well, sort of.
There are plenty of reasons why keeping leaves on your property is a good idea. Here are three:
- First, removing the leaves is a waste of perfectly good mulching material. Have you ever raked up those leaves to place at the curb, then headed out to the garden center for bags of mulch to put in your beds? Yes, fresh new mulch looks great, but so can chopped up leaves.
- Second, municipal leaf hauling and composting costs our towns money. Fuel, equipment, labor are all needed for fall leaf clean collection. If your town doesn’t compost, the cost is even higher and extremely wasteful.
- Last, have you ever raked those leaves into a nice neat pile at the curb only to see them blown around the next day? Or blocking storm drains because they are on the street side of the curb? You did know they shouldn’t be on that side didn’t you? How hard is it to drive down narrow streets with piles of leaves on the street?
Personally, I think the only legitimate use for leaf piles is to please exuberant children. Compost piles are a close second, but who has room for one that can accomodate all those leaves? Think about it, trees use nutrients from the soil to build their leaves, the leaves senesce and fall. Many valuable nutrients are still in those leaves. We remove the leaves, robbing soil organisms of their own nutrition (from the organic leaves). Finally, we add fertilizer to replenish the lost soil nutrients which the trees then use… ad infinitum.
So, what can you do with all those leaves? They can be used to mulch planting beds, natural areas (so-called, but usually far from natural) and even lawns.
First, chop them up. This will increase the surface area of the leaves and allow decomposers to break them down more easily. Whole leaves (at least large ones) mat up keeping water and oxygen from getting to the soil below. This tends to create anaerobic conditions in which most soil organisms cannot survive. Dry whole leaves tend to blow around and rarely stay where you want them (until they are wet and matted). Mowers can be used to chop the leaves. Mulching mowers are great when you can just leave the bits where you are mowing. Mowers with regular side discharges will send the leaf pieces where you want them. A bag (this usually gathers dust, doesn’t it?) can help collect the leaves to be placed where you want them. You can also use a leaf shredder or chipper. The leaves must be dry for the best results in both chopping and spreading. So get out there before it rains but sleep in a bit to wait until the dew dries in the morning.
Finely chopped leaves can even be left right on your lawn. Well, really IN your lawn between the blades. The tighter your lawn, the finer you should chop. You could run over the leaves several times with a regular mower but a mulching mower would work even better (you’ve been meaning to get one of those anyway, haven’t you?).
Studies have shown that mulching leaves into your lawn won’t harm the grass and even increases the microbial activity in the soil which keeps the soil more open and porous. Just be sure the leaf bits don’t cover the leaf blades. Here in the North Carolina Piedmont our fescue lawns have just been overseeded, so watch out for those tiny plants. Hopefully, you got the seeding done weeks before most of the leaves fall and the new grass has been mowed once or twice. You can find more information on mowing new lawn grasses on page 15 of NCSU’s Carolina Lawns publication.
Be sure you don’t forget those regular lawn fertilizations, especially if you are applying leaf mulch. Many of the microbes which will be breaking the leaf bits down into soil goodies use nitrogen while working. They’ll tie it up and keep your lawn from using it (but release it again when they are done). For our NC fescue lawns the fall fertilizations are the most important. Hopefully you got yours done around Labor Day and will be ready for the Thanksgiving treatment (remember those two holidays plus Valentine’s Day for fescue fertilization). Other types of lawns should be fertilized as recommend for the lawn type. Again, Carolina Lawns has good information for all homeowners.
So, this year see how many leaves you can leave on your property. Maybe we’ll be dodging fewer piles on city streets. In a few years your landscape may be looking so amazing that your neighbors will wish they had more trees.