The wind is a blowin’ and the leaves are a fallin’. It’s that time of the year to rake those leaves OR not? Most people rake their leaves because their neighbors do and they want to avoid the condescending glares for not doing it OR they were taught that leaves can suffocate a lawn. For years, we have been raking and bagging leaves because when leaves pile up with wet, heavy snow, it can mean problems for the grass below due to suffocating or snow mold (a fungal disease that attacks turf). So how should fall leaves be managed?
To begin, it is no longer acceptable to send leaves off to the landfill where they take up space and generate harmful gases. So if your town or county doesn’t offer leaf composting as part of its leaf removal program, other options need to be considered to keep the leaves out of the waste stream, appease your neighbors, and better your lawn or garden. K-State Research and Extension offers some great solutions for getting rid of fall’s abundant leaves that include mulching, composting, stockpiling, and incorporating.
If you’d rather not rake and bag, mow mulching may work for you. The leaves are mowed and left on the turf to degrade and returned to the soil. Research at Michigan State (MSU) has shown leaf mulching to be efficient and benefit the lawn when properly done. Besides cutting down on the need for fertilizers and other chemicals, the decomposing pieces of leaves cover bare spots between turf plants where weed seeds germinate. MSU research has shown a reduction in dandelions and crabgrass after adopting this practice for just three years.
Composting may require raking or mowing with a catcher. The horticulturalists at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offer some great suggestions on constructing and managing compost piles. While this option will take some time, the leaves will be reduced to wonderful organic matter usable in the garden.
Shredding and stockpiling leaves in bags or containers allow the leaves to be used as garden mulch the following spring and then tilled into the soil at the end of the season for added organic matter.
Leaves can be incorporated into the garden in the fall; Mother Nature will compost them over the winter. To do so spread a couple inches over the garden and work into the soil.
Not all of these solutions will work for everyone, but with a little thought, we can all do our part to keep the leaves out of the waste stream, be a good neighbor, and benefit our own lawn and gardens.