Leave the grass and compost, experts advise Edmonton lawn buffs

Fans of perfectly pristine lawns may have a tough time adjusting to the city's new rules on waste management in the coming six months. The city is planning to scale back and possibly outright ban picking up grass clippings and leaves from curbsides around Edmonton.

'It’s rich, organic matter that will provide good nutrients for your yard'

'It's rich organic matter that will provide good nutrients for your yard'

4 years ago
Jim Hole of Hole's Greenhouses & Gardens says leaves and lawn clippings will be good for your yard if composted properly. 0:49

Fans of pristine lawns may have a tough time adjusting to the city's new waste management rules in the coming six months.

The city plans to scale back and possibly ban pickup for grass clippings and leaves from curbs around Edmonton.  

The utility committee gave its initial nod to the plan on Friday, with a final strategy due in June.

Coun. Michael Walters said he has had a few calls and emails since then from residents who want to know what to do come summer.

"It's on us to work with citizens to design programs that they're going to be able to use," Walters said Monday. "I have a lot of leaves, and I personally compost most of those."

But he acknowledged not everyone will be able to compost on the same level, and the city will have to talk to the public before making final decisions in June. 
Jim Hole of Hole's Greenhouses says it is time to start planning for this year's growing season despite the freezing temperatures. (CBC)

The waste services and operations branches plan to alter the pick-up schedules by September and are exploring options.

One is a seasonally scheduled pick up. Residents can also take their bags to an eco centre or designated waste yard.

Experts told CBC News that homeowners have plenty of tools besides plastic bags to deal with grass and leaves.

Perry Stothart, general manager at Classic Landscapes, said the main one is to leave cut grass on the ground.

The nitrogen and other valuable nutrients stay on the grass.

Be sure to cut the grass at a "healthy" length of 2 ½ to 3 inches, he said, and leave the grass clippings on top.

"They're going to break down," he said. "It's actually healthier for the lawn."

Doing that means less bagging, "which for all of us, I think, is the least favourite part of cutting the grass."
Jim Hole has added shrubs and plants to his yard at home to cut back on the amount of grass. (CBC)

Reasons people bag

Stothart thinks esthetics and tradition are behind the bag habit. He said science supports the idea of returning nitrogen to the lawn.

"If we can overcome those things and you can see that your lawn will be healthy and dark green and lush, and, you know, healthy root systems, I think people will get on board."

Jim Hole, horticulturalist and operator of Hole's Greenhouses, agrees it's one of the best ways to treat lawns. 

"It's rich, organic matter that will provide good nutrients for your yard." 

He recommends cutting lawns when the grass is fairly short, because long clippings take longer to decompose.

Hole agrees with the city's move to cut back on bagged grass and leaves. He said there's only so much room at the city's composting facility.

"That's kind of a wasteful way of dealing with these clippings."

Hole also suggested homeowners ask themselves how much grass they actually need.

"Maybe everybody takes off 10 to 20 per cent," he suggested.

He said he has reduced his lawn and added shrubs and ornamental plants.

'Nobody sees them'

"I've got a bunch of cedars in my yard that have the branches already down the ground level," Hole said. "I'll take the clippings and shove them under the cedars, they decompose beautifully there, nobody sees them."

He said the rich material is healthy for the trees.

One dissenting voice in the go-bagless campaign was Coun. Jon Dziadyk, who said he leaves his clippings on his lawn.
The city plans to curb pick up of bagged grass and leaves starting in September. (City of Edmonton)

"For a small segment of Edmontonians that really value the service, while fees have gone up continually for garbage and waste services, I think it's important that we continue to provide that same level of service," he argued. 

"Right now, I don't think it's the time to tell people that they can't continue with a behaviour that they've been doing for a long time, such as throwing out grass clippings."

Coun. Tim Cartmell said he normally leaves his grass clippings on the ground. Twice a year he trims his trees and bags the material, either leaving it at the curb or taking it directly to the eco station.
Coun. Jon Dziadyk thinks the city should continue picking up bags of grass clippings and leaves while residents are paying the same fees. (CBC)

Coun. Aaron Paquette said he doesn't bag his clippings either.

"It's easier not to," he said. "It also saves on plastic bags and waste management resources and my lawn seems to do better."

Waste services and operations branches are expected to present detailed changes to the city's waste management by June.


Natasha Riebe


Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.