Should you remove the leaves from your lawn? This question arises frequently in what is a layered and sophisticated debate about proper landscaping and horticultural practices. Some people claim that each and every leaf should be removed from each and every lawn. Others claim that all leaves should remain where they lie, to better feed the surrounding ecosystem. Finally, others fall somewhere between these two extremes.
Continue reading below to find out more about these different schools of thought and, ultimately, what we at EarthCraft recommend when it comes to the leaves on your lawn.
Leave them be
At one end of the spectrum lie the folks we refer to as “naturalists.” These people argue that, as much as possible, a lawn should resemble a natural ecosystem. As fallen leaves are simply a natural part of many ecosystems, the leaves should be left where they fall to serve as food for microorganisms and other creatures (like worms) who turn the leaf debris into compost.
The leaves can also serve as an insulator in the late fall when the weather turns and the ground starts to freeze (in some climates).
There are some significant downsides to this practice, however. First, a blanket of decaying leaves on one’s lawn can be quite unsightly. It can appear unmanicured and make it seem like the lawn is neglected.
Second, and more importantly, a thick cover of leaves can smother the grass layer underneath and make it difficult for the lawn to grow or survive to the following season.
Finally, a heavy layer of leaf debris can act as an ideal home for pests (like moles and mice) or fungi and diseases that might attack your turf or grass.
Rake them up
On the other side of the spectrum are the folks who suggest removing every single leaf that falls on your lawn. And while this practice certainly has the benefit of creating a “clean” lawn, there are some downsides here as well.
Your grass will be deprived of any nutrients that those decomposed leaves might have provided the underlying soil. Also, your lawn will be fully exposed to the elements, which, depending on your climate, could have a negative effect on the grass. Finally, this is simply a labor-intensive process. It’s a lot of work to rake constantly in the fall!
With so many downsides to each of the approaches discussed above, you may be wondering what you should do. There is, luckily, a middle ground: mulching.
People who advocate mulching argue that mulched leaves (which are usually obtained by running a standard lawnmower over the fallen leaves) decompose much faster, are nearly invisible, can’t provide a home for pests like moles and mice, and still provide a lot of nutrients for the soil underneath.
It’s important to note that mulching isn’t a magic solution. If there are too many leaves, the mulch will just smother the grass underneath.
At EarthCraft, we typically fall somewhere between the “Rake” and “Mulch” positions. We find that leaving leaf debris on the ground tends to become unsightly, but we appreciate the benefit that property mulched leaves can provide to lawns and turf.
That’s why we mulch, but mulch thoughtfully. If we think there are too many leaves, we remove them from the area and deposit them naturally in a wooded area. We should note that this is not cut and dry as some sites require different approaches, depending upon client preferences and whether we maintain a mowing schedule with that client.
So, what’s the right solution for you? It’s tough to give a straightforward answer that applies to everyone. Your strategy will necessarily depend on your environment, your lawn, the weather in your area, your personal preferences, and even what your neighborhood looks like.
What’s certain is that you should approach this issue with care. If you’re going to leave leaf debris on your lawn for the purpose of encouraging a natural ecosystem, be aware of the possible negative consequences that might result and get ready for them. Alternatively, if you want to remove every bit of leaf debris from your yard, be ready for the downsides of that approach as well.
Hopefully, the information above will help you decide what you’d like to do with your own lawn. And, as always, if you need any more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us at EarthCraft. We’d love to be of service.