Leave Your Leaves or Kick ‘Em to the Curb?

Either Way, You Still Need to Rake Your Leaves.

(Sorry.)

There’s a story making the rounds in the media claiming that raking fall leaf debris ‘has been declared overrated, harmful, and all-around terrible by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).’ (Yahoo! News, November 10th)

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, the debris needs to be raked off the lawn: A thick layer of dead leaves left covering the turf will smother the grass and could cause fungal issues over the winter.

When deciding what to do with leaf debris during a fall clean up, homeowners should consider the options to make an informed decision on which option is right for them:

Option 1: Leave the Leaves 

  • Mulch appreciated: Leaves form a natural mulch that 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, the NWF advises.
  • 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 that get sent to landfills account for 13 percent of the nation’s solid waste, or 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.

 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 by reducing sunlight and air circulation necessary for healthy turf. Leaf debris left on the lawn over the winter can also lead to snow mold, a type of fungus very damaging to the lawn. 
  • Less mess: Some homeowners don’t like how messy leaves look lying on their lawn and don’t want their debris to blow onto their neighbor’s property, creating a mess next door. For property owners who use hardwood mulch in their flower beds, mulching the leaves and spreading it into their gardens may not be an option.

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