Grass catchers are a lawn care essential that attach to the back or side of a mower and collect grass clippings instead of leaving them on the lawn. The grass can then either be reused as compost for the lawn or plant beds, or disposed of as yard waste. Grass catchers prevent thatch build up, lawn diseases from spreading, and pesticides and other chemicals used on your lawn from contaminating the rest of your landscape.
They can also be a huge inconvenience.
Most of them are bulky, in the way, and difficult to remove and dump. Many landscapers believe them to be high maintenance, but a necessary evil. That doesn’t have to be the case.
A high-caliber grass catcher can alleviate many of the frustrations plaguing landscapers. A quality grass catcher:
- Saves you time per project, which saves you money
- Makes it easier to remove and dump grass clippings
- Is lighter and more durable, requiring less maintenance
In this article we will cover:
- The benefits of using a grass catcher
- Common grass catcher problems and their solutions
- How to find the grass catcher that best fits your lawn mower
Benefits of Using a Grass Catcher
There’s an abundance of benefits to using a grass catcher. Here are just a few of them:
Wet Grass Woes
Grass grows fast, especially in the spring. To properly use grass clippings as mulch, you may find yourself having to mow a lawn every three to four days shortly after you’ve seeded and fertilized it. Maintaining this schedule can be a lot of work for landscapers.
On top of that, spring grass is frequently wet. “April showers bring May flowers” is a well-known idiom for that very reason. Anyone who has ever mowed wet grass understands its many challenges. Wet grass cuts less cleanly, resulting in larger clippings. It doesn’t mulch well, either. If you’re not using a grass catcher, the grass clippings can clump together on your lawn, squishing and suffocating the grass below.
It’s risky to assume that you will have the opportunity to cut dry grass every three-to-four days without a grass catcher so that fresh-cut, clump-free grass can provide a lawn with nutrients. It’s even less likely if you live in a damper climate, such as the Pacific Northwest. If you’d like to reuse the grass clippings, it’s more advantageous to collect and compost them so that can they be broken down and returned to the earth at a later date.
Thatch Build Up
Thatch is an intermingled layer of living and dead leaves, roots, and stems that accumulate between the layer of active growing grass and the soil underneath. While thatch has a few benefits, including its ability to increase your lawn’s resilience, it becomes problematic when it becomes more than ½-¾ an inch thick. Left untended, thick thatch limits air and the necessary nutrients your roots need to properly grow.
Grass clippings will damage a lawn with thatch problems. About 25% of thatch is made up of a compound called lignin. Lignin is resistant to decay by microorganisms, and one of the primary reasons why thatch builds up faster than it breaks down. Thatch has to be carefully monitored, especially if your lawn consists of denser grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, because these grasses tend to produce more thatch than its less aggressive counterparts, like tall fescues or perennial ryegrass. Using a grass catcher will help you maintain the thatch necessary for roots to grow without the excess that can have adverse consequences for your lawn.
If your lawn becomes diseased, leaving the grass clippings on the ground can exacerbate the problem. Fungal lawn diseases tend to be the most common. In order for them to occur, three factors must be present:
- Susceptible lawn grasses
- Disease pathogens
- Weather conditions that favor disease development
Your lawn is most susceptible when weather conditions are the most trying for your grass type. This occurs during summer’s hottest months for cool-season grasses, while the opposite is true for warm-season grasses. Monitoring your grass and identifying fungal disease threats is a great way to prevent diseases from happening. If your lawn does become diseased, use a grass catcher until the problem is resolved.
Sometimes you have to use lawn chemicals like fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides to best preserve your landscape. Using these require a great deal of caution, because when lawn chemicals are applied improperly they can run off into streams or toxify nutrients your soil needs to grow.
If you are using lawn chemicals, you should absolutely be catching your grass. Spreading and leaving chemical-exposed grass clippings on your lawn risks contaminating areas of your landscape that can be harmed by the chemicals you’re using. Instead of solving your problems, uncollected clippings can create new ones.
Common Grass Catcher Problems and Their Solutions
Almost every landscaper has been aggravated with their grass catcher at some point. From bag issues to grass types, here are the solutions to some of the most common grass collection problems.
Grass Bag Won’t Fill
We can empathize with the frustration you may feel when your grass bag or chute isn’t filling. Check to see if your catcher is clogged or if your bag is thatched. If your chute is clogged, simply clearing it may not solve the root cause of the problem. You should also check for damage or old dry grass that may have accumulated over time.
Thatch is also a common problem. Many landscapers clean their mowers as needed, but grass bags and chutes may go ignored. Hold a light to your bag of chute. If you can’t see through it, then air may not be passing through the bag. If this is the case, then grass won’t be carried into the bag. Use a stiff brush or a power washer to remove the thatch.
