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Leave the leaves or remove them

“Dear Dr. MowCow,

I’ve seen a lot of articles telling me it’s better for my yard if I leave the leaves on top of the lawn. Can you please advise as to whether this is a good thing for my turf?

Eliza L.”

🐮Thanks for your question Eliza.

🍃🍁The short answer is…🍁🍃 It Depends.🍂🍃

Leaving the leaves on the forest floor is an essential part of natural nutrient cycling. Yards and landscape beds have different characteristics and leaf loads than forests. If you have a recently seeded lawn for example, you’ll want to remove the leaves to allow essential sunlight and air flow around the new sprouts.

Leaf removal clean up

LEAF DECOMPOSITION RATES VARY

If your yard has mostly small, thin, or fine textured leaves, such as an abelia shrubs and Japanese maples, these decompose much more rapidly than waxy witch hazel, magnolia or oak leaves which may take a season or two to breakdown. For light leaf loads, a good solution is to repeatedly mow over these leaves with a mulching mower such that they break down and will be incorporated into the soil. If leaves dropped on a nice slow predictable schedule, it would be easy to mulch fine textured leaves into turf grass each week.  But that’s not what typically occurs.

If the trees on your property have thicker larger leaves, or there are a lot of leaves dropping at once and you want your turf grass to thrive, you’ll want to move them off your turf areas. Turf grass requires sunlight for photosynthesis. If leaves cover the grass for weeks or months, the turf blades yellow and take a while to recover once the leaf cover is removed. If you have loads of leaves totally shading your turf for months,  you may end up with bare spots and fungal growth.

CAN I LEAVE THE LEAVES IN MY PERENNIAL BEDS?

Yes! MowCow crews love moving leaves to spots where they can compost, such as around the base of larger trees or along the wood line. In our experience, it is best to heavily shred leaves first before adding them to landscape beds. Keeping your leaves onsite keeps those nutrients cycling locally, and provides habitat for overwintering moths and other organisms.

IS THIS GARDENING APPROACH SUPPORTED BY RESEARCH? YOU BET.

Our Cooperative Extensive experts share this guidance (hyperlink to. https://gardenprofessors.com/noraking/

Fall leaves in garden bed

WHERE DOES MOWCOW TAKE THE LEAVES THAT THEY RAKE AND VACUUM UP?

We believe all leaves should be recycled back to the community from where they came. Thus, all leaves are taken to composting facilities where they are aerated and rotated until they break down into a fine-textured leaf mulch which is returned to the community for use in gardens and yards.

THE LEAF-TURF TAKEAWAY 🍁🍃

You or a professional can mow or mulch light leaf loads into your soil. Heavier leaf loads should be moved off turf areas and composted. Have a clean, happy fall!