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October 11, 2023

How To Safely Leave The Leaves

After deciduous trees finish their colorful autumn display, they take their final bow and drop their leaves. However, they don’t drop them all at once. It’s a gradual process over the course of days or even weeks. Cleaning up those leaves often dampen the memory of the beauty we just witnessed.

If you play your cards right, you may be able to reduce the back breaking task of raking or blowing the leaves to the curb, or even to your compost pile. Begin by approaching each part of your landscape in the most efficient way possible. That means taking care of those leaves on the lawn differently from the way you take care of those in planting beds and on driveways, walkways and patios.

Leaves on the lawn can be left there to be chopped up with the lawn mower. When the leaves begin falling, be sure your lawn mower is set in mulching mode. It will then chop the leaves as finely as the grass clippings and drop them on the ground where they can decompose and return organic matter to the soil. If your mower doesn’t have a mulching mode, the leaves will come out the chute with the grass clippings. If there are a lot, use a leaf rake or blower to scatter the leaves and grass. Keep an eye on the tree crown to see when all the leaves have fallen. You’ll be done mowing for the season when all the leaves have fallen and the grass has gone dormant. A few may get blown into your yard from the neighbor’s yard but probably won’t be enough to worry about.

You may be able to leave the leaves in planting beds to decompose in place. Be sure they aren’t piled against tree trunks or shrub stems, where they can trap water and hide critters dining on these stems. If there aren’t too many leaves in your planting beds, you may be able to rake or blow leaves from driveways and walkways into the nearest bed.

If you want to compost leaves in a central compost bin, they should be chopped up. The finer they’re chopped, the faster they’ll decompose. The best method I’ve seen for finely chopping leaves is to gather them into a plastic trash can. Don personal protection equipment, including safety goggles or glasses and hearing protection. Then fire up your string trimmer and plunge it into the can like you would an immersion blender in the kitchen. When the leaves are sufficiently chopped, empty the trash can into the compost bin.

Don’t leave layers of leaves on the lawn. They can hold water, which is a medium for winter fungal diseases. Renovating the lawn next spring will be more work than cleaning leaves up or chopping them and leaving them in place this fall. Leaves in beds won’t cause any damage, unless they’re too close to tree trunks and shrub stems. However, if they don’t decompose this winter, they may have to be removed in the spring.

There’s no way we can enjoy nature’s display of color without paying for it in some sort of leaf management. The tips shared here can result in a substantial leaf management “discount.”