Fallen leaves are a healthy mulch for lawns! For this easy garden tip, all you need is a lawn mower. Learn how to mulch leaves.
Fall has officially arrived and leaves will soon be turning beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red, providing a fall foliage display that we look forward to each year. However, it’s what comes after the show that does not make most people happy—fallen leaves! But, did you know that there are some people who look forward to seeing fallen leaves on their lawns? Let me tell you an easy garden secret that they have already discovered. Fallen leaves make a great mulch and add nutrients to your lawn. All you need is your lawn mower. Learn how to mulch leaves and you’ll never rake again.
How to Mulch Leaves
When leaves are broken up into smaller pieces, they gradually break down and make their way down into the grass where they provide mulch. The mulching action of the leaves keeps a majority of weeds from germinating in spring. Now wait, it get’s even better. As the leaves break down, they add nutrients to your lawn as well, which is vital to Rapid recovery and regrowth in spring while needing less supplemental fertilizer.
So, are you ready to ‘mow’ your leaves instead of raking them this fall?
To create leaf mulch from your autumn leaves simply set your lawn mower on its highest setting (without the bag) and run over the leaves twice. This will break them down into small pieces. (I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather mow leaves than rake them!) Thereafter, every couple of weeks, continue to mow your leaves until they are finished falling. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they disappear from the lawn surface as they break down.
Knowing how to make leaf mulch for your lawn is a great example of sustainable, organic and easy gardening!
So, as the temperatures begin to cool and the first brightly colored leaves begin to fall, leave the rake in the shed and reach for your lawn mower. You’ll end up with a healthier lawn with much less effort.
Psst—we found more genius garden hacks you’ll want to steal immediately.
Backyard Uses for Fall Leaves
Birds Blooms readers share the clever ways they improve their landscapes and help wildlife with fall leaves.
“After the leaves dry, we spread them on the lawn. My husband puts the grass-clipping catcher on the lawn mover and mulches them. We scatter the pieces on flower beds or the compost pile,” says Janet Minnix.
“I rake them into piles for overwintering insects,” says Ken Orich.
“I built a fire pit last summer, so the dried leaves are the perfect kindling,” says Ellen Savold.
“We put damp leaves into black trash bags and place them around rose bushes like a donut. The bags offer valuable insulation in winter,” says Clarice McKenney.
“I use my mower to mulch the leaves on my lawn. They slowly break down and go back into the soil,” says Don Bailey.
“I save leaves for bedding in my worm compost bin. The worms will eat the leaves and turn them into castings, also known as black gold. It’s perfect for my plants,” says Megan Long.
Next, check out the fall cleanup garden chores you should never skip.
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. When she is not writing or helping other people with their gardens, you can find her growing fruits and vegetables, and planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.
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Is It Better to Rake or Mulch Leaves?
Should you retire your rake and mulch your leaves instead?
While most people default to raking leaves in the fall, it’s not the only way to clear your lawn. Mulching involves running your lawn mower over the leaves in the same way you would mow grass. Which method is best? We’ve rounded up the pros and cons of mulching vs. raking to help you make the right choice.
Pros and Cons of Raking Leaves
Raking leaves is a classic way to remove leaves from your yard, but it can be a backbreaking task.
Pro: Grass Stays Healthy
A rake will aerate your lawn with every cleansing scrape, giving your grass room to breathe. Lingering leaf clumps, on the other hand, can smother your lawn and prevent it from growing back in the spring.
Pro: Prevent Mold and Disease
Thick layers of leaves can do just as much damage as clumps of leaves. Raking removes harmful leaf layers that can cause snow mold diseases, according to the University of New Hampshire. Raking away leaves, rather than just mulching them, lessens the likelihood that you’ll have to reseed in the spring.
