November 17, 2018

"Leaves are nature's natural mulch and fertilizer... When you rake all the leaves away, you are removing that natural benefit to your garden and lawns..."

"... then people turn around and spend money to buy mulch. If you feel like you have to clean up your yard... people can use their leaves like they would mulch, and move them to a garden bed or area that is more aesthetically pleasing.... Over winter months, a lot of butterflies and moths as pupa or caterpillar are in the leaf litter, and when you rake it up you are removing the whole population of butterflies you would otherwise see in your yard."

From The Detroit Free Press (internal quotation marks deleted).

38 comments:

Rob McLean said...

I have always explained to my skeptical wife that a lawn covered with leaves is much more aesthetically pleasing than plain grass. (Of course, being in upstate NY, it's all covered in snow now...)

tim in vermont said...

Lightening bugs too.

stevew said...

We usually tidy up the lawn of leaves and sticks and such the weekend before Thanksgiving. Most of the leaves are down by then (except for some oak stragglers). Not this year though, Winter Storm Avery® dumped enough snow on us that we can't get to the leaves.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

When dead leaves are rained on and snowed on they flatten and compact, creating a nearly airtight layer which not only suffocates grass, but creates an ideal environment for snow mould and other fungal pathogens to kill substantial patches of lawn. The benefit ascribed to fallen leaves are accurate, but pertain to a forest environment, not an open savannah, which is what the average lawn actually is.

Yard leaves are perhaps best mowed repeatedly until they're chopped in tiny pieces (so as not to damage the grass) but otherwise should be removed entirely to the woodier edges of the lot.

EDH said...

You don't put mulch on grass and clumps of wet leaves will eventually kill the grass underneath, won't they?

So, is the article only talking about places like scrub beds?

Oh Yea said...

I've mulched mine with my lawnmower for years mainly because raking is one type of lawn work I hate the most. Fertilizing the lawn is a secondary benefit. leaving uncut on the grass isn't an option because of the thick piles killing the grass

Otto said...

Don't recommend mulching on lawn. Leaves are acidic and ruin the proper ph value for healthy grass. You will spend $ to lime your lawn next spring especially in the northeast.

dda6ga dda6ga said...

Live in Detroit and your prime concern is butterflies??

rehajm said...

Are they saying people but mulch to put on grass lawn? Who does that? If the argument is using leaves as mulch in planting beds and around shrubs, leaf mulch is ugly and decomposes too quickly to be effective.

Humperdink said...

I mow two acres and have several large maple and oak trees on my property. I refuse to rake leaves. I mow them in the spring.

BTW, the oak leaves are still on the trees. Always the last to fall.

Phil 3:14 said...

I live in Arizona. A few leaves and no lawn.

And I don’t need to mulch the rocks.

Meade said...

" Leaves are acidic and ruin the proper ph value for healthy grass."

Some leaves are very slightly acidic, true, but soil ecology has a buffering effect that naturally brings the pH levels, whatever they may currently be, back toward neutral. Before guessing and applying lime or sulfar, a $10 soil test should tell you what the pH level of your soil is. Most lawn grasses thrive in soils with a pH between 5 and 7 (acid to neutral).

Here in Madison, every year, enormous resources are spent on leaf clean up. The city itself spends over $1 million blowing, raking, scooping, hauling, shredding, storing, bagging, and then selling leaves—as mulch—back to homeowners in the spring. It's a little insane. In Madison, most of us live in an urban forest.

To their credit, the City wants to encourage a new approach: https://www.cityofmadison.com/streets/leavetheleaf/

Browndog said...

I had always thought this was common sense. When I lived in the suburbs everyone treated leaves like poison that had to be eradicated immediately. I was the only one on the street that left their leaves until spring, pissing off the neighbors to no end.

Now that I live in the woods...not much has changed. I watched the lady behind me, a former suburbanite, chase a couple leaves around her yard with a leaf blower on a windy day.

I hate leaf blowers. Hate them.

Leland said...

Dead leaves also make great fuel for fast spreading fires.

Humperdink said...

"Dead leaves also make great fuel for fast spreading fires."

That's true, but depends on the location. In my yard, there is no continuous blanket of leaves. The wind blows them hither and yawn, not uniformly. Zero chance of a fire in my yard. My woods, on the other hand, are loaded with leaves. That's where the problem could start.

Big Mike said...

A thick pile of leaves will kill the grass underneath. Please don't tell me I'm wrong, Meade, because it happened in my old house when I took a friend's advice to rake the leaves around the base of my maples. Next spring I had bare rings around the base of the maples, and had to buy mulch to cover the dirt. "Fortunately" this is a style in Fairfax County, VA, so the two maples at the front of my lawn became stylish.

Phidippus said...

Pine needles are great mulch for rhododendrons. I put a thick layer of them on mine this spring and the plants have never been happier. They grew several inches and are covered with buds for next year.

