Monday, November 8, 2010

Making good use of all those leaves

Well we've had a pretty nice fall foliage season in New England this year, despite all the dire predictions that our unusually hot and dry summer would play havoc with foliage season.  The inevitable end to foliage season is leaves on the ground that need to be cleared away.  I've always hated the idea of buying bags to stuff with leaves in order to throw them away.  That's kind of like throwing away money, isn't it. 

A few years ago the maintenance staff at Mount Auburn Cemetery began a practice of mowing leaves directly into the lawns rather than picking them all up and transporting them to a compost yard.  When you consider that leaves contain most of the minerals that the roots have taken out of the soil, returning those minerals to the ground essentially supplies the trees with the raw materials they need to produce a new crop the following year. 

Pros for mowing in leaves:
  • No raking
  • No leaf bags
  • Relatively fast
  • No transporting leaves for disposal
  • Free fertilizer, may skip lawn and tree fertilization
  • Naturally builds soil organic content 
  • No special equipment (just a mulching mower)

  • Some leaf dust and scraps remaining
  • Need to make an extra pass with lawn mower
  • Dry leaves are abrasive toward lawn mower blades
  • Some leaves, like walnut, contain compounds that retard growth of other plants

Since I've learned about that practice, I've been using it at home for the past two seasons.  This year my goal is that I will dispose of no leaves off of my property.  The following images show before and after shots of mowing the leaves into the lawn.  This job took me about 15 min, while raking and bagging would have taken at least an hour.  If the grass was a little taller or I hadn't waited so long between mowings, most of the debris would have disappeared immediately.  Also, since I have been doing this I have reduced the fertilization of the lawn to a single treatment with slow release fertilizer in the spring.  (I'm not a turf expert, but this works for me.)


For the leaves in the shrub beds, I'll rake and/or blow them out then run the leaves through a chipper which reduces the volume about 5 fold.  These leaves I'll save for a month or two then use them as a mulch on the garden and perennial beds. 

Some more ideas about how to treat fallen leaves and their benefits can be found at this link to Ecosystem Gardening


Laurrie said...

This makes so much sense and your pictures show that it actually looks like you have raked. But all that good biological stuff is back in the lawn. Nice.

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

I've never enjoyed raking leaves, and never understood bagging lawn clippings either. We mulched our leaves and clippings into the lawns at our last house, and stopped using fertilizer altogether. What we saved on fertilizers more than paid for the mower too. It's amazing, once mulched, how quickly the leaf bits and pieces will disappear into the soil, and how much happier the lawns are for it.

fer said...

This looks really nice! I think is a perfect way to treat your lawn.