It’s not too late to mulch fallen leaves into lawns

Keep mulching your leaves through the season – don’t bag ‘em! Michigan State University research shows it’s great for your lawn.

Leaf residue left behind on the surface of the lawn after mulching over leaves. The tiny pieces will last a few days and eventually sift down through the turf. Photo by Kevin Frank, MSU

Leaf residue left behind on the surface of the lawn after mulching over leaves. The tiny pieces will last a few days and eventually sift down through the turf. Photo by Kevin Frank, MSU

Smart Gardening LogoFor many years, turf managers and homeowners have been raking and bagging leaves to prevent leaves from piling up, resulting in disaster for the turf plant below. The ban on yard waste during the 90s prompted Michigan State University Extension turf specialists to investigate how lawns would react to having a whole season’s worth of ground-up leaves left on the lawn, and the results may surprise you! They found lawns do better with a layer of mulched leaves.

How to leaf it – and reap!

On those slightly dewy mornings in the fall, elevate your mower deck to the highest setting and set out on your merry way, crossing over the leaves once or twice. Mulching mowers can handle up to 6 inches of leaves at a time in one pass, but a traditional mower might take several trips. Depending on how many leaves fall each week, you may find yourself doing this process twice in one week. There will be obvious “leaf residue” on the surface of the lawn that only lasts for a few days. The tiny pieces will eventually sift down through the turf, providing a certain amount of weed control while recycling essential nutrients that can save you money and time. Think of it as a “smoothie” for the lawn. Next spring, you won’t even notice the tiny leaf particles that have tucked themselves neatly around the crown of the grass plants.

Mulched leaves Mulched leaves
Using a mulching mower, take one or two passes over the fallen leaves to crush them into tiny particles (left). The following spring (right), you won’t even see the ground up leaves as they hide in and around the turf plants. Photos by Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension

Check out this smart gardening tip sheet for additional information, “Mulch leaves into turf for a smart lawn,” or watch a YouTube video on leaf mulching to get you started!

After several years of mulching leaves, you will see the benefits while enjoying an “earth friendly” activity that is actually good for the lawn!

For more information on a wide variety of smart gardening topics, or to find out about Smart Gardening classes and events, visit www.migarden.msu.edu.

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