Mulch or rake leaves to keep grass healthy


Paper refuse bags for leaves and city yard waste pickup, and the good old-fashioned rake, are sure signs of autumn and falling leaves.

The beauty of fall brings with it the conundrum of fallen leaves. Thick layers of leaves deprive lawns of much-needed sunlight and foster disease that wrecks havoc on even the healthiest of lawns. Raking and/or mulching leaves throughout the fall season is an imperative part of good lawn maintenance.

Step 1: Decide what to rake and what to mulch. A thick layer of leaves around trees and beneath shrubs and bushes will protect their root systems over the blustery winter. Keep leaves a couple of inches away from the actual tree trunks. Cover perennial flower beds with a layer of mulched leaves to enhance the nutrient level of the soil and help plants weather the frigid temperatures.

Step 2: Use a push mower to chop leaves into dime-size pieces. Mulched leaves can be gathered, composted or, more easily, left on the lawn as organic matter. Up to 18 inches of dry leaves can be mulched with any standard rotary mower, though it may take several passes to break the leaves down. Mow over the leaves multiple times until a good half-inch of grass is peeping up from beneath the organic matter.

Step 3: If mulching is not an option, traditional raking of leaves is far more effective than attempting the job with a blower or leaf vacuum. Move your feet, not your arms, when you rake. Pull the leaves along with you as you walk backward. Avoid twisting the trunk of your body as you rake. Switch hand positions frequently to avoid uneven stress to arms and either side of your body.

Step 4: Rake excess leaves onto a tarp or old bed sheet to facilitate the bagging process. Use plastic leaf scoops and a large leaf funnel to help direct the fruits of your labor into paper leaf bags.

Step 5: Consider composting the leaves rather than bagging them. Pile leaves into 3-foot-square piles about 6 inches deep. Sprinkle the piles with dirt and a nitrogen-rich material, such as grass clippings, blood meal or compost accelerator. Add a few more layers of leaves, soil and nitrogen until each pile is about 3 feet deep. Sprinkle with water and turn the piles once a week throughout the fall and mild periods of winter. Come spring, you should have the perfect soil amendment to till into your garden beds.


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