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Ask a Gardener: Do grass clippings work as a garden mulch?

Erik Egan spreads grass mulch over the roots of freshly planted bamboo shoots. Really fresh grass clippings will rob plants of needed nutrients as they quickly decompose.
Erik Egan spreads grass mulch over the roots of freshly planted bamboo shoots. Really fresh grass clippings will rob plants of needed nutrients as they quickly decompose. McClatchy

Question: I want to mulch my gardens so I don’t have as much trouble with weeds, and I don’t want to spend too much money. I’ve heard that grass clippings work. Any suggestions?

Answer: With a little knowledge, yes, grass clippings will work. However, really fresh grass clippings will rob plants of needed nutrients as they quickly decompose; it’s not a good thing for your plants. So when you want to use grass clippings for vegetable or flower beds, first put down two or three sheets of newspaper or cardboard before the clippings. And don’t put down more than a couple of inches of grass, as too much will result in a gooey mess. By the time the newspaper or cardboard is decayed, the “hot” clippings will no longer be a problem.

If you are looking to use grass clippings with established shrubs, perennials or trees, you don’t need to be quite as concerned about the effect of the clippings. They will probably have enough deep root systems not to be affected.

In both cases, be sure to keep the grass clippings away from the trunk or stem of the plants.

Q: I know that there are plants that are poisonous to both people and pets. Which are the main culprits that could harm my very inquisitive puppy?

A: A surprisingly large number of plants can be harmful to pets. Reactions range from mild to life-threatening. Here is a list of the plants that veterinarians hear most about:

▪ lilies: including amaryllis, Easter and Stargazer lilies, can cause kidney failure in cats.

▪ Lily of the Valley: can cause death

▪ Anenome: can cause death

▪ Aloe Vera: violent symptoms

▪ Asparagus fern

▪ Daffodil

▪ Philodendron

▪ Jade plant

▪ Crysanthemums

▪ Cyclamen

▪ Foxglove

▪ Nicotiana

▪ Oleander

Q: For the first time this year I am growing heirloom tomatoes. And what success. I can’t believe how flavorful they are, so I want to add them to my annual vegetable garden. However, the seeds for these plants are much more expensive than the newer varieties. Would I be able to successfully save some seed for next year?

A: Because heirloom tomato seeds have been handed down for at least 50 years, they are open-pollinated, not hybrids, so you can save the seed and plant them from year to year. The seeds will most often grow true to the parent, unlike the case if you plant seeds from a hybrid plant.

Heirlooms have better flavor, and they’re not bred for shipping. They’re known for their wide variety of colors – from striped green to black – for their unusual shapes and for their longer ripening season. They’re vigorous growers and most likely will need serious staking. A small price to pay for such a superior tomato!

To save the seed, scoop seeds from a ripe tomato, ferment them in water for four days – any longer and they may germinate, which you don’t want. Separate them from the pulp dry very well. Store in airtight containers in the dark. Seeds should last three to five years.

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a life-long gardener. Her column will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com. For more gardening information online, go to whatcom.wsu.edu/ch/mg.html.

Note of Interest

The oldest surviving family of plants on earth is “Equisetum” or horsetail. There are 15 species, dating from 395 million years ago. They saw the dinosaurs come and go, and the first flowers bloom and trees grow. Think about this as you pull or dig the millionth horsetail from your garden! They are kinda pretty, even.

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