It’s that time of year when the days are getting shorter and the leaves are falling. And fallen leaves means lots of backbreaking, blister-forming raking. Or does it?
Most people rake their lawns because they were taught that a covering of leaves will suffocate it. That is usually not the case, unless you have a bed of leaves covered by mounds of snow all winter. Then you have a chance of growing snow mold, which is a pink or gray fungal disease that can attack your grass. So yes, it’s OK to leave the leaves. But there are other alternatives to raking that might be better for your lawn.
Whether it’s lawns, or any garden bed, success depends heavily on the prep work.
Fire Up The Lawnmower
As the leaves first start falling, use your lawnmower and mulch them in place as you cut your lawn. Scattering those chopped up leaves all about accomplishes a few things. First, you are adding a natural, free, nutrient-rich composted material to your soil that helps break up the cohesion of the soil so the 4-inch root bed of your lawn can go deep. As you feed during the cycle, the nutrients are easily absorbed at the base, making the top growth stronger. Second, you are adding a “thatch” material, which breaks down very fast, and helps prevent weed seed from germinating. That will lessen your usage of weed chemicals, and provide a thicker lawn.
Start your quest by first having the proper mower. If you are in the market, search out the “3-way” mowers that bag, recycle, and side discharge. All three steps will benefit your gardening, and save you time and money.
When the leaves start falling more heavily, covering your lawn, then you will want to bag them and use them elsewhere, in other beds. I always stress re-seeding a lawn around Labor Day, for a few reasons. Leaf fall is one. By the time your leaves are falling heavy enough to bag, your new lawn seedlings are rooted deep enough to stay put, and you will be cutting them, adding greens to your browns in your composting efforts.
Make sure to always finish your leaf recycling in the fall, because in the spring, the leaf material won’t compost down fast enough and becomes nothing more than a harbor place for insects. Also, if using any “weed and feed” products, do not use the collected materials in your edible beds, as the herbicide 2-4D is still in them, which will make you very sick, and will kill off any broad leaf plantings.
Composting your leaves saves time and money. In the time it takes to mow, you have fed, amended, and added moisture-retaining mulch, without buying more. You can still feed during the active feeding season, but you can back off on the amounts. Using the collected material makes great top dressing for your veggie beds during the winter and will be “cooked and ready” by late winter. You might very well see the steam rising from the pile on one of those late March mornings. Worms will be included!
If you are raking each week, you are destroying a valuable thatch bed, creating more problems, and if you are feeding, you rake up your product as well, negating your efforts.
I encourage those without the benefit of leaf litter to seek out those that just blow them to the curb. I have helped some neighbors bag those leaves, which I take home, scatter them all over my lawn, and mulch up with their mower. Newly built homes that were sodded or just seeded will benefit from this greatly.
Kevin Cutlip has been a Personal Garden Coach for over 25 years. He owns KevinsGarden.com, and is known nationwide through his gardening advice in his monthly newsletter, TV appearances and speaking engagements throughout the southeast.