What Should I Do With Fall Leaves? {To Rake, Remove, or Mulch?}

What Should I Do With Fall Leaves? {To Rake, Remove, or Mulch?}

What Should I Do With Fall Leaves? {To Rake, Remove, or Mulch?}

As fall is rounding the corner…

So does the looming pressure of the fall leaf clean up.

Having leaves on your lawn can be seen as a message to the rest of the neighborhood that you just don't care.

Most people don’t know this, but there are several schools of thought on what should be done with the leaves in your lawn.

Some people say that having leaves on your lawn will kill the lawn and promote rot and mold. 

Others say the decaying of the leaves helps the lawn get important nutrients.

But what is the real story? Let’s take a look…

It’s true, if you live in Florida you may not have this issue. 

However in most of the country, leaf clean up is a big deal. 

Throughout the Midwest and Northeast, deciduous trees will cause headaches for homeowners. But, is it best collect them and remove them from the property, or should you just leave them? 

Or, Is there a better way?

Close-up of autumn leaves with golden sunlight filtering through

The Natural School of Thought

Many people argue that leaving the leaves on the lawn is simply natural. 

After all, Mother Nature put the leaves there, Mother Nature can take them away too. 

According to many gardeners, homeowners only rake their lawns because they worry that the lawn will be killed if it is still growing. This school of thought argues that the truth is that the lawn is dormant over the winter, so there is little worry concerning growth. 

They also argue that when spring comes along, leaves tend to decompose anyways.

But that is not the whole picture!

Colorful fallen autumn leaves, showcasing a variety of colors and shapes

The Truth About Leaving Leaves in the Lawn

The whole picture however is that your precious grass lawn did not evolve to have the leaves there. 

It’s true that lawns go dormant in the winter, and the decomposing leaves won’t cause it harm during that time. However when spring comes around, and new grass starts to grow, the decomposing leaves will be blocking their light and the grass will not grow. 

That’s is only the beginning of the problem.

Bugs such as gnats will flourish in wet decomposing leaves. As will many molds and fungi, some of which may be harmful to your lawn or the plants in your landscape.

Worst of all, if you wait until spring to handle the leaves they will no longer be easily removed. 

When the leaves are dry and crunchy, they can easily fly away and it is not a problem. Wet, soggy leaves on the other hand are a big problem though. Additionally, leaves can be a road hazard to motorcyclists, so cleaning them up fast, is an all around a good idea!

Vibrant red autumn leaves on a tree with sunlight shining through

The Modern School of Thought

If leaving the leaves in the lawn is so bad, it must be best to remove them entirely right?

Well, that is the line of thought behind the modern method. Which is the practice of removing leaves from the lawn entirely.

Aesthetically, removing the leaves from the lawn may be the only option for some commercial properties. If you are a homeowner you may also simply prefer the simple leaf free look of your lawn.

But there is a better way!

Blurred background with falling autumn leaves in foreground

Schools of Thought on Leaf Cleanup

School of Thought
NaturalLeaving leaves as they fall, mimicking nature's cycle.Enhances soil nutrients naturally over time.Can suffocate grass, promote mold, and harbor pests.
ModernRemoving all leaves from the lawn entirely.Prevents rot and disease, keeps lawns looking tidy.Removes essential nutrients and beneficial organisms from the soil.
MulchingChopping leaves into fine pieces and dispersing them over the lawn.Enriches the soil, prevents suffocation of grass, and saves time.Cannot create large leaf piles for jumping in.

The Truth About Removing all Leaves from the Lawn

Here’s the deal. By removing the leaves year after year, you are truly removing vital nutrients from your lawn. 

Most people don’t know this, but there are many beneficial fungi that can thrive from decomposing leaf matter in the lawn. One of these fungi call Mycorrhizal fungi thrive on decomposing plant matter. These fungi attach to plant rhizomes, and help exchange nutrients and fight off other harmful fungi and bacteria.

So if it isn’t wise to leave leaves, and completely removing them can waste valuable nutrients...

What is the best option?

Landscape view of a forest with autumn colors reflected in a lake

Mulch Your Leaves

Well, as it turns out, there is a method which is mixture of keeping your leaves on the lawn, and getting them off!

It’s simple, in the Autumn, when the leaves are on your lawn, rather than raking them up, deal with them using a lawn mower. 

The dry leaves will be swept up into the lawnmower, where they will be chopped up or mulched into tiny pieces this is why dealing with dry leaves is best. Once the leaves are chopped up, the leaves will be spread over the lawn in tiny little pieces. This helps the lawn three-fold.

  • First, it prevents the leaves from collecting in a pile and killing the lawn underneath in the spring, while promoting rot.
  • Second, it gives your lawns the nutrients and organic matter from the decaying leaves, which are scattered all over the lawn.
  • The third, and best benefit is that you no longer have to take several hours raking up the leaves!

Of course, the downside is you can't jump into a pile of leaves at the end.

Cartoon of a person raking leaves with a caption about preparing for snow

Mulching Leaves - Benefits for Your Lawn

Nutrient EnrichmentMulched leaves decompose, releasing nutrients into the soil.
Moisture RetentionHelps retain soil moisture, reducing the need for watering.
Time and Effort SavingEliminates the need for raking and bagging, saving time and effort.

TL;DR: Leaf Clean-Up Strategies

Recommended Action
Leaving LeavesNatural process; enhances soil with nutrients.Can smother grass; promotes mold and pests.Not recommended unless mulched.
Removing LeavesKeeps lawn clean and free of potential hazards.Labor-intensive; removes important nutrients.Only if necessary for aesthetic or safety reasons.
Mulching LeavesProvides nutrients; prevents smothering; saves time.Requires a suitable lawn mower.Highly recommended for most lawns.

To Wrap it Up

So, the answer to keeping your leaves on your lawn comes down to a little from column A and a little from column B.

This method of mulching leaves is the same method you should use when mowing the lawn. You can read more on mulching grass in our article Should I bag My Clippings?

If cutting the leaves into your lawn is too much for your mower, you can always hire a pro with GreenPal!

GreenPal offers you competitive lawn care bids from lawn care providers near you. It only takes 5 minutes to sign up! 

Don’t FALL behind on your lawn care this autumn. Hire a pro

Graphic image of pruning clippers with a label

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