Please leave the leaves
Nature can help us improve our lawns and landscaping if we mulch and leave our leaves in place this fall. As leaves fall, rather than raking or blowing them to the tree lawn, run over the leaves several times with your lawnmower to work them into the soil. Be sure to chop the leaves finely so they don't clump up and smother the lawn. (You can watch this being done in a video created by Good Nature Lawn Care: http://whygoodnature.com/why-not-to-rake-your-leaves-this-year?q=leaves.)
Chopped leaves create a natural compost that’s good for your lawn. Chopped leaves will improve the tilth of your soil, allowing the roots of your grass, trees and shrubs to grow stronger, longer and deeper. Leaves add carbon to your soil that will act as a sponge for water, allowing roots to breathe during wet times and holding moisture during drought. Leaves feed soil microorganisms that create a strong, diverse, symbiotic soil community to improve your entire landscape. In addition, a Michigan State University study found that mulched maple leaves control broadleaf weeds, such as dandelions and plantain, in lawns the following year (Nikolai, Rieke, and McVay, 1997).
If your trees bless you with more leaves than you can work into the lawn, chop them and spread them into your flowerbeds and mulch your trees and shrubs. Mulching and leaving the leaves to cover tree roots will improve tree health. Trees put the leaves on the ground because they want them there.
When your leaves get too difficult to chop, it’s time to rake them up. Again, you can leave the leaves on your property to create a good base for your compost pile. If you can chop the leaves with your lawnmower, they will decompose more quickly than whole leaves. Good compost is a delicious blend of carbon and nitrogen. To get this mix, autumn leaves are an excellent source of carbon, while nitrogen comes from vegetable scraps and next spring’s enthusiastic grass clippings. Turning your compost frequently, whether with a pitchfork or in a bin, adds air to the mixture, creating heat that accelerates decomposition and decreases odors and weed germination. But, one way or another, “Compost Happens!”
Most power mowers can be modified to be mulching mowers. Adding a mulching blade will help. A mulching mower typically has a cover for the grass chute where the grass clippings exit the housing. If you cover the exit chute, the leaves and grass clippings remain inside the mower longer and get chopped more thoroughly. Lowering the back of the mower and raising the front also will help leaves get in and stay in the mower deck.
Mulching and leaving your leaves on your property has other benefits in addition to naturally improving your landscape. It will save you the time and labor to rake or blow them to the curb. Even if you move the leaves to your compost area, it is about the same labor as moving them to the curb, and you get the added benefit of on-site compost. Additionally, as more residents keep their leaves on site, city staff will have time to do other, deferred work preparing for winter. Keeping your leaves on your property can also help [improve] the water quality of Lake Erie in two ways: curbside leaves plug storm drains and sewers, and soil with high carbon content absorbs more water, thereby reducing stormwater runoff.
Our collective actions can create a win-win-win opportunity of healthy lawns, healthy Lake Erie, and healthy people. So please, leave the leaves.
Alec McClennan, Allen Wilkinson and Laura Marks
Alec McClennan is owner of Good Nature Organic Lawn Care. Allen Wilkinson is a retired NASA researcher whose home has geothermal HVAC, 100-percent composting and 100-percent rainwater capture. Laura Marks builds soil because healthy soil is basic to vibrant life on Earth.