Your yard is going to look unbe-leaf-ably clean
Con: It Can Be Costly
Disposing of the leaves you rake can add up, depending on where you live. For example, some cities prohibit you from throwing them in your garbage can and instead require you to purchase separate bags for leaf disposal. If dumping your piles at a composting or waste convenience site is not an option, you may have to enlist the help of a local yard cleaning service.
There’s also the environmental consideration, too. “ resources are usually involved in hauling leaves away as well, making a bigger carbon footprint.” says Tara Dudley, Owner of Plant Life Designs.
The typical cost of leaf removal runs between 191 and 557
Con: It Can Be a Daunting Task
No one ever said raking leaves was a simple task, especially if you have a large yard or a lot of trees to clean up after. Using a leaf blower, tarps, and committing to weekly raking sessions can help lessen the load, but it’s still a physically demanding job.
Pros and Cons of Mulching Leaves
Mulching leaves is a faster, less demanding way to gather leaves, but it’s still a process you must get right.
Pro: It’s Good for Your Soil
Mulching leaves into your lawn allows them to break down and boost the soil quality. Maple leaves, for example, have even been shown to reduce weed seed germination. Other leaves, like honey locust, are high in nitrogen, which helps grass and plants grow.
Making grass greener and thicker means you’ve got to give it some TLC
Pro: It’s Faster Than Raking
You can mulch leaves in the same time it takes to mow your lawn. This method is less physically demanding and you won’t waste a weekend on yard work. Enough said.
Con: You Need the Right Mower
To mulch leaves properly, you’ll need a curved mulching blade. This type of blade helps churns the leaves into smaller pieces that will absorb into your lawn easier. If your mower doesn’t currently have this feature, you can purchase a conversion kit from your mower’s manufacturer or at your local home improvement store.
Con: Doesn’t Work For Pine Needles
Mulching won’t work with pine needles due to their shape and texture. If you have a yard full of pine needles, or a combination, you’ll need to rid them by raking.
Con: You Have To Mulch Than Once
You’ll need to mulch your leaves multiple times throughout the season to prevent build-up. As with raking, thick leaf layers won’t decompose fast enough, which could kill your grass. Weather is also a factor. Mulching too many wet leaves will smother your yard and do more harm than good.
Should I Rake or Mulch My Leaves?
Colorful autumn leaves are one of fall‘s greatest pleasures. But beautiful autumn color quickly translates to leaves on your lawn. When lush, healthy grass is your goal, ignoring fallen leaves isn’t an option. But that doesn’t mean raking and bagging leaves is the way. Mulching leaves into your lawn is easier — and better for your lawn and the environment. By understanding answers to the following questions, you can mulch your way to a healthier lawn:
Why can’t leaves just stay on the lawn?
Like all plants, your grass has basic requirements for keeping it lush and green. At the top of the list are sunlight, water, nutrients and oxygen. And a mat of fallen leaves interferes with them all. Think of it like growing grass in dense shade, only multiplied several times.
Without sunlight, your fall lawn can’t carry out photosynthesis and replenish reserves before winter comes. Water and nutrients can’t penetrate leaves to nurture and nourish grass roots. Plus, poor air circulation sets the stage for fungal lawn disease. Come spring, you’re faced with bare lawn spots and a weak, thin lawn. And because leaves keep soil colder in spring, you’ll wait longer for grass to turn green. 1 Fallen leaves don’t just disappear. Maple leaves break down faster, but oak and sycamore leaves can take more than a year to decompose. 2 By learning the best way to remove leaves from your yard — and doing it — you prevent your grass from suffering.
Left unmanaged, fallen leaves can smother grasses and encourage lawn disease.
Is mulching leaves better than raking?
Whether you mulch or bag leaves, removing leaves keeps them from smothering your lawn. But shredding leaves into tiny pieces by mulching them has benefits that raking and bagging don’t.
Tree leaves contain about 2% nitrogen. 1 To stay green, thick and healthy, your lawn grass needs nitrogen in a greater quantity than any other essential plant nutrient. That’s why the first number in the N-P-K on most lawn fertilizer labels is the largest.