If clogging or thatch isn’t the problem, your blade may be damaged or worn out. You should also check to make sure that your throttle and engine are performing optimally.
If you’re not monitoring how much grass you’re collecting, you risk overflowing your grass catcher. Doing so can damage the catcher or clog your lawn mower. Dumping out grass clippings can be a pain because you have to stop your mower, remove the bag or chute, dump it, reattach it, and start mowing again. High-quality mowers have designs that can streamline the process, saving you a lot of time and headaches.
If you’re mowing the lawn with a grass collector but are still finding grass clippings on the ground, it’s likely that your grass catcher is either poorly attached or damaged. Detach your catcher and then properly fasten it to your mower. If the problem persists, you may have to buy a new one.
Wet grass is heavier and won’t be thrown as far into the grass bag or chute. It’s also stickier than dry grass, making it more likely to clog and prevent your grass catcher from filling. Wet grass also sticks to the underside of your mower, requiring you to clean it more frequently. For best results, avoid cutting wet grass whenever possible.
Your grass should be between 2 ½ - 3 ½ inches tall. If it’s too short, you risk burning the soil. If it’s too long, it can fall over and look unkempt. No matter how tall it is, you should only be cutting a third of the blade at a time or an inch of grass, whichever is shorter. Adjust your deck height accordingly. We recommend mowing regularly and keep your mower deck clean.
Finding the Grass Collector That Best Fits Your Mower
Grass catchers are not one size fits all. In fact, the opposite is true. Do your research and make sure you know exactly what kind of grass collector will fit your mower. Failing to do so can result in grass trailings, bag or chute breakage, and damage to your mower.
Grass catchers vary in the following categories:
- Catcher sizes and dimensions
- Door dimensions
Catcher Sizes and Dimensions
Catchers typically vary in size, with small catchers being 3.3 cubic ft. and 2.64 bushels, to XL catchers, which are 6.2 cubic ft. and 4.96 bushels. Extenders for regular and XL catchers can also increase the cubic footage and bushels. For reference, one cubic foot equates to about .8 bushels.
Catcher dimensions also vary. Regular catchers are typically 37’ X 18’ X 20’, while XL catchers are 43.5’ X 19’ X 22’. You can also get extenders for both.
The weight of your grass collector is an incredibly important factor. Heavier grass catchers can make mowing very difficult, especially if you’re using a push or a no-turn mower. Depending on your grass type, grass usually weighs approximately 7-12 lbs per cubic foot. The average suburban lawn in Washington is 9,858 square feet. You don’t have to do the math to know that grass can quickly get very heavy. If it’s wet, it’ll be even heavier.
The lighter or more durable your grass catcher is, the better.
Door dimensions on a grass catcher are usually 16’ X 17’ for a regular catcher, and 17’ X 18.5’ for an XL catcher.
If you’re uncertain about your catcher's door size, or if you are trying to find the best grass catcher for your lawn mower, reach out to our experts. We’re always happy to help!.
Q. What are other potential problems that I may run into when mowing wet grass?
- If wet grass is too tall, it can strain your mower and can even cause it to overheat. Powerful commercial mowers with sharpened blades don’t experience these problems as often, but the grass still gets clumpy and can block up the mower’s deck. After a cold winter, your soil and greenery is very tender - hence why it’s not recommended to heavily fertilize your lawn at the turn of the season. When wet, the soil is tender and slippery, and grass roots can easily be ripped out by the mower tires.
Q. Do ride on lawn mowers have grass catchers?
- Ride-on mowers are great for catching grass! The catchers on these mowers are designed similar to a walk-behind mower. When the grass is cut, it gets thrown straight back into the catcher.
Q. Can I occasionally leave grass clippings on my lawn?
- If you do decide to not collect grass clippings, we recommend that you only do some once in a while - especially if you’re picky about how your lawn looks. You should also take into consideration how much grass you're cutting (don’t cut more than an inch at a time), how much grass you're leaving (at least 2’ - 2.5’) and the condition of your lawn. Decomposition can sometimes take longer than you think.
Q. What is a mulching blade, and should I use one instead of a grass catcher?
- Mulching blades chop grass finely and drop them clippings back onto the lawn. While they can be helpful, they can also cause clogging problems, especially if your grass is long or damp. Also, mulching blades are not designed to disperse grass clippings evenly. You may find yourself having to manually distribute your grass clippings, which will take extra time and still not give your lawn that clean look.
Q. What should I do with my grass clippings after I use them?
- Once you’re done mowing your lawn, you may find yourself left with heaps of grass that you don’t know what to do with. If the grass is healthy, you might want to consider composting it. Grass has a high nitrogen content, which your lawn will love. If it’s diseased or wet and clumpy, putting it in the yard waste bin is likely your best option.