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Mulching vs Side Discharge – Which is Best for Your Lawn?

Mulching and side discharge are two common methods of mowing grass. But which one is better for your lawn? This is a dilemma that gardeners and homeowners often face. If you are trying to compare mulching vs. side discharge, you’ve come to the right place!

Gardeners tend to have varying opinions when it comes to mulching and side discharge. But generally, most people consider side discharge as a more practical approach. This is because side discharge mowers are quick, effective, and easy to use.

But mulching has its benefits too. For instance, mulching mowers produce finer clippings that are cut and recut multiple times and then forced back into the lawn. These tiny clippings decompose quickly and act as a slow-release fertilizer for your grass. So you don’t have to worry about collecting or disposing of them after mowing.

Now, before we get into the pros and cons of each method, it is important to clearly understand the difference between the two.

The Difference Between Mulching vs. Side Discharge

Firstly, side discharge mowers come with a built-in side chute and rely on strong vacuum suction to eject the clippings out of the chute. This not only increases the efficiency of mowing but also prevents clogging of the blades since the clippings are sucked and discharged out the side of the mower.

side discharge mower
Side discharge mower

On the other hand, mulching mowers do not eject the grass clippings. Instead, they use special mulching blades that cut and recut the clippings to produce a fine mulch. This mulch is recirculated under the mower deck and then directed back into the ground, where it works as a natural fertilizer for your lawn.

However, the downside with mulching mowers is the lack of strong suction due to the absence of a discharge chute. This increases the chance of the blade clogging if the grass is too long. A mulching mower also requires more operational effort due to increased drag between the ground and the deck.

Mulching mower
Mulching mower

Some mowers feature dual functionality and come with blades suitable for both mulching and side discharge. While these multipurpose blades get the job done, specialized blades for either purpose are far more efficient.

Is Mulching Better Than Side Discharge?

The answer to this question is somewhat subjective, and opinions tend to vary among gardeners. Yes, mulching might be better than side discharge in certain situations. However, side discharge might be more suitable in other scenarios.

Your choice of mulching vs side discharge will depend on some factors, including:

The Size of Your Lawn

Mulching is preferable for smaller lawns since mulching mowers are not as quick as side discharge mowers. Using a side discharge mower on a small lawn can create a mess as it will eject the clippings onto sidewalks or flower beds.

On the other hand, side discharge is perfect for a larger lawn. You can easily change the direction of the side chute to discharge the clippings back onto the lawn. Since side discharge mowers provide quicker and higher quality cuts, they are preferable for more extensive lawns where mulching would take significantly longer.

Mowing Conditions

Mowing conditions such as the length of the grass and wetness also directly impact the efficiency of mulching vs side discharge. Typically, side discharge is preferable for longer and wet grass. In this case, you may not be able to achieve the same quality of cut with a mulching mower. On the other hand, mulching is more suitable for mowing dry and shorter grass.

The Surroundings of Your Lawn

Side discharge may not be the perfect option if you have a small lawn with paved sidewalks. Using a side discharge mower in this case will cause a lot of mess. This is because side discharge mowers come with strong vacuum suction, which ejects the clippings several feet away. The same applies to a small yard with flower beds, water features, or garden furniture nearby.

Is Side Discharge Good for the Grass?

Side discharge might be a good option in some cases. For example, if you have a large area to mow, then side discharge can be a suitable setup because you will not have to worry about the flying grass clippings.

Since side discharge mowers come with self-cleaning functionalities, you will have few worries about clogging. This method is also suitable for grass that is taller or wet. However, since side discharge mowers are designed to give clean cuts, the resulting clippings may not work as an effective fertilizer.

Side discharge can improve mowing efficiency and get the work done fast. But mulching is far more effective if you plan to use the grass clippings as fertilizer for your lawn. Mulching blades are designed to produce finer clippings that are spread evenly in place instead of lifting and directing them sideways.

Furthermore, side discharge can also make mowing easier than mulching. Mulched grass clippings are fluffy and much lighter. As a result, there is significant drag and friction between the mower and the ground. So, you will have to move at a significantly slower pace or keep the deck raised to prevent clogging of the blades.

