How To Manage Fall Leaves

Autumn is here, and with it comes falling rain, falling temperatures, and falling leaves. This year, instead of tossing those leaves in the garbage, put the leaves to work for you and your lawn by leafcycling. 

What is leafcycling?

Much like grasscycling, leafcycling is a way to return nutrients to the soil by mowing fall leaves. But unlike nitrogen-rich grass clippings, fall leaves are high in carbon and low in nitrogen, so they take a while to break down if left to their own devices. Mowing the leaves helps speed the decomposition process along by reducing the size of those leafy bits. 

What are the benefits of leafcycling?

Leafcycling benefits your lawn, the environment, and even your wallet! 

Lawn benefits:

  • Introduces organic matter and nutrients into the soil
  • Reduces the potential for lawn diseases caused by wet leaves coating the grass (ex. snow mold)
  • Limits dead spots in the spring caused by matted leaf cover (especially under snow)
  • Allows seed used for overseeding or dormant seeding to reach the soil without getting stuck on top of leaf debris

Eco benefits: 

  • Prevents water pollution by reducing the amount of leaves piled in streets, one of the largest contributors to phosphorus pollution in urban environments
  • Diverts material from the landfill 
  • Provides overwintering habitat for beneficial arthropods and wildlife 
  • Provides natural fertilizer, meaning less store-bought inputs needed for your yard

Personal benefits:

  • Saves you money since you don’t have to purchase yard waste bags or pay for yard waste pickup

How to leafcycle

Leafcycling is just as easy as mowing your lawn! 

  1. If you haven’t already ditched your mower bag, do it now! 
  2. Lower your mowing height a notch to make sure you get those leaves. 
  3. Mow your leaves to chop them up and return them to the soil.
  4. If the first pass doesn’t break the leaves into small enough pieces, mow them again. The smaller the bits are, the better, to ensure the nutrients can break down into the soil.

Other uses for fall leaves

Leafcycling isn’t the only option for repurposing fall leaves. 

Note: If you live in an area with a high tick presence, this might not be the option for you, since ticks can also overwinter in these leaf piles. 

  • Go on a nature walk and create a leaf journal to learn about the different trees in your neighborhood.
  • Use leaves for DIY fall decor or crafts with the kiddos. 

Ease into winter

Now that you’ve managed those leaves – make sure you prep your lawn for winter, to help it bounce back happy and healthy this spring. Keep your lawn free of debris, winterize your irrigation system and rain barrels, and protect your dormant grass from winter damage.

CITED SOURCES

Burns, P. Leave the leaves. North Carolina Cooperative Extension.  

Clemson University Extension. Fall Leaves: To Leave or Not to Leave

Kansas State University Extension. Mulch Mowing Fall Leaves 

Kansas State University Extension. Solution for getting rid of fall leaves on the lawnPenn, R. Rethinking yard waste disposal. Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and University of Florida. 

United States Environmental Protection Agency. Yard Trimmings: Material-Specific Data.

University of Illinois Extension. Using Fallen Leaves

Wheeler, J. Leave the leaves! Xerces Society.