Fall leaves can bring rich colors like yellow, red, and orange to your backyard landscape, but as the seasons turn the leaves fall to the ground and homeowners have work to do cleaning them up. There are a myriad of composting, mulching, and raking options available for fall leaves and in this guide we explore some of the best ones for your yard and landscape.
Letting leaves pile up under wet and heavy snow is bad for the lawn underneath. When the leaves clump together in the snow it can prohibit air and moisture from reaching the lawn and that ultimately will suffocate the grass underneath. Still, there are good options for homeowners that don’t want to rake leaves and the best one is mulching.
Mulching Fall Leaves
One of the most popular options for putting old leaves to work is by leaving them on the ground and mulching them. Mulching your leaves in the fall then spreading a thin layer of them around trees and in garden beds helps put nutrients back into the surrounding soil. Use your lawnmower to blend leaves into a mulch or carefully use a weed trimmer to cut up leaves collected in a garbage can.
At Michigan State University they have conducted over 20 year of research on turf and find that fall is the best time to invest in a green lawn with leaf mulch. They recommend mowing over up to 6 inches of leaves at a time and creating tiny leaf residue. This leaf residue mulch will sift down through the grass and provide nutrients for the soil. They produce a helpful guide for homeowners that want to learn more. Mulched leaves will act as a good natural fertilizer, just be sure that you don’t leave a thick pile that can smother the grass.Households with large trees and a lot of leaves to deal with can get a motorized leaf mulcher that shreds leaves fast. A leaf shredder can quickly turn about ten dry bags of leaves into one shredded bag. They also often cut without using blades for added safety, but they do require dry leaves instead of wet leaves to work well.
Mulching your leaves into the lawn is also a good ecological choice, as leaves in landfills can take up a ton of unnecessary space. The EPA estimates that ten percent of household trash is yard trimmings, and most landfills now won’t accept landscape materials like leaves or lawn clippings. Also, it is important to not burn the leaves in a barrel or leaf pile as that can send unhealthy particles that can damage peoples lungs up into the air.
Composting Fall Leaves
Collected leaves can be added into your composting pile, which saves you money but does take a lot of time. For good results it is important to layer piles of leaves with green organic material that is heavy in nitrogen (think vegetable waste, green grass clippings, or manure). Alternate between leaf piles and your nitrogen base and then turn your pile every few weeks or keep them in a tumbler. Keep the pile moist and add in more food scraps as they become available.
It takes a bit of time and work to effectively compost leaves, but it can really pay off with Penn State estimating that each shade tree has about $50 of minerals you will need in the spring to fertilize your lawn. Putting in the work with your leaves in the fall can make available a pile of homegrown compost in the spring.
Collecting Leaves With Rakes, Sweepers, and Blowers
If you are going to be collecting the leaves off your lawn, then you will need to have the right tools for the job. The main thing that you want to equip yourself with is a good leaf rake. The best leaf rakes will have long handles and wide reach but still be lightweight enough to comfortably maneuver. Most heads will be 15-20 inches wide, so you can get into tight spaces but raking a large area with a leaf rake can take some time. Remember to always try to rake downhill and with the wind so that your pile naturally builds together. One advantage of raking is that it works well on wet leaves while some of these other options do not.
Alternatively, homeowners might want to pull a lawn sweeper or a leaf blower out of their shed. Leaf sweepers are helpful when you want a neat lawn that looks well groomed. The spinning brushes on the sweepers combine with helpful holders to scoop up fallen leaves and any other debris. Leaf blowers can be loud and noisy but they are incredibly effective at collecting and moving around piles of leaves. Technology has improved enough that cordless leaf blowers produce enough power and have a long enough battery life to get the job done. The best technique with a leaf blower is to place a large tarp onto the ground and then blow the leaves onto them for collection. That makes it easy to haul the leaves away, and will get the job done twice as fast as anyone with a rake ever could.
Whatever option you choose this fall, be sure to do something to address the falling leaves so that you don’t put your green grass at risk. You don’t have to pick up the leaves, but if they are going to stay on the ground all winter then be sure to mulch them down into small pieces. Should you decide to collect the leaves, be sure to get the right tools to help you complete the job and at the end of it dispose of the leaves responsibly.