By mulching leaves instead of raking, you treat your lawn to natural fertilizer and beneficial organic matter. Plus, mulching leaves into your lawn can discourage weed seeds from germinating and reduce common lawn weeds such as dandelions and crabgrass significantly. 1,3 In many cases, you can mulch leaves during regular lawn mowing. That means more free time for you.
Keep in mind that raking and toting leaf bags are strenuous aerobic activities, too. For some people, the cardiac health risks of raking and bagging leaves rank right up there with shoveling snow. 4
Mulching leaves into your lawn can help reduce unwanted weeds.
What equipment do I need to mulch leaves?
You can learn how to mulch leaves without investing in a lot of extra equipment. Mulching leaves with a regular lawn mower can get the job done. If you deal with large quantities of heavy leaves in a short time frame, a mulching mower for mowing leaves into your lawn may make sense.
A regular lawn mower cuts grass blades and shoots grass clippings out of the side or into a bag. Mowing leaves into lawn grass works the same way. Leaves must be mulched into small pieces that can filter down to soil, so a regular lawn mower may require a few trips back and forth. You can also purchase mulching blades for your regular mower. Depending on the amount of leaves you have to mulch, these specially designed mulching blades may decrease the number of passes you need to make across your lawn.
In contrast, a mulching mower keeps grass clippings — and leaves — under the mower deck. The blades cut clippings several times, so smaller pieces result. Mulching mowers help enhance your lawn’s sustainability during regular mowing, too. Mulching grass clippings into your lawn delivers an all-natural 4-1-2 fertilizer every time you mow. 5
Dedicated leaf mulchers come in push, pull and handheld options. They’re designed especially for shredding leaves, not cutting grass. Popular models include cordless mulchers that switch from leaf blowers into leaf vacuums that shred and collect mulched leaves for other uses.
Mulching mowers chop grass and leaves into small pieces.
How and when should I mulch leaves with a mower?
The best approach to mulching leaves with a mower is being proactive. Plan on mowing leaves instead of raking as part of your regular fall lawn maintenance. Start as soon as leaves begin to fall. Mowing a few leaves is simpler than mowing a lot, and dry leaves mulch better than wet ones. When mulching while mowing, use your regular mower height for mulching leaves.
As lawn mowing slows down and falling leaves speed up, mulch with your mower at least once a week — twice if needed. Use the highest mower height for mulching leaves. University research indicates you can mulch up to 6 inches of leaves on your lawn as long as you mulch leaves into small pieces.3 Mulching mowers and leaf mulchers can handle larger leaf volumes more efficiently.
Whether your lawn care calendar covers northern regions or southern zones, mulching enhances the impact of other fall tasks. Late summer to early fall is the perfect time for overseeding your cool-season lawn with premium grass seed such as Pennington Smart Seed grasses or prepping your grass with winterizing fertilizer such as Pennington UltraGreen Winterizer Plus Weed Feed Fertilizer 22-0-14. By mulching leaves into your lawn, you help ensure your grass gets all the benefits you can put into it.
Mulching leaves helps ensure your grass gets the full benefit of fertilizers and other fall tasks.
Does mulching leaves help the environment?
If you’re still wondering whether should you rake leaves, look past your lawn. The benefits of mulching fall leaves go beyond supporting healthy soil and grass growth. Mulched leaves are an excellent addition to your compost pile, creating rich organic material for future garden use. 2 Used as garden mulch, shredded leaves help avoid fluctuations in soil temperatures that can damage plant roots. As mulched leaves decompose, they work as a soil amendment, adding organic matter and improving soil.
Mowing leaves instead of raking also helps to reduce landfills. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that yard trimmings accounted for more than 7% of all municipal solid waste that ultimately ended up in landfills in 2018. That’s about 10.5 million tons of un-composted, landfilled solid waste — and leaves make up 25% of that preventable waste. 6
By mulching your leaves instead of raking, you can improve your lawn and benefit the environment as well. At Pennington, we’re dedicated to helping you grow the best lawn possible and enjoy the results. We’ve been here for seed professionals and homeowners for more than 75 years — and we’re here for you, too. Always read product labels thoroughly and follow instructions.
