You can use a standard lawn mower to easily mulch the fall leaves in your yard. Mowing over leaves breaks them down into small pieces, which causes them to decompose quickly, returning precious organic matter to the soil. Mowed leaves can also be used to create free garden mulch. Plus, it completely eliminates the need to rake and bag leaves.
What Happens if You Don’t Clean Up Leaves?
If you don’t clean up leaves by mowing or raking, then uncontrolled leaf litter can wreak havoc on your yard. Grass can be smothered by a thick layer of leaves, killing your lawn. The moisture trapped under the leaves can also bring about lawn diseases, such as fungus and grass rust.
- Grass can be smothered by a thick layer of leaves.
- A layer of wet leaves invites fungus and grass diseases.
- Pest insects and rodents dwell in leaves.
By not cleaning up your leaves, you also invite mice, insects, and other pests into your yard. This greatly increases the chance of these pest animals invading your home. Whether you choose to mow leaves or rake, it’s essential to mulch or clean up fallen leaves.
What are the Benefits of Mulching Leaves With a Lawn Mower?
Because cleaning up fall leaves is essential, should you mow leaves or rake them? When you rake leaves, you are throwing away potential lawn fertilizer and garden mulch. Mowing fall leaves has several benefits that make it the superior choice for fall yard cleanup.
Improve Soil Quality
Fallen leaves contain trace nutrients and minerals. These compounds were pulled from the soil in your yard by tree roots. By mowing leaves and allowing them to decompose, you inject these nutrients back into the soil. This leads to a healthy, self-sustaining yard that requires less fertilizer. Raking leaves to throw them out is really just trashing free lawn fertilizer.
Eliminate Raking and Bagging Leaves
Raking and bagging leaves is hard work. In a large yard with several trees, you can spend many hours raking leaves into piles. Mowing leaves to shred them is typically much faster than raking. Not only is it faster, mowing requires far less effort than raking. You can mow leaves at the same time you trim your grass, turning two chores into one.
Create Mulch for Your Garden
Shredded leaves make an excellent garden mulch. By mowing over your leaves several times, then bagging them, you create an excellent garden mulch. Spread leaf bits in your garden beds in a layer of mulch 3–4 inches thick to suppress weeds and retain moisture for your garden plants. As an added bonus, the leaf mulch will break down into natural fertilizer over the course of 3–6 months. You also don’t need a mower to mulch leaves in your yard.
5 Tips for How to Mow Over Leaves
You can make mowing leaves a seamless part of lawn care to reduce yard waste and increase the quality of your lawn. The methods below will make mowing leaves for mulch or natural lawn fertilizer simple. You’ll get the most out of your leaves with the least effort.
It’s essential to mow your yard regularly once the leaves begin falling. Plan to mow once per week to mulch leaves before they pile up. Whether you are using a mulching lawn mower or a standard lawn mower, make sure to mow leaves until they are cut into dime-sized pieces. Small pieces like this won’t smother your grass and will decompose quickly.
- Mow once per week in fall once leaves start falling.
- If possible, do not allow large amounts of leaves to pile up between mowings.
- Pass over the leaves until they are shredded into dime-size pieces (about ¾ inch or 20 mm in size).
By mulching leaves before they pile up, you can shred leaves in a single pass. If leaves are allowed to gather and drift, you will need to pass over them several times to shred all the leaves into the dime-sized pieces necessary for proper leaf decomposition. This makes frequent mowing the easiest way to care for your lawn in fall.
Gather Leaves Into Rows
If a large wind storm or other factors have dumped a massive amount of fall leaves on your lawn at once, it’s best to concentrate the leaves into rows to mow over them repeatedly. Use a rake or leaf blower to gather the leaves in long, low drifts. Then, pass back and forth over the leaves several times to chop them into small bits.
- If your leaf layer is more than 2 inches (5 cm) deep, gather the leaves into rows before mowing.
- Use a rake or leaf blower to quickly gather the leaves into rows.
