Fall Clean-Ups: Leave Your Leaves or Rake Them to the Curb?

Written by Greenwise Team
Published on November 18, 2016
Just in time for Fall clean-ups, there’s a story making the rounds in the media that seems to say less yard work is best. According to some interpretations, during fall clean-ups raking leaf debris ‘has been declared overrated, harmful, and all-around terrible by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).’ (Yahoo! News, November 10th)
fall clean ups
Not so fast. While this might seem like welcome news to overworked homeowners, don’t burn your rakes just yet. What the NWF actually recommends is to leave your leaf debris on your property – after you rake and mulch the debris. See their recommendations here: NWF Leave the Leaves. Homeowners may choose to leave their leaves on their property or have them hauled away. Either way, you need to rake the debris off the lawn. A thick layer of dead leaves left covering the turf will smother the grass. Also, it can cause fungal issues over the winter. Homeowners should consider the pros and cons of each option. As a result, they can make an informed decision on which option is right for them.
fall clean ups

Fall Clean Ups Option 1: Leave the Leaves 

  • Mulch appreciated. Leaves form a natural mulch. This mulch helps suppress weeds and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down. Chop them with a mulching mower or combine them with grass clippings to create compost.
  • Creature comfort. Critters ranging from turtles and toads to birds, mammals, and invertebrates rely on leaf litter for food, shelter, and nesting material. Many moth and butterfly caterpillars overwinter in fallen leaves before emerging in spring.
  • Pass on gas. Raked leaves from fall clean-ups that get sent to landfills account for 13 percent of the nation’s solid waste. That’s equal to 33 million tons of organic matter, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Without enough oxygen to decompose, the leaves release harmful greenhouse gas methane.


 Fall Clean Ups Option 2: Kick ‘Em to the Curb 

  • Sick sycamores. If plants and trees have fungal diseases such as rust or apple scab, do not compost infected leaves or stems. Thoroughly clean up garden areas in the fall to reduce overwintering sites for the fungal spores. If you’re not sure if your plants have fungal disease, ask a certified arborist or horticulturalist to come out to inspect your property. 
  • Leaf-a-palooza. If your property is heavily wooded, leaving all of the leaf debris may be too much of a good thing. A very thick layer of dead leaves could harm your lawn. Due to the thatch created, sunlight and air circulation are cut off. These conditions are necessary for healthy turf. Leaf debris left on the lawn over the winter can also lead to snow mold. Snow mold is a type of fungus very damaging to the lawn. 
  • Less mess. Some homeowners don’t like how messy leaves look lying on their lawn. Also, they don’t want their debris to blow onto their neighbor’s property, creating a mess next door. In addition, property owners who use hardwood mulch in their flower beds, mulching the leaves and spreading it into their gardens may not be an option.