Mulching vs Side discharge vs. Bagging Which is Best?

Mulching Vs side discharge vs bagging! These three terms are probably the most confusing for a new or intermediate lawnmower owner. Which one should you pick? What’s the difference between all of them?

In this article, I’ll try to answer these questions, as well as give you some tips on how to choose the right mower for your needs, depending on whether you have a small garden or a large one.

I’ll look at each method in detail and explain exactly how they work, when they’re best used and how they can benefit your lawn.

Let’s begin!

What is Mulching?

Mulching is simply the process of leaving grass clippings on the ground after mowing your lawn. It is a popular way to cut grass as it leaves the organic clippings to break down and act as a natural fertilizer for your lawn.

Mulching can save you lots of work time on your lawn. Instead of worrying about how to do away with your grass clippings, you leave them right in the yard as you work your way across the lawn whilst mowing.

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Why Mulching Benefits your Lawn

What I find particularly useful about the mulching method is the fact that it replenishes your yard’s nutrients by repurposing all the grass clippings into fertilizer while also acting as a protective cover for the grass. It also makes the activities of soil organisms such as earthworms easy. This method also controls erosion as it covers your lawn and prevents water from wearing out the topsoil.

Additionally, your lawn will retain moisture, as the mulch cover reduces evaporation and protects the soil from overheating. Finally, having a sufficient cover of mulch clippings helps to prevent unwanted lawn weeds from growing too.

I would recommend the mulching method because of its significant role in keeping the soil ecosystem balanced. However, if you love additional work, there are substitute methods.

Mulching Vs Bagging Clippings

There are plenty of benefits to mulching there’s no doubt about it. But there are situations where bagging clipping is either the only option or a preferable option. So let’s look at when to mulch and when to bag.

When should you mulch?

Mulching can be done at any time during the year, but the optimum time is spring and summer.

During this ‘growing period,’ there will naturally be more lawn growth to cut and mulch with. However, it is not advisable to mulch too often leaving too many clippings on the lawn’s surface or to mulch too late in the season which can lead to poor drainage or fungicidal disease.

Lawn mulching is best done during the growing season so that the clippings can be incorporated into the soil immediately. During warmer weather, the breakdown of the organic material is fast enough to deliver all of the nutritional benefits of the nitrogen-rich lawn clippings.

Little and Often

During the height of the growing season, I would recommend mulching every other cut. This will help to keep down the growth of weeds but also encourage good grass growth by allowing sufficient light and air to reach the lawn.

Too many clippings left to sit on top of a lawn can cause thatch to build up. The problem with thatch is it acts like a blanket over your soil causing it to heat up fast in hot weather and preventing air from reaching plant roots in cooler weather.

Thatch build-up will make mowing more difficult as the mower blades will have to push through thick layers of grass and detritus instead of cutting cleanly through healthy upright grass blades.

Don’t Mulch Wet Lawn

A word of warning…you should avoid mulching after heavy rain or when the ground is wet. Wet grass will form clumps and your mower will not be able to mulch the clippings into a fine enough grade to allow a healthy degradation of the organic material.

Instead, it will cause clippings to stick together and increase the risk of fungal disease or it may lead to yellowing or browning of the lawn.

Newly Seeded Lawn or Sod

If you have just planted your new lawn then try not to mulch too soon, as it may cause root damage. If you have established a healthy root system, then mulching will benefit your lawn by improving soil structure and helping retain moisture in dry periods.

When Should You Bag Grass Clippings?

Bagging clippings are an effective way of keeping your garden tidy and free from unsightly mess, especially if you have children or pets who like to play on the lawn. It also makes it easier to collect the grass cuttings for composting or mulching later on in the year.

If you want to collect your clippings, you can use a mulching blade or a bagger attachment to collect them. This can be done at any time, but it’s best to wait until the grass is dry so that it doesn’t clog up your mower’s discharge chute or bagging attachment.

If you live in an area where there’s a lot of rain and humidity, it may be better to bag your clippings instead of mulching, especially if poor weather is forecast.

The beauty of bagging is that perfect clean lawn finish. This is preferable for many people during the main summer period or perhaps over the summer holidays when the family may use the lawn more often. It’s just the practicality of not having grass clippings everywhere.