- With your mower, pass back and forth over the leaf rows to finely chop the leaves.
A good rule of thumb is that if the leaves have gathered to a depth of more than 2 inches, they won’t be finely chopped during regular mowing. In this case, it’s best to gather the leaves so you can mow them repeatedly. This way, you can pass over a small area several times, rather than criss crossing your entire yard over and over.
Once you’ve mowed your leaves to chop them, make sure the leaf bits are not all piled in a single area. If the leaf bits are mounded high enough that they cover the grass below, use a rake or leaf blower to distribute them throughout the yard. Mulched leaves are small enough that they will filter down between grass blades to soil level.
- If mowed leaves are smothering grass in some areas, spread them throughout the yard to encourage decomposition and keep your grass healthy.
- Use a rake or leaf blower to spread leaves so that grass is not covered.
- By mowing with the chute open, you can use your mower to help distribute leaves throughout your yard.
As an alternative to using a rake to move mowed leaves, you can use your mower to help as well. Mow over and around piles of leaf bits with the side chute of your mower open. You can use the suction and wind created by the blades to distribute leaf bits over a wide area without reaching for your rake.
Add Fertilizer After Mowing Leaves
The soil microbes that break down shredded leaves and grass clippings in your yard work best when they are provided with fuel. Spread a fall fertilizer on your lawn to promote the best leaf decomposition over the winter.
- Mowed leaves break down faster if you add fertilizer to your yard.
- This fertilizer is great for use in fall.
- Fertilizing in fall leads to better spring green up.
An additional benefit of applying fertilizer in fall is that it allows your grass to store energy in its roots through winter dormancy. This, plus the newly decomposed leaves, give your lawn a burst of energy in spring. Your lawn will turn green faster after winter, without being brown underneath, while also helping to reduce weeds naturally.
Use a Bagging Mower to Gather Shredded Leaves
If you’d like to use your mowed leaves as mulch or as an ingredient in your compost pile, use a bagger attachment to easily gather shredded leaves. Not only will you gather leaves much faster with a bagging mower than by raking, the work will also be much more efficient. Mowed leaves take up about one-fourth of the space of whole leaves, meaning you’ll have to pause less often to empty the mower bag.
- After mowing your leaves until they are chopped, gather leaves with a bagging mower.
- Use chopped leaves as garden mulch to naturally suppress weeds and insulate plants.
- Mix mowed leaves with other natural ingredients to make your own compost.
You can empty your mower bag full of chopped leaves directly into your flower beds as mulch or you can compost it. Leaves make an excellent “brown” material in compost. Mix in 4 parts leaves to one part “green” material, such as green grass clippings or chicken manure, to create your own compost.
Is It OK to Mow Wet Leaves?
You can mow wet leaves to chop them, but the work can be a bit more difficult than mowing dry leaves. When possible, mow wet leaves when there is still a thin layer of leaf litter. This will help prevent your mower from becoming clogged with wet leaf material. Pass over the leaves several times to make sure they are all chopped.
- You can mow wet leaves to chop them into mulch.
- When possible, mow a thin layer of wet leaves to make the job more effective.
- Stop the mower periodically to clear clogs of wet leaves from the blade housing and exhaust chute.
When mowing wet leaves it is a good idea to stop the mower every few minutes to check the blade housing. If a mass of wet leaves has collected inside the blade housing and/or exhaust chute of your mower, clean them out before your resume mowing.
Is Mowing Leaves Good For Your Lawn?
Mowing leaves is one of the best things you can do for your lawn. By chopping fallen leaves into dime-sized pieces with your mower, you prevent your yard from being smothered with leaves. Instead, you transform fall foliage into a natural lawn fertilizer that will break down in just a few months. To take advantage of this opportunity for free lawn fertilizer, mow weekly throughout fall to chop up leaves as they come off the tree. If leaves come off the trees in large quantities, pile them in rows and mow over them in several passes. This method can turn a big pile of leaves into natural lawn fertilizer in no time.