(NEXSTAR) – Too lazy to maintain your lawn this fall? Good news: You may be able to leave your leaves alone.
Depending on how luscious you like your lawn, experts say it’s not always necessary to bust out the rake or the leafblower. In fact, some say it may actually be beneficial to leave your leaves alone — with important exceptions.
The arguments against raking:
“If you have just a few leaves, such as 20 percent of the lawn covered, you can just ignore them,” wrote Diana Alfuth, a former horticulture extension educator with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in a September blog post.
“They will blow around, settle in, and break down on their own,” Alfuth added.
Any more than around 20%, however, and the experts agree that some action is needed, though not necessarily raking. Mulching up the leaves with a lawnmower is another option, allowing the shreds to settle between the grass and break down before causing any damage.
Sam Bauer, a researcher and consultant specializing in turfgrass science, said mowing over the leaves is his preferred method, as fallen leaves are nutrient-rich and bring benefits to the soil.
In an article published by the University of Minnesota, Bauer said leaving mulched-up leaves on the lawn can even control the spread of certain weeds, citing a 2010 study from Michigan State University that found mulched maple leaves, specifically, to be effective at helping reduce dandelion populations.
The arguments for raking:
Of course, an excessive amount of leaves would require a good raking, lest they smother the grass entirely and block out any sun or rain that would otherwise reach the ground and bolster the lawn ahead of winter. (Thick leaf cover can also increase the chances of snow mold, a type of fungus that grows in colder months.) And, any leaves showing signs of fungal disease — common signs include rust-colored spots, blights, mildewy growths, among others — should be raked up right away before they can spread to other plants.
In fact, Heather Zidack, an educator with the University of Connecticut’s Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, told Nexstar that any and all leaves should probably be raked up.
“If you’re interested in keeping healthy turf, or keeping a good lawn, you want to pull your leaves,” Zidack recommended. “They’re going to be a problem.”
Zidack specifically pointed to fungal issues as the reasoning for raking. Mulching up any diseased leaves, she added, may even compound the problem.
“Don’t even compost them, just get them off the property and dispose of them,” she said of leaves exhibiting infection. “You don’t want those issues to come back.”
Speaking with Nexstar’s WWLP last month, landscaper Gary Courchesne with G & H Landscaping also warned that certain leaves and excessive mulching can upset the pH balance in your lawn’s soil — so it may be in your best interest to consult a professional if you’re unsure. (Homeowners with concerns can always obtain a pH test, or reach out to local labs for testing guidance.)
Take it or leave it?
Not sure if you should leave your leaves? Homeowners can always take a more balanced approach and reserve a portion of the yard for leaves to be left alone. Many people, according to Zidack, also choose move their leaves to an area of land where the leaves can be left to decay naturally, usually for the benefit of the local bee, insect and critter populations.
“Leaving the leaves is an absolute benefit to them,” she said. “If home gardeners are a little more open to the possibility, we recommend they leave the leaves in areas where they don’t worry about it being as upkept — the edge of property, things like that.”
The rest of the grass, meanwhile, may have a better chance at flourishing in the spring.
“It’s very individual specific,” Zidack said. “Whatever’s best for you and your garden.”