Leaves that are not removed from your lawn can block sunlight and air from reaching the grass. The problem becomes worse when it rains -those fluffy layers of leaves turn into dense, soggy mats. The lack of air circulation can lead to turf diseases and may even smother the grass and kill it. But raking isn’t the only—or even the easiest—method of protecting your lawn’s health. It turns out that mulching leaves is what’s best for the health of your lawn. You can easily mulch the leaves by running over them many times with a mower to chop them into tiny bits, and letting the mower scatter them back into the lawn. As the mulched leaf bits decompose over the winter, they enhance the soil with valuable nutrients that feed the microbes and worms present in any healthy lawn. And compared with raking, mulching leaves takes MUCH less time and effort.
The first and most important rule is to set the deck of the mower to the HIGHEST SETTING to leave the grass as tall as possible. If the deck is too low, you’ll end up scalping the lawn and the grass will be vulnerable to weeds and possible to damage from winter temperatures. Better to leave the deck set high and make several passes with the mower from different angles to mince the leaf bits up to the size of a dime- and multiple passes will help scatter the bits around the lawn evenly. Properly shredded leaves are the size of confetti and will filter down between the blades of fescue where they won’t be noticeable. In summer lawns such as Bermuda, St. Augustine, or Zoysia, the shredded leaves will blend in with the brown, dormant grasses.
When you’re done, if there’s so much leaf mulch that you can’t see ANY grass, try one more pass with the bag attached to the mower, then scatter the leaf-litter that was picked up into your landscaping beds. Leaf mulch is also beneficial to planted beds this time of year, but it’s important to add mulched leaves to the beds NOW, so they’ll be fully decomposed by spring. If you wait until spring to leaf-mulch the beds, the nutrients won’t be broken down and available to the plants when they need it most.
It’s nice to know that the back-breaking job of leaf raking isn’t necessary- or even advised- for lawns in our region. So instead of hours of raking and bending over to fill plastic bags that could wind up in our landfills, simply ditch the bag attachment on your mower and enjoy a nice walk around the yard! If you have a landscaping service that usually mows for you, be sure to ask them to mulch the leaves for you instead of bagging. It’s better for your lawn, better for our environment, better for your back, AND, better for your wallet!