Managing Fallen Leaves

Reiman Gardens fall leaves in reds oranges and yellows

The wonderful fall colors of deciduous trees are one of the best parts of autumn. The management of the subsequent piles of leaves is one of the least desirable fall chores in the garden. Leaves allowed to pile and cover the lawn can cause serious issues with turf health. The thick, wet mat of leaves can smother grass leading to dead and bare lawn patches the following spring. There are many ways to manage these fallen leaves.

  • Raking and bagging – the most familiar option for leaf management prevents turf from being smothered but takes a lot of time and work, and then what do you do with all those leaves? Collected leaves can be:
    • Used to start your compost pile. In a very short-time you can great a leaf compost or leaf mold to use on all your garden beds.
    • Added to vegetable gardens. When you turn the soil this fall, turn collected leaves in with it. The veggies will love the additional organic matter.
    • Use as winter mulch. Using 4” to 6” over perennials or around the base of shrubs can provide a winter “blanket” for the plants. Be sure to only add this mulch after the ground has frozen and to remove it before the ground completely thaws.
    • Send to city compost piles. This will cost a few dollars but can get them out of your way.
  • Mowing into the lawn – what may have once been consider a “lazy” way to deal with fallen leaves is now being show through research to actually be beneficial to the lawn. The leaves cannot remain whole, but chopping them up allows them to fall in between grass blades, decompose quickly and provide needed organic material. A few things to keep in mind:
    • Use a mulching mower and walk slowly. The finer you chop up the leaves, the better.
    • Dry leaves will chop up better than wet, so be sure you let the lawn dry out.
    • Mow leaves often through the season. While the research shows you can mow up to 18” of leaves, mowing a blanket of leaves 1” to 3” deep will be easier.
    • It can get dusty; wear a dust mask if needed.
    • Watch for twigs, sticks, and other items hidden in the leaves. These items may damage the mower or fly out and hurt the gardener!
    • While the leaves will add fertility to the lawn, it will not replace your current fertilizer regiment.
    • It has no negative impact on lawn health, including soil pH, thatch build-up, insect or disease issues, and weed infestation.

Prepared by Aaron Steil, Assistant Director