Fallen leaves can kill your lawn, but they make great mulch for garden beds. sigusr0 photo.

Fallen leaves can kill your lawn, but they are great mulch for garden beds. sigusr0 photo.

Fallen leaves are both a detriment to your lawn and a benefit to your garden beds. This is an important topic, so we are updating a blog post from last fall.

Many trees provide a wondrous show in the fall, with leaves in hues of red, orange, brown and gold. But once the show is over, those leaves can damage your lawn, so it’s time to get out the rake.

What’s the problem?

Leaves, especially wet leaves, can thin your lawn in a very short time. Fallen leaves prevent sunlight from reaching your turf. They smother the grass, preventing water from evaporating and eliminating air exchange. The combination of wet plants and low oxygen can cause fungus, mold and disease, essentially rotting your lawn.

What you can do

  • Rake leaves off your lawn! Protect the investment you have made all year to develop a thick, healthy lawn.
  • Rake or blow leaves at least once a week during peak leaf fall. Raking more frequently does not take much more time because frequent removal is much easier than waiting to remove all the leaves at once. Dry leaves are easier to rake than wet ones, so aim for a dry day if possible. A good rake makes the job easier.

Here’s the good news

  • Leaves make a great mulch for your garden beds. Just rake them onto the beds and spread them out in a thick layer. Make sure to leave a ring that’s several inches wide around the trunks of your trees and shrubs.
  • Leaves also make great compost. Add them to your compost pile or compost them separately. Large leaves will break down more quickly if shredded, but will break down eventually if allowed time. Composted leaves make great soil amendments.

Do not compost the following, but dispose in yard waste

  • Leaves from any tree with a foliar disease, such as fruit trees, ornamental cherries and plums, or dogwoods with anthracnose. Disease spores can over-winter on fallen leaves, surviving the composting process and infecting your trees again in the spring.
  • Leaves of conifers and broad-leaf evergreens. They take a long time to compost.

References

How to rake leaves (almost effortlessly), Chicago Tribune.

The Gardener’s Guide to Plant Diseases. by Barbara Pleasant.

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