LEAVES...TO MULCH OR NOT TO MULCH...THAT IS THE QUESTION.
Every year, after the beauty of fall will come the seemingly unceasing falling and accumulation of leaves. Both of which are truly a gift from nature. For as long as I can remember, the status quo of dealing with leaves has been to rake them up, bag them up, and dispose of them. While everyone has there own unique situation to contend with, we want to make sure that you understand the pros and cons of removing leaves off of your property and what is best for you!
PROS TO MULCHING AND LEAVING YOUR LEAVES - This is one of our favorite topics! There are very few things better for our lawns and our trees than PROPERLY mulching our grass and our leaves. Grass can receive approximately 25% of its nutritional needs throughout the year, while trees can receive nearly 75% of its nutritional needs simply from mulching its own leaves at the end of the year! So when we bag our grass or remove the leaves from underneath the canopy of our trees for the sake of tidiness, we are doing a huge disservice to our soil, our grass and our trees.
So, what does properly mulching even mean? We can definitely do this wrong and create negative results. Properly mulching our lawn and our leaves should be done in small increments. When mulching our leaves, the more frequently we mow, the easier the mulched leaves will break down into the soil. Approximately 6-8 inches of leaves can be mulched on your lawn throughout the fall without causing potential problems. This is not to say you can mulch 6-8 inches at one time, but throughout the entirety of the fall. We recommend mulching no more than a thin layer (1-2 inches) of leaves at a time. This will give your lawn the ability to breakdown the leaf clippings easier without smothering the lawn. If there are too many leaves, you can mulch the lawn, and then come behind and bag the excess. This will allow some of the leaves to decompose while removing the excess.
The primary advantage to mulching isn't just the time that it saves, but it is the impact that it has on our soil. Basically, any organic matter (such as grass clippings and leaves) that is left to be reintroduced to our lawn will dramatically improve soil health. In organic deficient soil such as ours, this is a great way to improve and increase microbial activity in our soil. With higher microbial activity comes the ability to decompose organic matter such as thatch and leaves. Decomposing organic matter will open up and create better soil porosity, which leads to improved gas exchange, which leads to better nutrient cycling, which leads to better nutrient retention, which leads to a more self sustaining soil, which leads to a healthier landscape.
So yes, mulching is extremely important for our trees and our grass. But what about our landscape beds? It's important to know your landscape and the plants that you have, but leaving a proper layer of leaves in your landscape can be beneficial for several reasons. Benefits may include soil enrichment, a bit of insulation for plants, and providing a desirable environment for certain beneficial insects and pollinators to overwinter in. Just try to keep the leaves away from the house as well as any plants that do not like to be overly moist.
PROS TO RAKING LEAVES - There are certain varieties of trees that will drop its entire canopy of leaves within a couple of days, while other varieties may take several weeks (even months) to completely shed all of its leaves. As leaf drop occurs, there can be an accumulation of leaves where it may be advantageous for you to rake them instead of mulching them. It can also become a bit of a safety hazard in some instances as the leaves bury obstacles now unseen in your landscape. During winter weather, leaves left on patio's or sidewalks can also become a slipping hazard as well. So, if you have been unable to keep up with the leaves as they fall and you have accumulated several inches of leaves, or if they are matted down, it is often better to rake them and bag them. If you have an area to compost a portion of the fallen leaves for your trees and landscape beds, that is perfect!
So, the case may be where mulching your leaves just isn't the best option and they just need to be removed. Improperly chopping, mulching or leaving leaves on the lawn can create a thick, dense, leaf layer throughout the winter. If this layer gets matted down or is too thick, it can prevent proper sunlight, gas exchanges and moisture absorption for the soil. All of which is harmful to the micro-organisms living within the soil and can kill the grass or plants it blankets. So don't feel bad if you have to remove leaves from your landscape and lawn. But if you have the ability to stay ahead of the leaves on your property, it truly is more beneficial than removing them when possible!
For any other questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to us! It would be our pleasure to assist you in any way that we can! Take care and God Bless.