Leaving Leaves on Your Lawn Is Not a Great Idea

The Grumpy Gardener focuses his jaundiced eye on another touted trend.

Scrolling through social media brings to your attention all sorts of shaky proposals on how you and we can better our environment. You know, kill poison ivy with vinegar; plant prairies on our rooftops; and line city streets with apple, peach, and plum trees to feed hungry people and coat the sidewalks with putrefying, smashed, fallen fruit. Here's the latest lame idea to cross my screen – instead of raking up the fallen leaves blanketing your lawn now, just let them be.


Fallen leaves on green lawn
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The rationale for leaving them goes something like this. Lots of insects use fallen leaves to protect their eggs, pupae, and larvae from the cold winter. We need these bugs to survive to feed birds, fish, ants, snakes, lizards, toads, spiders, scorpions, murder hornets, and the like. Raking and bagging them and sending them to landfills turns your yard into a lifeless wasteland.

Another argument for leaving them points out that as fallen leaves decay, they provide valuable organic matter to the soil. Can't argue with that – the woods in back of my house boast the richest, darkest soil you've ever seen, the product of leaves rotting there for hundreds of years. Of course, the woods and the lawn manifest two entirely different purposes and ecosystems, but perhaps I'm splitting hairs. (No, I'm not.)

Lawns serve specific and beneficial functions in most of suburbia other than simply satisfying the watchdogs of your HOA. They're the easiest and least invasive ground covers to grow in large areas with sun. They stay short. They don't climb. They carpet the mud so you don't track it into the house. They reduce erosion, cool the air, absorb CO2, and provide a nice walking surface. By no means am I suggesting you devote your entire realm to lawn, but it's a good choice for a lot of situations.

Smothering the lawn for months on end with leaves is not good for the grass. Grass likes sun and air. Shutting out these things opens the door for lawn diseases. Moreover, wet leaves are both slippery and acts as little petri dishes for growing molds that cause allergic reactions. Plus they pretty much make your house look like nobody lives there.

There's yet another problem with leaves in suburbia. Left to the wind, they invariably collect in the curbs of the streets where water pushes them into the storm drains. When enough leaves accumulate down there, storm drains clog and streets flood.

Grumpy's Incredibly Insightful Solution

Don't leave the leaves on the lawn. Don't rake them into the curbs either. Instead, do one of these two things (or both). Run over the leaves with a mulching mower that has a collector attached. Use these chopped leaves to mulch your garden beds. They stay in place, look natural, keep down weeds, and enrich the soil as they break down. They're also FREE. Or run over the leaves and lawn without the collector. The mower will chop the leaves into little bits that enrich the soil your lawn grows on. It's faster than raking or blowing.

What about the bugs? Well, what about them? If they don't like my yard, they can go to the house across the street. The one with all the leaves.

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