There are two other times when bagging becomes something of a necessity over mulching.

Weed Control

If your lawn is suffering from weed infestation you should be looking to bag your lawn cuttings. You will not want to be spreading seed heads across your lawn and helping the dandelion propagation process.

In this instance bag your lawn clippings and dispose of them in the garden waste bin, do not compost them.

Fall Lawn Clearing

Around fall is when leaves begin to cover your yard; having a bagger in hand, on-time will save you the headache of raking. Also, collecting grass clippings in bags can help you prevent the spreading of disease from plants. Additionally, you could also keep a compost pile for your clippings and leaf drop. However, a Lawn Sweeper is also a great idea this time of year.

What Should You Do With Lawn Clippings in Fall

Instead of tossing your grass clippings into a bag and disposing of them, you can utilize them to build back nutrients in your yard. First, you need to remove thick clippings from the selection as this can prevent light from reaching the soil underneath.

You can also throw your grass clippings into the compost pile. Before you throw those clippings into the waste bin, think of the rewards your lawn can get from it.

Downsides to Mulching 

Even though most people see mulching as the ultimate solution to their lawn care, it still can have a few downsides.

  • Foul smell: The first is that many people consider the smell of freshly mown grass to be unpleasant. If you’re one of these people, then you may want to consider bagging the clippings.
  • Difficulty mowing the lawn: The biggest downside to mulching is that it can make the lawn more difficult to mow. Mulched clippings are often lighter and fluffier than bagged ones, and they create a lot of drag on the mower’s discharge chute. You’ll have to mow at a slower speed or raise the deck height so that you don’t end up with a clogged discharge chute.
  • Delayed decomposition: Another downside is that it can take a long time for the clippings to break down and decompose if they are not mulched fine enough. In this situation, I would go over the lawn again and do a second pass.
  • Pests: Mulch left on the lawn can be an invitation for pests like ants and slugs.
  • Fungus growth: Fungus thrives in moist environments, so mulching can contribute to fungal growth on your lawn. This can lead to brown patches throughout the summer months and prevent grass from growing properly during periods of drought or heat stress.
  • Low oxygen: Intentionally covering the topsoil with too much mulch can starve the soil of Oxygen and affects your plant root development.
  • Waterlogging: A well-cared lawn can turn into a nightmare overnight. In cases of heavy rainfall, the waters will be collected by your mulch, turning your beautiful lawn into a messy swamp. Avoid using thick mulch to prevent this from happening.

Can all Lawn Mowers Mulch

Not all mowers can mulch. Mulching lawnmowers feature curved blades and are designed with a domed cutting deck for cutting, suspending, and recutting grass into tiny pieces that are subsequently deposited in the lawn.

Whereas conventional mowers use flat blades and cut grass in a single sequence. After cutting, it disposes of the grass into a bag or onto the mower.

So if you want a mulching lawnmower, you will need to check the product features to make sure the product is specifically designed with mulching in mind. Many high-quality mowers come as 3-in-1 with mulching, bagging, and side discharge features.

What is Mower Side Discharge?

Side discharge mowers are usually the preferred choice among professionals. Unlike mulching, side discharge sprays grass clippings onto the lawn. Even though it returns the grass clippings to the lawn’s surface, it is a different approach and results in mulching.

Side discharge mowers have discharge chutes to eject grass clippings. As the grass clipping is cut by the mower blade, they flow through an exit chute into a pile on the lawn, usually to the side of the mower. There is often a directional control lever on the discharge chute, so you can adjust the angle of grass discharge.  

Side Discharge Mower
Side Discharge Mower

Since the clippings are being discharged away from the mower deck, it results in less clogging of the blades, which in itself allows for extra power. Plus the discharging of grass via the chute reduces the accumulation of grass under the deck

The clear deck allows for more proficient cutting and therefore faster mowing. Although side discharge can create a heck of a mess, it is, however, very efficient when dealing with long grass, and large yards.

Advantages of Side Discharge

Let’s run down a few of the advantages of using a side discharge mower and unravel exactly where they excel.

