Leave the leaves and keep your lawn healthy
Leave the leaves, you don’t need to rake them up. Does this sound like death to your lawn? Not necessarily.
Chopped leaves may be left on the lawn, or used as mulch in flower and vegetable beds.
Whole matted leaves, left to accumulate during fall and over winter, will cause lawn grass to die. But leaves that are regularly chopped up with a mulching mower can be left right on your lawn, and will nourish your grass.
You will need to mow frequently with a mulching mower, perhaps twice weekly when leaves are falling quickly. You should still see grass blades sticking out through the leaves after they have settled a few days.
I like to use the mower bagging attachment to pick up the thickest leaves with the push mower, then let my husband mow the rest.
I place the chopped leaves on my vegetable and flower beds for the winter, which allows the leaves to start breaking down, and attracts beneficial soil organisms.
In the spring I remove them from the vegetable area to let the soil dry out for planting, then put them back as mulch when the plants are a few inches high. Chopped leaves stay where I put them all winter, unlike whole leaves that blow all over the yard.
If you Google, “Mow leaves lawn” you will find several references supporting this concept. One of the best articles I found on this topic was published in Fine Gardening Magazine.
This article also advocates allowing leaves to remain on flower beds. You need to be careful to not allow the leaves to cover the crown (center) of your plants.
The soil does need to breathe, so in the spring I use a narrow rake or cultivator to loosen them up, then put wood chip mulch on top, which is a neater appearance.
I frequently read that allowing tree leaves to stay in place promotes disease, yet these statements never mention specific diseases. I only agree with removing plant material if diseases are already present (i.e., black spot on roses).
Vegetables are more prone to insect and disease damage, so all of this leftover plant material should be removed from the planting area and composted.
My most recent issue of the New York State Conservationist Magazine describes how the village of Irvington has discontinued leaf pick up.
I would love to see this approach considered by communities in this area. I believe the practice of picking up leaves was established before mulching mowers became available.
Now, it is an unnecessary taxpayer expense, and not in the best interest of our environment.
Julie Brocklehurst-Woods has been a Master Gardener Volunteer with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Livingston County for over ten years. She enjoys helping all gardeners become successful gardeners, especially helping people identify tools and strategies to prioritize and simplify their gardening tasks. She works part-time as an occupational therapist with Finger Lakes DDSO.