What to do with all of those leaves?
Autumn is in full force and the leaves are changing. The fall colors make the landscapes picturesque and remind us of the holidays soon to follow. It is no wonder that autumn is so commonly a favorite season. While the changing leaves bring on a season of warm drinks, cozy sweaters and scenic drives, the changing colors are followed by rapidly fallen leaves.
While we enjoy the aesthetics of the season, we can be left asking the questions, “Are leaves really that bad for your lawn?” And if so, “What do we do with all of these leaves?”
“Are leaves really that bad for your lawn?”
The short answer to this question is no!
But with that, the amount of leaves, and how you deal with the leaves still takes a bit of thought and maintenance.
The longer answer, is still no, but with some considerations:
Lawns go dormant
About the time that the leaves are beginning to fall is when your lawn goes dormant over the winter. That means that water and sunlight are not as critical as they are in the peak of summer. That is why you can get away with leaf coverage compared to in the summer when your child left a toy out and now you have a yellow patch what seems like hours later!
Leaves are good for your lawn
Leaf debris in controlled quantities is actually great for your lawn. The debris contains some nutrients that if you removed completely, you may end up purchasing from a store later. The fallen leaves have the nutrients that the trees have stored up which are now all over your lawn.
Don’t smother the leaves
That being said, it is important not to smother your lawn, it still needs to be able to breath a bit. Leaving too much leaf coverage on lawns can also create leaf mold, which can actually be useful, we will get into that in the next question, but not very useful in a clump in the middle of your yard. In order to get the most benefit from these leaves we need to help start the process of decomposition.
We have established that some leaf coverage is ok, and actually good for your lawn and beds! But with some considerations. So the next step is, what is next? How to deal with these leaves.
“What do we do with all of these leaves?”
Depending on the amount of leaf coverage you’re dealing with and the situation of your property, i.e. if you have a compost area available, if you have a wooded area or if you are in a urban environment will dictate which, if not all, the steps you could or should take.
Step #1 – Mow the leaves right into your lawn
For step #1 we recommend that everyone use some leaf coverage as nutrients for your lawn. If your leaf coverage is light to medium, all you need to do is mow the leaves using the mulch setting on your mower right into your lawn and you are finished!
If you have a heavy coverage on your lawn, you will need to remove some leaf debris first until the coverage is at a light or medium coverage. Mulching too many leaves right into your lawn will suffocate your lawn even with mulching the leaves first.
Step #2 – Leaf mulch and/or mold
Leaf mulch is an excellent use for your fallen leaves, which are free by the way, but you will need to have a compost pile dedicated to the decomposing leaves.
The nutrients that the trees have sought out through their root system are available through the leaves that are all over your yard. Taking these nutrient rich leaves and decomposing them in a pile will turn your leaves into a mulch that is nutrient rich that your plants and gardens will love. When you add the leaf mulch to your beds the fallen leaves oxidize slowly which is feeding your plants year round. These leaves potentially keep your soil spongy, porous and moist
If you are serious about creating leaf mulch from your debris, this site gives an extensive breakdown and further explanation on the specifics of making mulch from your leaves.
Step #3 – Remove all leaves from hardscaping
While leaves have nutrients that can enrich your lawn and gardens they are not so great for your hardscaping. It is important to keep your patios, decks and walkways clear of leaves and debris so that they do not stain any of those surfaces. Also, more importantly, they can be a safety hazard on your hard surfaces. Leaves, especially in decomposition can be extremely slippery and should be removed from the surfaces that you frequent to avoid any slip and falls.
Removing leaves and debris can be done easily with a blower, or the “old fashioned way” of sweeping these surfaces until they are clear.
Step #4 – Gather and dispose
The next step is to get rid of whatever is left!
For gathering you can rake, which is the most common way to gather your leaves. You could also use a blower to blow your leaves so a collection area. Another way to gather leaves would be to use a tarp. This last method I suggest using in moderation. I would only spread a tarp if you have a tree that the leaves seem to be coming down all at once and quickly so that you can limit the amount of time that the tarp is covering your lawn.
The disposal of the leaves is what will vary the most by your situation:
In the woods
If you have a wooded area the best case scenario would be to dispose of your leaves in the woods. I am sure that you have noticed that the woods are covered in leaf debris and it seems to thrive. That is because it is designed to handle the leaves and debris and uses it its benefit. In fact, that would be true of your lawn and garden as well except that our aesthetic standards do not allow this more organic cycle.
If leaf removal is provided by your trash service or your municipality, you would want to follow their guidelines on how to remove your leaf debris.
If they allow you to simply rake them to the curb, it is important to make sure that your leaves are not blocking any drains and of course that the trucks can reach your pile and that they are not blocked in any way, ie a parked car.
If they require you to use bags for the removal it is important to follow their bag guidelines, plastic or paper? Also something to keep in mind is that you will go through a lot of bags. That being said, this is the “neatest” option because you will ensure that your hard work will not be undone with a sudden gust of wind.
The leaves this time of year really do seem to be unending but we hope with these tips you will feel more prepared to handle the debris and can sit back and enjoy the season!