How to Decompose Dead Grass

Recycling dead grass into compost is an environmentally friendly use of organic waste.
Recycling dead grass into compost is an environmentally friendly use of organic waste. (Image: David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

The dead grass fills the green bin, spilling out onto the sidewalk and driveway. Rather than throw away organic materials, only to replace them with bags of compost from the garden center, you can build your own compost pile to naturally decompose the dead grass and clippings. In as few as eight weeks, the grass and yard waste become a warm, crumbling mass of fresh compost, ready to nourish your garden and potted plants with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, micronutrients and beneficial bacteria.

Things You'll Need

  • Gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Dust mask
  • Rake
  • Shovel
  • Newspapers or cardboard
  • Green ingredients
  • Brown ingredients
  • Tarp
  • Long-stemmed kitchen thermometer
  • Pitchfork (optional)

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Put on gloves, safety glasses and a dust mask to protect your skin, eyes and lungs from bacteria, debris and dust while building the compost pile.

Rake the dead grass into a pile, and remove it from the lawn or garden. Place it next to the site for the compost pile.

Turn or loosen the soil under the compost pile site with a shovel. This allows excess water to soak into the soil as the decomposition process works.

Put a thick layer of newspapers or several sheets of cardboard on top of the soil. The minimum size for a compost pile is 3 by 3 by 3 feet, so arrange the newspapers to cover a 3- to 4-foot square area. Wet the newspapers thoroughly before building the compost pile.

Spread green and brown ingredients in alternating 1- to 2-inch layers over the cardboard. Begin with a 2-inch layer of manure, and then add a 1-inch layer of the dead grass. Continue adding layers of green and brown materials until the pile is 3 feet tall.

Sprinkle the compost pile with water until it is damp but not soggy. Cover it with a tarp to protect it from excess water from rain or nearby sprinklers.

Check the temperature with a long-stemmed kitchen thermometer in two to three days. The pile should heat to 155 degrees Fahrenheit before you turn it to mix the ingredients.

Turn the compost pile with a shovel or pitchfork each time the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees. Add water if it begins to dry out; the pile should remain moist while the bacteria work to decompose the dead grass and other ingredients.

Crumble the compost in your hands when the pile stops heating. If it is dark and crumbly, like a good garden soil, it is ready to use.

Tips & Warnings

  • The green ingredients may include manure, fresh grass clippings, green weeds, kitchen scraps, overripe vegetables or fruits, coffee grounds and crushed eggshells.
  • The brown layers may include dead grass, dead weeds, hay, straw, leaves, peanut shells, sawdust and shredded paper.
  • Chop large items, such as weeds and old vegetables into small pieces for faster decomposition.
  • If space is limited, build the compost pile directly over the garden bed. When it has finished decomposing, simply rake it smooth and plant your garden.
  • Wash your hands and tools thoroughly with soap and hot water after handling the compost pile ingredients. Fresh manure may harbor harmful bacteria such as E. coli.
  • Use proper lifting techniques to protect your back; lift with your knees, not your back.
  • Don't use human or pet waste, meat or fish scraps, dairy products or charcoal briquettes in the compost pile. They may introduce harmful bacteria and smell bad.
  • If the compost pile smells or attracts flies, add more brown ingredients and bury the fly-attracting ingredients deeper in the pile.


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