Mow, Don't Rake!

Thursday, November 3, 2011 - 3:10pm

Mow Your Leaves for a Better Environment!

Big piles of leaves by the curb, a certain sign of autumn and lots of fun for kids to jump in. What could be wrong with that? Not to be the Grinch Who Stole Leaf Pile Jumping, but everything. Leaves in the gutter make their way to the creek where they decompose and cause nutrient bloom. Leaves in the gutter mean no leaves around the base of your trees where they provide an organic blanket for the trees during the winter. Leaves in the gutter mean you are wasting valuable nutrients for your lawn.

So, this year, take a tip from Winterthur, the spectacular DuPont gardens in Delaware and mow your leaves right on the lawn.

From a Washington Post article

For more than 20 years, the gardeners at this expansive and famously leafy estate have been mowing leaves with (...) lawn mowers. The machines inhale the leaves, chop them into shreds and deposit them as the mower moves along. Engine noise is confined to the muted chug of the mower, not the incessant high-pitch whine of the leaf blower.And there are no bags to unhook and drag anywhere, just a confetti-like litter left on the grass. Ripped into morsel-size pieces, the flakes melt away in two or three weeks as microbes and worms do their work of enriching the soil.

It is such a simple system that (Chris) Strand, garden director, and Long, assistant garden curator, wonder why it hasn't caught on. They are certainly converts in their own gardens. "I spend a fraction of the time I used to spend raking and transporting leaves," says Strand.

This process is endorsed by none other than the Scotts Fertilizer Company. On their website, they recommend you

Take the grass catcher off your mower and mow over the leaves on your lawn. You want to reduce your leaf clutter to dime-size pieces. You'll know you're done when about half an inch of grass can be seen through the mulched leaf layer. Once the leaf bits settle in, microbes and worms get to work recycling them. Any kind of rotary-action mower will do the job, and any kind of leaves can be chopped up. With several passes of your mower, you can mulch up to 18 inches of leaf clutter.

So, give your rake a rest, save the local government some money and help the environment all by mowing your leaves. It works for the Winterthur Estates and it will work for you. When spring arrives, you'll see great results. The leaf litter you mowed this fall will have disappeared. And your grass will look greener than ever.

And if your children need a pile to jump it, rake them one and when they're jumped out, put those leaves under your trees and around your shrubs - free and beautiful mulch!

Great Lawn Fertilizer and Winter Habitat

The National Wildlife Federation states "In addition to becoming natural fertilizer for your soil, leaves that stay where they fall create “mini ecosystems,” according to another post by the group. Chipmunks, salamanders, earthworms, turtles and other small creatures live in the leaves or use them for food and nesting material, and butterflies and moth pupae like to spend the winter in the leaf layers."

University of Michigan Study Endorses Mulching

Here's another good article about mowing your leaves that sings praises to the value of mulching your leaves right on the grass.

The author addresses the problem of oak leaves - hard to mulch, but with patience, they will shread.

Fine Gardening Magazine Encourages Leaving the Leaves

Mowing leaves into your lawn can improve its vigor, and unraked leaves in planting beds don’t smother shade-tolerant perennials
by Terry Ettinger

If you dread the annual fall leaf-raking marathon, I have good news for you: Raking and collecting leaves every autumn is a tradition without scientific basis. Research has proven that mowing leaves into your lawn can improve its vigor, and observation shows that unraked leaves in planting beds don’t smother shade-tolerant perennials.  Click HERE to read more.

Stop Raking Your Leaves - from the Washington Post, October 7, 2016

Stop Raking Your Leaves by Christopher Ingraham

. . . .According to Sam Bauer, a turf grass researcher at the University of Minnesota, the best thing to do with your leaves may be to forget about raking and bagging, and simply go over them with a lawnmower from time to time.
"The leaves have organic matter in them, you're adding good organic matter to your soil when you're not picking them up," Bauer said in an interview.
You don't need any special equipment to do this -- you can just run the leaves over with your regular mower. If your lawnmower has a side discharge outlet, where a bag or chute usually goes, just close it up, Bauer says. "What that does is it keeps the leaves in the housing of the mower and they get chopped up much more finely."
If you want to get really fancy about it, you can buy a specialized mulching blade for your mower that'll chop them up even more finely.
If you take this approach, the benefits to your lawn are two-fold. First, all the organic material adds good nutrients to your soil, which will help your grass grow better next year. Bauer says he sometimes hears from people worried that too much leaf material will alter their soil chemistry in a bad way. "To me, none of that is valid," he said. He's done some research into this, and found no evidence that too much leaf mulch will alter your soil in a way that hurts your grass.
The other great thing mulching does: It suppresses weeds. Bauer points to experiments showing that leaf mulch reduced the appearance of dandelions by up to 84 percent the following season. . . . .: