Raking leaves in the fall is a task that many homeowners perform without question. Whether the leaves absolutely need to be cleaned up at this time is another matter entirely. From an ecological standpoint, the answer to this question is no. However, if you intend to maintain a healthy lawn beneath your trees, you really should try to remove as many leaves as possible before the winter. First, a heavy layer of leaves can smother the grass beneath or prevent new growth in the spring unless promptly taken away. Leaves that are left on the lawn can also promote snow mold diseases which can cause significant damage to turf grass in the winter and early spring. While you can certainly wait until spring to rake up the leaves, be prepared to deal with other resulting yard and garden issues that may become apparent at that time.
Leaf cleanup can be a daunting task, particularly for those with large deciduous trees. One way to make things easier is to put the lawn mower to use. Passing over the leaves with the mower a few times is often enough to shred them into small pieces. This not only cuts down on labor, but also returns nitrogen to the soil as the chipped leaves decompose. Mulching leaves into the lawn works very well as long as it is done several times throughout the season. Once a thick layer of leaves builds up, it is nearly impossible to get all of the pieces to filter down between the grass blades. At that point, it is much easier to simply rake them up.
All too often, leaves are bagged up and hauled away to the transfer station. That is a terrible waste since leaves are an incredibly valuable, useful, and free resource. If space allows, composting leaves is a great way to recycle nutrients, and compost can be used to improve the soil in the lawn and garden.
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