Fall leaf clean up is an expected chore for most homeowners. Almost every suburban property has at least one tree within or against its property lines. It could be as bare as a single small tree in the front yard or as covered as a fully wooded lot, but for the vast majority of homeowners, fall leaf clean up tips are welcome to make sure the job is being done properly. There are several methods commonly used for removing leaves from the lawn, including raking leaves, blowing leaves, and mulching leaves. But when you are wanting to preserve the health of your lawn for next spring, which is best?
Raking is by far the most traditional and expected method of leaf removal since it is what most people grew up helping their parents do every year. Especially for small yards, it does not take much time to rake the leaves up into a pile and haul them away, usually on a tarp. Additionally, a rake or two is far less expensive than alternative methods that also require specialized equipment.
However, of any method, raking leaves is by far the worst way to perform a fall leaf clean up. This is because of the damage it does to the grass that gets torn up in the process of gathering the leaves. If you think about it, raking is a very aggressive process. Hard plastic or metal teeth scrape over a surface repeatedly. While this is effective in scooping up a pile of leaves, that mechanical process rips and tears grass easily, and can leave your lawn thin and stressed going into winter and spring.
For cool season lawns like turf type tall fescue that are seeded in the fall prior to leaf season, this damage can be even worse. Newly germinated grass grows in over the course of a few weeks, but it takes several months for the blades to mature and thicken and for the root system to develop any kind of strength and depth. As a result, baby grass is still much more fragile during fall leaf clean up season than the mature populations of the lawn. When a homeowner has invested so much in fall seeding, the last thing they should want to do is compromise the return on that investment by ripping it up by raking leaves.
As far as fall leaf clean up tips go, the best one that can be given is the recommendation to use a blower to push leaves into a pile or designated area. Where raking leaves is an aggressive and damaging force, blowing is by far the most gentle option where grass is concerned. Additionally, blowing is significantly less physically taxing for most homeowners and can save a substantial amount of time.
Blowing leaves is a task for which an investment in quality equipment can make a great difference. Many homeowners settle for low cost hand held electric blowers that must be plugged into an extension cord that trails them all around the yard. These machines are usually limited in power, causing it to take hours and hours to blow a standard sized lawn. Whenever the budget allows, a high quality backpack blower is going to not only provide you with better mobility across the lawn, but also greater power and control, making the fall leaf clean up go much faster.
When blowing the leaves, especially where baby grass growing in from fall seeding is concerned, it is ideal to hold the blower as close to parallel to the lawn as possible. The more you point straight down, the more direct force you are applying with the air to the grass, increasing your risk of damage. Remember, fall leaves are very lightweight, so they do not require much force to get them moving across the surface of the lawn.
Even though blowing leaves is the most ideal way of performing a fall leaf clean up on a lawn, mulching leaves is typically considered the easiest. Most of the time, this is done by mowing over the yard multiple times to chop the fallen leaves up into finer and finer pieces. The idea in this is that these tiny bits of leaves will settle within the lawn and gradually decompose. This is preferable to many homeowners because, unlike raking or blowing, it does not require the removal or relocation of intact piles of leaves.
In terms of safety for the turfgrass growing beneath the leaves, using a mower to mulch your fall leaves sits between blowing and raking. Going over and over the same areas with a mower is stressful to a lawn at any point of the year, but can be especially taxing to newly germinated seed. A homeowner should not opt for mulching leaves until their freshly seeded lawn has developed enough to have been mowed normally three to four times prior to the start of performing this kind of fall leaf clean up.
There is an ongoing debate within the turf management community regarding whether or not mulching leaves is a beneficial compost to a lawn’s ecosystem. Those opposed to this method of a fall leaf clean up point out that it can cause wear on the lawn, that too thick of leaf build up will not be resolved by mulching and will still lead to your lawn being smothered by debris, and that some leaves have a low pH, worsening soil acidity. Those in support of mulching leaves point to the convenience of it making it easier to do on a frequent basis, to the return of decomposing organic material to the soil system, and to the fact that the risk of pH impact is usually low.
No matter how you tackle your fall leaf clean up, the most important thing is to keep in mind the lawn underneath. Do not let leaves build up for weeks at a time to the point that your grass is smothered out! Consistency is key, and that is the biggest of the fall leaf clean up tips that we can give you.