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Rudi Kiefer: Mulching mowers help return nutrients to soil
Rudi Kiefer
Thanks to all the rain we had last month, the yard grass is growing by leaps and bounds. Where the area to be mowed is small, an old-fashioned, true “push” mower can do the job.

That’s an inexpensive, entirely human-propelled tool, available at local hardware retailers. It makes for great outdoor exercise but gets strenuous. Most of us prefer a mower with an engine. If you have one of the old type with a 2-cycle engine (oil needs to be mixed in with the fuel) and it’s no longer performing well, this is a good time to replace it. Two-cycle engines are much more polluting than the modern 4-cycle designs, where oil remains in the engine and needs to be changed regularly.

Bagging the grass clippings and discarding them with the trash doesn’t do your topsoil any favors. The nutrients stored in the grass are best recycled by using a mulching mower. Kits are available for most push-types, and certainly for riding mowers.

The kit consists of a cover to replace the discharge chute on the right side. One or more special cutting blades with upturned ends replace the old blades. They lift the grass clippings and shred them before letting them fall to the ground. Instead of long ridges of grass clippings produced by the chute, or a bag full of them, there will be a thin layer of shredded debris. As it decomposes, it returns nutrients to the soil and feeds the lawn.

Many homeowners like to cut the edge of the grass next to the road by going “against traffic.” Without a mulching kit, the chute then spits out lots of grass clippings onto the asphalt. To my horror, one neighbor in Flowery Branch would even empty his grass bags onto the street.

Fresh, moist grass clippings are a supreme sliding hazard for motorcyclists.

I’ve come across many places where the road makes a curve, to be suddenly presented with a mound of wet plant debris that gets slick as soap. There have been instances of motorcycles wiping out on it, and presumably follow-up lawsuits against the offending homeowners.

A mulching mower doesn’t discharge to the side, making the process safer for everybody. If the chute must remain in place, mow the lawn’s edge by going in the direction of traffic, discharging the clippings back onto the lawn.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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