Fritz said...

The usual "environmental" suspects pass this kind of stuff around every fall. I'm tempted to get a bunch of their addresses and check out how well they follow their own advice. My guess is that their lawn services take care of it for them.

Paco Wové said...

Mulching the leaves onto the flowerbeds and treed areas is a good practice, but leaf mulch is pretty lightweight, which means it tends not to stay put if you live in wind-prone regions (in my experience, anyway).

SteveM said...

When I was a kid, my German immigrant grandmother used to include wet decaying leaves from the prior year along with her spring tomato plantings. She used to get the largest tomatoes I’ve ever seen!

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Rake the leaves OFF of the lawn so that you don't kill the lawn, smother it, create a breeding ground for fungus.

Rake the leaves OFF of the driveway, pathways, parking areas to keep the muck and slime down when the leaves get wet and rotten. Also to keep from tracking them in on your boots in the winter.

Let the fallen leaves stay in the wooded areas....who cares...right? The birds like them too!

Use excess leaves as mulch in the planting beds, flower beds, rose garden, around the trees (not piled up against the trunks though... again fungus). In areas where you just don't want weeds to grow the leaves will keep them at bay.

Burn or haul off the excess leaves. This isn't rocket science.



rhhardin said...

I reke the leaves under the tree that dropped them.

David Blaska said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Blaska said...

We run the mulching mower over them (set up higher off the ground). Grinds them up. Then bag them for mulch or just leave in place. Aerating quickens decomposition.

Terry Resort said...

Here in the tick 'n chigger Ozarks, leaves get mulched, but mostly burned - the ashes are beneficial.

Its fun making big fires too.

mandrewa said...

I have a lawn that is surrounded by trees and I never rake these leaves or do anything with them except occasionally, not every year, mow them. The grass does just fine, or as good as can be expected considering that most of the time it is in the shade.

I believe I have a very healthy earthworm population and they eat the leaves.

It isn't that the wind is blowing the leaves away, the yard is surrounded by a fence plus shrubbery at the boundaries.

I have a lot of big trees, more than ten, that drop a lot of leaves and yet as I look outside right now, there is more exposed grass than leaves. That isn't true every year. Sometimes I look out and the ground seems to be covered by leaves. (I don't know why it seems to be less this year.)

What is true every year is that by the time spring arrives most of the leaves are gone.

Alex said...

Bart Hall is correct. Dead leaves do not belong on grass.

ALP said...

Half of my landscape architecture program seemed to be focused on the task of getting people to accept the messy parts of nature. I was in the Master Gardener program for a while, but got weary of people wanting quick easy answers. The obessession with 'neat' gardens is real.

Our neighbors love to break out the leaf blower for every damn leaf that falls on the ground - up to 4x a day. Makes us crazy.

ALP said...

Wait, who the hell rakes leaves anymore? I thought I was the last/only one that enjoyed raking over the blower.

Fernandistein said...

How many leaves must a man rake down
Before you call him a man?

How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the mulch?

Yes, 'n' how many times must fertilizer fly
Before it's forever banned?

The leaves, my friend, are blowin' in the wind
The leaves are blowin' in the wind.

Anchovy said...

Leaf blowers are an abomination.

Otto said...

@ Meade Now that is what we use to do when we were young and gung ho homeowners. Now we have a service pick up your leaves and lime twice a year. That is what i call the grace of being old. Unlike you my husbandry days are over in more ways than one.:-)

Jim at said...

We have natural landscape. And we live on the edge of a ravine overlooking a creek ... surrounded by trees. Tons of leaves.

And if I cleaned them up before spring, our house would wash away down the hillside from all the erosion from the rain.

tim maguire said...

When I was a kid, we raked our leaves into a huge pile and burned them. It was awesome. Now if I do that, I’ll get fined or arrested.

Ralph L said...

Leaf blowers are an abomination.

So true. In the summer, the lawn guys for the church across the street from me start mowing and blowing at 6:30 am.

The tree people who yesterday chopped up the tree that fell on my dad's car during Michael had a blower that was much quieter than any I've been near before. Could have been electric--wish now I'd asked what brand.

Fernandistein said...

To the tune of that same song -

Over winter months,
a lot of butterflies and moths
as pupa or caterpillar
are in the leaf litter.

And when you rake it up,
you are removing the whole population
of butterflies you would
otherwise see in your yard.

Mark said...

Man knows better than nature.

That's what you all are saying.

BJM said...

We've been practicing no-till permaculture for a few years now and it works for us. Take a walk in the forest or woods...there is no bare soil just layers of rich humus teaming with life. I even finally defeated Bermuda grass with a thick layer of oak chips from culling & pruning our own trees. In the winter I add a layer of wheat straw to dormant beds.

However I know there is no one-size-fits-all in gardening, like politics, all gardening is local.