Leaf Removal: Necessary or Not?

With the arrival of Fall comes the inevitable blizzard of leaves. These leaves cause lots of work, but also can cause damage to your lawn. So should you rake them, vacuum them, mulch them up, what’s the best option?

Fall Leaves

The Leaves of Fall, Pretty to Look at, Harmful to Your grass

What is best to do will depend on how many leaves you have, what type of grass you have, and even where you live.

If you just have light leaf cover over the grass, simply keep mowing them and mulch them up, if you have a larger lawn. Or, if you have a small lawn, you might just rake them up. That would ultimately be best for the lawn. The less leaf litter that works its way into the lawn, the better.

If you have a larger lawn that would be difficult to rake, or if it’s just more work than you want to get into, I would put some mulching blades on the mower and just keep mowing weekly. It’s important to keep doing it weekly and not let an entire blanket of leaves get built up on the lawn before you mulch them. Too many leaves on the ground makes it much more difficult to mulch them.

deep leaf litter

Deep leaf litter on lawn

If you have a lawn sweeper or vacuum either of these would be ideal. No leave litter at all on the lawn would be best. That way you don’t have the additional drain on the nutrients in the lawn from the decomposing leaf litter.

Leaves that are left on the lawn, mulched up, will find their way into the surface and begin decomposing. The process of decomposing requires nitrogen, so while the leaves are doing their thing decomposing, they are robbing the grass and soil of fertilizer that you are putting down, stealing a little bit of green from the grass. If you are going to mulch up your leaves, that’s OK, if there isn’t too many, just put down a little extra fertilizer.

Mulching leaves with a mower

Leaves being mulched with a mulching blade on the mower

Leaves steal Lime too. One of the first nutrients to leach out of the soil is lime. Even without a heavy leaf load, the heavy clay soils we have in our area of West TN will require regular lime applications to keep them stable. Adding leaf litter to the mix will only make the problem worse.

Your grass type will factor into your decision whether to remove the leaves too. Fescue, Ryegrass, and Bluegrass are cool season grasses and are more tender than Bermuda and Zoysia. These warm season grasses are going to be growing in lawns without too many trees anyway since they don’t grow well in the shade. Fescue and other cool season grasses will die out much easier than Bermuda or Zoysia from leaves being on them. Bermuda and Zoysia won’t be affected much from leaves being on the ground because those grasses are dormant when leaves are falling. So leaves on warms season grasses are not as big of an issue. But the lawn always looks much better if it’s kept clean.

The cool season grasses need to be kept leaf free, as much as they can. If the leaves are left on the grass long enough, they will mat together and form a blanket over the grass and choke the grass out. These leaves matted together is similar to you taking a big blue tarp out and laying it out on the lawn. Both will have the same results.

Regardless of what method you choose to handle the leaf drop, it’s important to take care of them, otherwise, all your work you have put in throughout the year creating a great looking lawn might be for nothing.

Can Your Lawn Look Like Wrigley or Progressive Field?

Progressive Field, Home of the Indians

The Indians Progressive Field

Yes, with the right grass, proper maintenance and attention to your lawn’s needs.

In West TN, we live in the “transition zone” of the United States, or sections of zone 7 – 7A. This means we can grow both warm season and cool season grasses. Both Wrigley Field and the Indians’ Progressive Field have Kentucky Bluegrass on them which is a cool season grass. You might guess by their name that a “cool season grass”, grows best in the cooler climates with less humidity. Bluegrass will grow in our area of NorthWest Tennessee, but it does require more maintenance than Fescue and it’s not as hardy as some Fescue varieties.

Hardiness Zone Map

New USDA Hardiness Map

Bluegrass is common in the northern states from KY to New York, Ohio, etc. Their climate is suited much more to fit Bluegrass than ours. In the North, they don’t have as much humidity as we do in the South. Humidity is one of the biggest killers of our cool

Wrigley Field Bluegrass

Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field

season grasses in our area. Mainly caused by brown patch and other fungus’.

So what would it take to get your lawn to look like a professional field? The grass type is just the beginning. After you either sod or seed, you will have to apply fertilizer and weed control 5 to 7 times per year to keep the lush green grass and weed free look.

Irrigation is another key, you don’t have to have an automatic irrigation system, but it will lessen your work load . You can water by pulling water hoses and sprinklers around if you have more patience and energy than you do money. But however you do it, your new, lush green grass will need regular water, if you’re not willing to do it, don’t waste your time and money reseeding your lawn.

The first step is to determine if your lawn is smooth enough already to have a smooth cut after the new grass grows in. If you have lots of dips and holes coupled with high spots, you will not be able to have a smooth cut. Your mower can only cut as even as the grade is on your lawn. So if it’s real rough now, it’s still going to be real rough after you reseed it, unless you do a total renovation reseeding, and do something to level out the grade so you can have a smooth lawn.

Total renovation of the lawn will include tilling it up, leveling it, then seeding, fertilizing and strawing it. You can learn more about how to do these on our website SEEDING PAGE.  Simple aeration and overseeding will require far less work, time and money but should only be done if your current grade or smoothness of your lawn is acceptable. If you are having a sore back from hitting potholes in your lawn while mowing, you will want to do the total lawn renovation, and level it as best as you can. It will be worth it in the long run. There’s nothing like mowing a nice smooth, lush, green lawn and enjoying the smell of fresh cut grass.

Getting a first class “pro field look” starts after the seeding is done and your new grass comes up. The seeding/establishment part of it only takes a few weeks, the maintenance that you will do from here on will determine what the lawn looks like in the long run. The “pro look” of your lawn will take a few seasons, so don’t give up if it’s not where you would like it to be after your first seeding.

Lush dark green color comes from regular fertilizing and weed control. The fertilizer gives the green, the weed control keeps the junk weeds out which usually have a lighter green color, size and texture. These junk weeds will do more to trash up your lawn than anything else.

You notice light and dark stripes in the professional fields. This is what we call “striping” in the Lawn Care Business. This is done by mowing in alternate directions, and by using a roller behind your mower you can enhance these stripes even more. Some mowers do a great job of striping, while others not so much. You can practice by just mowing in a straight line down your lawn, then turn around and mow straight back up towards the house. You should be able to notice a difference in the color of the two passes.

Lawn Stripes

Lawn Striping done with a Scag Mower

Mowing Fescue tall, at 3″ or taller helps to enhance the striping also, but you can stripe grass even as low as 1″ or less. Golf courses do it at as little as 3/8 of an inch.

Keeping a great looking lawn starts with getting a good stand of grass, of the right type, keeping it fertilized and clean of weeds, proper mowing, keeping it watered when it needs it, and a few other maintenance items you will have to do. Like lime applications, fall leaf removal, aeration and the occasional overseed to thicken it back up.

If you do these things on a regular basis, over the course of a few seasons, you can have a pro-field look. It’s not easy, and you will have some patience and spend a few dollars on maintenance products or hiring someone to do it for you. But if you want that look, that’s what it will take.

Lawn Care is Hard

Lawn Care Is So Hard!

Remember that these pro fields are maintained by a crew of professional grounds keepers with an unlimited budget, with every piece of equipment you could possibly need, provided for them. They have someone managing the team that has been maintaining pro fields for years, sometimes generations, so they know what they are doing. Don’t get discouraged if your efforts don’t produce a Wrigley field in the first season.

Got questions? Drop us an email and we will be happy to help.