How to Compost Grass Clippings

I don't mean to boast, but every year our tomatoes are the envy of the neighborhood. Not only do they grow fast, they produce the vegetable (or is that fruit?) in record time. The vines must be contained by large five foot wire cages, and the quantity of tomatoes is tremendous. But what's this got to do with composting grass clippings?

My husband would say it's almost everything. Other than planting the tomatoes in a raised bed, he swears that the de-composit-ion of organic matter is the magic formula. Organic matter includes leaves, grass clippings, straw (which we use to cover the gardens in the winter), and plant trimmings. You can also compost branches but they should be no greater than ½ inch in diameter or longer than 8 inches when added to the waste.

Although our grass clippings go to the garden and areas of the yard, many others compost their clippings in various ways. If people are not "grasscycling" (the act of allowing clippings to decay naturally on the lawn), then they are catching them in the mower's bag and taking them to the garden (as we do), bagging them for pick up (which costs all taxpayers), or composting them.

If you're interested in composting, the following are some important things to keep in mind:

Create Your Own Piles in the Back Yard

If you have room in your yard and it is not too unsightly looking, you can place compost matter in several piles. The first layer on every pile should be a "brown" layer, meaning that you should use wood chips, sticks, and leaves. These materials will prevent the clippings from clumping (which they tend to do as they contain water) and help with odor control.

Additionally, shredded cardboard and paper (in small amounts) is considered brown matter.

Grass clippings can be placed on top of this brown layer. Stirring up the matter in order for it to get oxygen is important to keep it dry, especially as you add more grass clippings. (One suggestion is to let grass clippings dry out before adding them to a pile or bin.)

Purchase Your Compost Bin

Most people use compost bins which can be purchased at garden centers or stores such as Home Depot. You can purchase a spinning composter for $179.00 from Home Depot on-line, an Exacto Trading Company Earthmaker 124 gallon composter for $279.00, or an Exacto Trading Company Thermoquick 110 Composter for $99.98 (all prices include shipping).

Check out for their bins, including both stationary and tumbling composters. While stationary compost bins typically hold a larger amount of matter (anywhere from 100-800 gallons), the tumbling composters are easier to use and often compost matter quicker than the stationary models.

Make Your Own Bin

You can also shop for material at Lowes to build your own bin. Go to and type in compost bin in the search bar. This will take you to their Creative Ideas for the Home and Garden Page. Click under the tab called 'Ideas Library' and you can view actual plans for building a two bin system out of wood.

If you're not willing or able to commit that much time or energy, you can build bins out of wire fencing held together with chain snaps or even a three-chambered bin which works similar to an assembly line (see for instructions.

Some Tips

If you apply anything such any chemicals to your lawn, be sure not to use those in your compost pile unless a good rain has rinsed them clean.

You can also put grass clippings on top of newspaper to help control weeds.

As grass clippings work as a FREE fertilizer and mulch (and help to grow the best tomatoes in the neighborhood), my husband and I use them in the garden as much as possible. We also put grass clippings around one side of the garage to keep weeds down. In between lawn cuttings, the grass clippings have enough time to dry out so we're never left with a slimy mess or foul odor.

Additionally, you can add lime to your compost in order to increase the speed of decomposition and prevent bad odors.