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.