Fall Leaves On The Lawn
The beautifully cultivated all-American lawn is the ultimate dream for most homeowners, but there are endless challenges that face us in the pursuit of that Picture Perfect lawn. During the winter, hard frosts set the stage for potential damage to broken grass blades. In the spring and summer, there is the constant battle of avoiding heat stress, drought, fungus, grubs, and invasive weeds. Autumn, however, brings its own unique challenge: Fall Leaves On The Lawn.
In the Greater Richmond area of Virginia where Picture Perfect Lawn Maintenance proudly cares for the health and appearance of hundreds of residential fescue lawns, the naturally wooded environment has a diverse range of deciduous trees. Walnut trees, hickory trees, birch trees, poplars, oaks, maples, elms, and more all produce a beautiful variety of fall foliage from approximately late September through December depending on the season’s range each year. Many neighborhoods in Greater Richmond, Chesterfield County, and surrounding areas are to some extent wooded, so the vast majority of homeowners are able to enjoy these beautiful trees and the colors they proudly display each fall. The great downside to this autumn show though is when all of those fall leaves drop and pile onto the lawn.
While a pile of fall leaves on the lawn can inspire great moments of family fun and photo ops, the warm and fuzzy autumn vibe seeing them blow around inspires will quickly fade when you consider how much trouble they end up being. Cleaning up fall leaves ranks as one of America’s least favorite chores, but it is a great necessity for the health of the lawn underneath.
Why Fall Leaves On The Lawn are a Problem
For fescue lawns, early fall is the perfect time for core aeration and overseeding to be done because it gives baby grass time to grow and develop before it goes dormant for the winter. This new grass puts your lawn in a delicate place during this time because of its fragility and sensitivity. While a small amount of leaves will always be a presence on a lawn, a blanketing of them that covers the majority of the turf begins to pose serious issues.
If the presence of fall leaves on top of the grass is too thick, serious issues can occur that will compromise the health of your lawn. Fall leaves left to sit on the turf block sunlight from reaching the grass, preventing our lawn from being able to photosynthesize the way it should to develop healthily. In addition, fall leaves can impede water and other nutrients from reaching your soil and instead hold excess moisture against the grass. This creates a high risk of mold and rot developing in your lawn and killing parts of it off before it even has a chance to reach its full potential in the spring.
If left to their own devices, fall leaves on the lawn usually take six to twelve months or longer to decompose, which is why forest floors generally have a constant covering of leaf litter featuring different stages of decomposition. While this process obviously takes way too long for your lawn due to the issues we discussed above, it’s also a bad idea to let the fall leaves on your lawn break down naturally because of the general acidity of leaf compost. Soil pH is a delicate balancing act that is vital to the health and success of your lawn, and a pH that tends toward being too acidic can lose a lot of nutrient accessibility. Soil tends toward acidity on its own from the effect of rain, roots, and other forces that are naturally acidic, so it is a bad idea to add leaf compost to the list.
How to Handle Your Fall Leaves On The Lawn
At this point, we can obviously agree that fall leaves are a threat to your lawn that should be taken seriously. But how should they be most effectively managed? First and foremost, Picture Perfect Lawn Maintenance recommends that homeowners remove the fall leaves on the lawn every one to two weeks for as long as they’re falling. The frequency generally depends on how heavily wooded the property is, so it may require some common sense and monitoring of how thick they’re getting on the lawn. Frequency is vital because it is bad for your lawn and hugely inconvenient for you if the fall leaves are allowed to get out of control. One hour once a week is much easier for you and your lawn than six or more hours once a month!
While the “tried and true” approach to collecting fall leaves on the lawn has long been the good old fashioned rake, Picture Perfect Lawn Maintenance strongly encourages our clients and any homeowner to explore more gentle options. The best ways to gather and remove leaves are by using a blower, a mulching mower with a bag, or by gently (gently, now!) raking.
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Using a blower (we find backpack blowers to be a more and more affordable option for homeowners that relieve you of the hassle that comes with corded electric blowers) is our preferred approach because it is very difficult to do damage to the lawn this way, and it’s easy to push the leaves across the lawn to be left in a natural area or collected somewhere off of the lawn. While mulching mowers definitely add convenience, small, wet, or soft lawns will not be a good fit because of the damage risk to the still fragile baby grass. If you choose to rake, make certain that the baby grass in your lawn is strong enough to withstand the teeth of the rake. Take caution not to pull any grass up with your rake’s teeth; overzealous raking can be a hugely compromising factor in the thickness and health of your lawn next spring.
All in all, fall leaves on the lawn should be something to enjoy and let have set the mood for the coming months of chilly weather. They can be great fun for your family, but that should never come at the cost of the beautiful lawn you’ve invested so much in leading up to now. While the build up of fall leaves can pose a great risk to your fescue turf, the management of them can be much easier and less damaging to your lawn if you use painless methods like blowing instead of raking. Keep fall fun, and keep the fall leaves off your lawn!
To learn more about PPLM’s take on why not to rake, check out our video on fall leaves here:
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