KC Gardens

Drowning in leaves? Here’s how to cope

Mowing frequently over leaves saves time and the effort of raking and bagging them.
Mowing frequently over leaves saves time and the effort of raking and bagging them.

The annual ritual of trees shedding their leaves has been underway for several weeks. Changing colors and dropping leaves are signs that fall is upon us, and the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is just around the corner.

While we enjoy the changing seasons, the falling leaves add another task to the chore list. Here are a few tips for handling them.

Mulch mow

Leaves can be chopped with the mower and left to decay and compost naturally back into the soil. This is a time-saver that lets us skip raking and bagging.

The trick to successful mulch mowing is frequency. Mow often enough that you’re mulching a thin layer of leaves, which will allow the shreds to filter back into the grass. Continue this process until you’ve incorporated about 6 total inches of leaves back into the soil.

After that point, leaves will need to be removed using another method to prevent them from shading the lawn over winter.

Leaf mulch

Collected leaves need not leave the property. Raked or mown leaves are a free source of mulch to use in the landscape. Shredded leaves offer a natural look for beds and provide the same benefits as the bagged mulch we spend hours hauling home from the store.

The simplest way to collect leaf mulch is with the mower bagging attachment. The mower chops the leaves into a handy carrying bag to be deposited around trees and shrubs. Come spring, the mulching task will be complete. Or if you prefer, cover with a shallow layer of your favorite commercial mulch for that fresh finished look.


Leaves can be composted with just a little effort. Fallen leaves added to the compost pile will break down by spring or next fall to be used to enrich garden soil.

A caution about composting leaves: they are dry, with few nutrients to feed the pile. Accelerate the composting process by wetting the dry leaves when you add them to the pile. Throw in a little garden fertilizer to greatly speed up the time it takes for the leaves to break down.

Be kind to our water

Avoid the urge to get out of picking up the leaves by blowing or sweeping them out into the street. It may seem like a good idea to just let nature take care of the leaves, but this can cause problems for your neighbors and for our streams.

Leaves clog storm drain intakes, causing street flooding and potentially icy conditions during winter. Too many leaves moving through the drains also wreak havoc in streams. As they break down they overload the water with organic matter, upsetting the streams’ ecosystem and leading to spring algae blooms and fish kills. Consequently, more resources are required to purify drinking water during the treatment process.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org or visit KCGardens.KansasCity.com.