Pennington and Smart Seed are registered trademarks of Pennington Seed, Inc.
UltraGreen is a registered trademark of Central Garden Pet Company.Sources: 1. J. Trappe, “Should I Mulch? Or Bag My Leaves This Fall?,” University of Minnesota Extension.
P. Burns, “Leave the Leaves,” North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
R. Finneran, “Mulch Leaves Into Turf for a Smart Lawn,” Michigan State University Extension.
Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling, “Yard Trimmings: Material-Specific Data,” United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Winter Lawn Care and Leaf Removal
Learn all about winter lawn care and leaf removal tips in this post!
Why Leaf Removal from Lawns is Important
Putting together your weekend chore list and feeling reluctant to add leaf pick to it? Leaf removal is pretty important to lawn health. Leaving leaves on the lawn areas can create ideal environments for fungus and mold, thick layers of leaves can exclude sunlight and air from lawns, causing thinning over time. Tick leaves can also increase winter lawn damage of mice and voles. And it’s not just your lawn that can suffer; in urban areas, loose leaves are often blown over curbs and end up in in storm drains that then can clog and cause street flooding.
If you don’t have a ton of leaves falling or if the leaves are small, you can mulch them into the lawn with a mulching mower (more on this in the next section) or blow the whole leaves into landscape beds, avoiding areas with low growing plants. This method of lawn leaf removal isn’t ideal if you have a a large quantity of leaves. Mulching too much debris into your lawn can cause the some issues like thinning over time. If you have allowed the lawn to get blanketing with a thick layer of leaves, mulching them into the lawn is not recommended. If you would like to use your leaves, attach your mulching mowers bagging attachment, go over them with your mower to mulch, then empty the bagged mulched leaves into your landscape beds, spreading evenly, or place in a compost pile.
One other item of note, there is more and more information out there, calling for homeowners to leave the leaves for overwintering moths and even some butterflies. A good location for intact leaves is a landscape bed area; however, be careful of potentially suffocating winter annuals, groundcovers or low growing perennials. Around shrubs or trees would be best.
Be sure to read the last section below for a bit more on placing fallen leaves in landscape beds.
How Often Does it Need to be Done?
We recommend removing leaves once a week as they begin to fall and once they are falling fast, removal may be needed twice a week. You can use a mulching mower and mulch them one to two times, then put a bag on the mower to pick them up. Raise the mower height once notch above normal mowing height when mulching and/or pick up the leaves. After all the leaves have been removed/ mulched for the season, lower the mower one notch below normal summer mowing height and mow.
Winter Control of Lawn Fungus
Now that we have had a couple of hard frosts, warm season lawns such as bermuda and zoysia are dormant. You might be able to see different colors of brown in the dormant lawn. Sometimes irregular, roundish shapes of darker brown can indicate areas of lawn fungus or lawn stress of some kind, such as grub damage. Watch these areas closely as the lawn greens up in the spring, makes notes of what you are seeing and come see us if your lawn is struggling to come out of dormancy.
For more information about preventing and controlling lawn fungus, visit this blog post.
Is Leaf Removal in Landscape Beds Necessary?
Leaves can be left in landscape beds to act as a mulch and add nutrients back into the soil. However, all kinds of insects and insect eggs overwinter in and on leaf debris, both those harmful to plants and those harmless to plants. If you have had an insect issue (whiteflies on gardenias, lacebugs on azaleas, scale on anything, just to name a few) this past year, we suggest doing a very good cleanup of fallen leaves from these plants. This reduces the population for next year and is good cultural pest control. Spraying these affected plants with Dormant Oil several times this winter would also be a good idea.