Mulching vs Side Discharge – The Pros and Cons of Each Method

By now, you already know that both side discharge and mulching have their uses for specific situations. But to help you compare mulching vs side discharge better, we will cover all their pros and cons in this section. Treat this as a checklist if you are deciding to choose either of the methods for your lawn.

The Pros and Cons of Mulching

Pros

  • Spreads finely cut grass clippings back onto the lawn, which works as a fertilizer.
  • No need to worry about bagging, composting, or disposing of the cut grass.
  • Does not eject clippings onto sidewalks or flower beds, which keeps your yard clean and tidy.
  • No risk of unintentionally flinging out items such as rocks from the discharge chute.
  • Suitable for smaller yards with shorter and dry grass.
  • Does not require cleaning up after mowing.

Cons

  • Slower and more effort to mow since the clippings are fluffier; hence, there is a higher drag between the deck and the ground.
  • If the grass clippings are not fine enough, they may take longer to break down and decompose.
  • Pests such as termites can be attracted to the mulch and invade your lawn.
  • Since mulched grass clippings are fluffier, they absorb water readily. Moist and warm mulch can create the perfect habitat for fungus to thrive. This might lead to brown patches on your lawn during the summer months.
  • Too much mulch cover on top of the soil can reduce oxygen levels in the ground, affecting the development of the grass roots.
  • If it rains or you water the grass after mowing, the thick coating of fluffy mulch may turn your lawn into a swamp.

You can read more about the disadvantages of mulching grass here

The Pros and Cons of Side Discharge

Pros

  • Side discharge blades are generally faster, allowing cleaner and quicker cuts.
  • Works well for both wet and tall grass.
  • Allows non-stop cutting and is faster than mulching.
  • Side discharge can return the clippings to the lawn as fertilizer by changing the chute’s direction.
  • Perfect for larger lawns that require both efficiency and speed.

Cons

  • Weed seeds and grass may end up in flowerbeds on the sides of your lawn.
  • Grass clippings might end up in the street, driveways, or sidewalks, creating a mess.
  • The discharge chute may fling hazardous items like small rocks or other debris.

Conclusion

In summary, both mulching and side discharge have their uses for specific situations. As we have discussed, mulching is preferable for smaller lawns and if you plan on using the grass clippings as fertilizer. A mulching mower produces micro-clippings or mulch that is recut multiple times and then propelled downwards into the ground, where it works as a slow-release fertilizer for your lawn.

On the other hand, side discharge is a quick and efficient method of cutting grass. A side discharge mower produces larger clippings and expels them through a side chute. Using side discharge for larger lawns rather than smaller ones is advisable to avoid creating a mess on paved areas and flower beds around your yard.

In some cases, you can convert a mulching mower into a side discharge mower by modifying the deck and replacing the blades. However, the convertibility features may vary among models. We suggest reading your mower’s instruction manuals before attempting a conversion.

That’s all for today! We hope to have clarified everything about mulching vs. side discharge in this article. You will now be able to choose either of the two methods depending on your specific situation.

Frequently Asked Questions

When Should You Use Side Discharge on a Lawn Mower?

A side discharge mower is suitable if you want to increase mowing efficiency, such as when cutting a large lawn. It is also ideal if you want to cut longer or wet grass. In most cases, side discharge clippings are not fine enough to be used effectively as a fertilizer.

Can You Use the Same Blade for Side Discharge and Mulching?

Yes, most mulching blades are multipurpose, which means they will also work with a side discharge chute. However, mulching blades are generally not as efficient for mowing because the bladed fins do not create a suction powerful enough. Standard mulching blades push down on the grass to create finer mulch. On the other hand, the blades on a side discharge mower produce large clippings and create a powerful vacuum suction that helps to expel the clippings out of the chute.

How Often Should I Sharpen My Mower Blades?

Both mulching vs side discharge requires you to occasionally sharpen your blades. This helps to maintain mowing efficiency. Generally, it is advisable to sharpen your mower blades after every 20 hours of use. So, you will have to sharpen the blades depending on the length and frequency of use.

 

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