We all know that recycling clippings returns nitrogen back to the soil and can lower your nitrogen fertilizer needs. But how much fertilizing can you actually save? Research results are scattered all over the board. One bit of research back in the early 80s claimed that this could reduce fertilization by 30 percent. More research on the subject in 2000 claimed you could achieve a 50-percent reduction in fertilization by returning clippings, and a 2002 research report claimed 75-percent reduction. Most recently, researchers in Colorado and California suggest that the discrepancies may lie in, among other things, the length of time under which the studies were performed. To better predict what the long-term effect of returning clippings is on nitrogen fertilizer requirement, researchers utilized a computer model called CENTURY. The model takes turf age into consideration as well as other factors. Based on model predictions, the researchers found that by recycling clippings in turf for one to 10 years after planting, nitrogen requirement could be reduced by 25 percent, by 33 percent if you recycled clippings for 11 to 25 years, 50 percent for recycling for 25 to 50 years and 60 percent for continuing to recycle for more than 50 years. So tell your kids to start recycling clippings now if they want to see a 60-percent reduction in nitrogen fertilizer need.

Source: Y. L. Qian, W. Bandaranayake, W. J. Parton, B. Mecham, M. A. Harivandi and A. R. Mosier. 2003. “Long-Term Effects of Clipping and Nitrogen Management in Turfgrass on Soil Organic Carbon and Nitrogen Dynamics: The CENTURY Model Simulation,” J. Environ. Qual. 32:1694-1700.

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