mowing height and frequency, fertilizing primarily in late summer and early fall, and recycling clippings. The end result is an attractive lawn, less work and a clean environment.

Your county's Cooperative Extension Service [PDF] can provide additional written and video information on lawn and turf care.


We can easily put nature's recycling system to work in our gardens by spreading yard waste around trees, shrubs and other plants. This is called mulching. Mulching keeps soil loose and moist, smothers weeds, prevents soil erosion and releases nutrients as the material decomposes. Common mulching materials and uses include:

  • Grass clippings: Place a half-inch layer of untreated grass clippings around vegetables, flowers, trees and shrubs. Treated grass clippings should be left on the lawn.
  • Brown leaves: Spread a 3-6 inch layer around trees and shrubs out to the drip line.
  • Green leaves: Use it to cover garden beds through the winter.
  • Wood chips: Surround trees and shrubs with wood chips in a 3-6 inch layer. Chips also can be used to soften garden paths.

Note: Sawdust and wood chips should only be used as a surface mulch on trees and shrubs. Do not use woody wastes on annual planting areas where they can be mixed into the soil, and never mulch with pesticide – treated, diseased, or insect-infested plant waste.

Backyard Composting

Purchase a compost bin or make a simple, cost effective one using the 10 easy steps below:

  1. Choose a level area in your yard that is three by five feet square.
  2. Choose a spot that is near a water source, but away from direct sunlight and play areas for children.
  3. Make sure that you leave enough space for air to circulate through your compost pile.
  4. Fence the area in if you wish, using inexpensive poultry wire and stakes. You may also use cement blocks. Fence in three or four sides. Make sure you leave an area that you can open to get to the pile.
  5. After the area is prepared, start putting your grass clippings, leaves and other yard waste in the compost pile.
  6. Composting works better when you chop yard waste into small pieces.
  7. You will need to turn the pile every few weeks. Use a pitchfork to turn the pile so air is getting to all of it. Be sure to mix it up well.
  8. In dry weather, make sure that you sprinkle your compost pile with water to keep it moist but not soaking wet.
  9. It will take three to six months to have finished compost. When the waste becomes dark and crumbly and is uniform in texture, it's ready.
  10. Spread the compost in garden beds, under shrubs, around trees, or use it for potting soil. It's rich in nutrients and it makes an excellent replacement for mulch.

In the unusual case that your compost pile has a bad odor, you can mix in cat litter to control the smell. Since you are not using food scraps, you shouldn't have this problem.

What should and shouldn't be put into the compost pile?

Put in the compost pile:

  • Grass Clippings;
  • Twigs, leaves and weeds – except ones that have gone to seed, or spread by runners, such as Morning Glory or Buttercup;
  • Coffee grounds, filters and tea bags;
  • Egg Shells;
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps; and
  • Shredded newspaper. Do not add the glossy newspaper inserts, as they contain chemicals in the colored inks and coated paper that might be harmful to plants when you apply compost at its completion.

Don't put in the compost pile:

  • Diseased plants;
  • Destructive, stalky weeds;
  • Twigs, leaves and weeds that have gone to seed, or spread by runners, such as Morning Glory or Buttercup;
  • Animal or human waste;
  • Chemically treated wood products;
  • Glossy or coated paper
  • Ashes;
  • Meat, fish, or scraps and bones;
  • Oils and other fatty food products; or
  • Milk products.

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