Speed of Cut

I have already mentioned that the side discharge mower cuts the grass and passes the clipping straight out of the chute leaving the cutting deck clear. This creates an efficient and clean deck free from clogs. This in turn allows the mower to be pushed at a faster pace without needing a second cut to mulch the clippings

No clippings bags are to be emptied. If you have no bag to collect grass clippings then it won’t be getting full and need emptying. Okay, you may choose to rake up the clipping at the end of your mowing but even so depending on the size of your lawn and the length of the clipping it can be ultra-fast using side discharge on short grass.

Quality of Cut

The quality of the cut is excellent with side discharge mowers. As we have discussed the clear-cutting deck area allows for maximum blade speed. The blade will also remain sharper for longer with its single-cut motion compared to a mulching blade.

Capable of Handling Wet Grass

If you are cutting wet or damp grass you will know it clogs and clumps. Side discharge mowers will have the space under the deck to pass that straight out of the chute with relative ease compared to bagging or mulching mower.

For professionals, the side discharge is their preferred choice unless they have a special request not to use it. This helps them accomplish more work without the need of pausing to clean their mower while on the job, this can be frustrating. Still, they won’t have to worry about disposing of grass clippings as they let them spray about the lawn.

Homeowners might practically not have enough time on their hands to use the mulch mower. Of course, it takes time and continuous cleaning while working due to grass clogging the blades. I believe you won’t like to spend the whole day mowing when you have other things to do. With the side discharge, you are rewarded with fast-swishing blades like a samurai. This means the blade will chop down the grass.

A bagger can be helpful if you have a small lawn, but your cutting efficiency will be reduced because of the vacuuming of the grass clippings. This is the reason you will see most homeowners with large yards use a riding mower instead of the traditional mower that has a bagger.

With the side discharge, you get a non-stop mowing experience. You don’t have to take a break to empty bags. Plus you get a better quality cut and finish.

Disadvantages of Side Discharge

The main disadvantage of a side discharge mower is the need to stay on top of the length of your lawn. What I mean is, if you cut your lawn regularly then the side discharged clippings are short and can sit on the lawn without too much of a problem

Once your lawn gets too long the clippings become heavy and thick and leave a load of grass sitting, which can cause a host of issues including browning or yellowing of the lawn.

Another problem with a side discharge mower is that the grass clippings may spray onto pathways, sidewalks, driveways, and other areas you would like to keep free from grass clippings.

It can also cause discomfort, grass can be clingy, and when you walk through them; you get your pants and shoes stained, having your denim jean stained green is not fun at all!

Mulching Vs Side Discharge

Mulching is an excellent way of cutting grass because it leaves relatively little mess behind. Not only does this make your lawn look great, but it also helps to improve soil quality by way of introducing organic matter and nutrients back into the soil.

This also means that there is no need for bagging or raking after mowing your lawn.

Side discharge on the other hand is a method of cutting grass that provides a neat and clean cutting finish, which many people professional grounds people prefer.

Side discharge ejects clippings out to the side of the mower so they can be collected later by hand. This means a secondary task of picking up the clippings, but many purists argue that the cut quality of a side discharge mower is superior and worth the extra work.

You will also get a much faster cut with a side-discharge mower. If you think you are performing a single pass compared to a mulching system that needs to chop the grass twice…one to cut and a second slice to mulch. Therefore you need to work slower to allow this process to happen effectively.

A side discharge mower is often less expensive than one with mulching capabilities. This makes it an attractive option for those on a budget.

Overall, there’s no right or wrong answer when choosing between mulching or side discharge, it all comes down to personal preference and how often you intend to cut your lawn.

I find side-discharge mowers particularly efficient, especially when it comes to speed and the quality of cut you want out of it.

If your lawn is a large, open expanse, where you can cut grass without the fear of spraying it onto sidewalks and streets, then the side discharge mower is a good bet for efficiency and to reduce the risk of any fungal infection.

Choosing The Right Mower

Before you pick a lawnmower, you need to know what you stand to get out of it. For example, you may benefit from opting for a mulching mower if you plan to use it on a small to medium-sized lawn. However, if you plan to mow a much larger space, and do it regularly then a side discharge mower may be preferable.

Then come fall and early winter you need to be bagging.

To save you the dilemma of choosing condition-specific mowers, they are mowers that do the work of a side discharge, bagger, and mulch in one mower called 3-in-1 lawnmowers.

FAQs Mulching Vs Side Discharge Vs Bagging