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Got leaves? Mulch more, rake less — your lawn will love you for it

Hate raking leaves? This video is for you

There are benefits to keeping leaves in your yard but you do need to mow or shed them to be sure they break down rapidly. Advanced Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith also explains how leaves can be used as mulch in the yard and garden in this 23
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There are benefits to keeping leaves in your yard but you do need to mow or shed them to be sure they break down rapidly. Advanced Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith also explains how leaves can be used as mulch in the yard and garden in this 23

I used to love raking leaves. That was before I lived in a place called The City of Trees.

Now it’s a fall/winter/spring chore that I dread, largely because I’m overwhelmed and way outnumbered by the leaves that fall — and blow — into my yard (my neighbor’s giant maple keeps me busy). Sometimes it feels like there’s no end to the leaves. I’m often still raking them up in March.

So it was mainly due to laziness last year that I began to consider other options for dealing with the leaves. Does stuffing them in dozens of giant paper bags and setting them at the curb to be hauled off even make sense?

Exporting leaves to other locales is throwing away nutrients that your yard can use, gardening experts say. They advocate recycling that organic matter in the yard in various ways.

“Those leaves are food — free food for your lawn, free fertilizer for your lawn,” says Debbie Courson Smith, a University of Idaho advanced master gardener.

That’s why she recommends mulching leaves into the lawn with a mower. You don’t need a special mulching mower, unless you have money burning a hole in your pocket. Just take the bag off your mower.

The key, Debbie says, is mowing the leaves until they are pieces about the size of a dime — so you might need to make more than one pass over the leaves to really shred them. That just helps them break down faster.

“You want to stay on top of it because once the leaves really start raining down on you, you can have a big job ahead of you,” she said. In other words, don’t wait until the leaves are an inch thick on the ground.

You may not love the look of the shredded leaves on the lawn initially but they will decay and disappear.

I don’t know anyone who owns a leaf shredder/wood chipper but that appears to be another good option for grinding down all that orgranic matter to something manageable.

“Even the smallest, and least expensive of these machines can reduce eight to 10 bags of leaves down into one,” Hilary Rinaldi wrote in a September article for Weekend Gardener, a monthly Web magazine.

That sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? But it still requires raking, blowing or vacuuming leaves to feed them into the magic grinding machines.

I have limited experience with a self-propelled leaf vacuum that my folks bought last year — it sounded better than it performed. I found it extremely cumbersome to use (filled up quickly, and the bag was difficult to empty), though I think that was partly to do with letting too many leaves pile up. One of my coworkers has a blower, so that may be an easier way to go; it also getting hard-to-reach leaves along fencelines, etc.

Use in compost pile, flower beds:

If you’ve got a lot of trees in your neighborhood like I do, it may not be possible to mulch all of the leaves that fall into your lawn.

A couple other ways to recycle them is to create a compost pile or use them as mulch in your flower beds. Dump shredded leaves from your mower bag around plants.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

Leaves hauled to Ada County landfill get recycled too

The landfill collected more than 812 tons of leaves last year. They were taken by the county’s wood recycling contractor to a compost facility in western Ada County.

Landfill managers plan to use leaves collected this year and next as soil amendment in the next stage of the Hidden Hollow Closure, which will happen in 2018, county officials said this week.

There’s no extra cost if you’d rather haul them to the landfill than participate in the city’s curbside leaf pickup programs (the county program runs longer too). Bring leaves to the landfill in paper bags, not plastic, from Oct. 10 to Dec. 24.

The Ada County Landfill is at 10300 North Seaman’s Gulch Road in Boise.

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