KC Gardens

Set aside that rake and let the mower take care of your leaves

Mowing leaves is an efficient way to save time and effort. It’s also great for your lawn.
Mowing leaves is an efficient way to save time and effort. It’s also great for your lawn.

Raking leaves in the fall brings back childhood memories of forming piles of leaves to jump in. Now that we are older, the chore of raking isn’t quite as fun. What if I told you there is an easier way to get rid of the leaves?

Instead of raking, the lawnmower does the work, saving you time, energy and money.

Let me introduce you to mulch mowing – a process by which the mower chops the leaves, allowing them to filter back into the lawn, returning valuable nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

The frequency of mowing is the key to success. How often to mow the lawn is not based on turf growth, but instead on how many fallen leaves are covering the lawn. Mow when there is a light layer of leaves.

Begin by removing the bagging attachment from the mower. This allows the leaves to filter back in the turf after being finely chopped.

To be sure you are mulch mowing the correct amount of leaves, look behind you after making a pass with the mower. You should see mainly grass blades and a few chopped leaves. If you see leaves covering the grass, take a second pass to chop the leaves further.

Research has shown that up to 6 to 8 inches of total leaves can be returned to the soil when mowing occurs frequently. These finely chopped leaves decompose and do not add to the thatch layer in the turf. Thatch is dead grass stems and rhizomes that impede water and nutrient movement into the soil.

Increase your mulch mowing success by applying lawn fertilizer. A November application is recommended for bluegrass and tall fescue. This application is essential as the nutrients convert to stored food and energy for the grass plant, resulting in early spring green-up.

The November application feeds the microorganisms helping them digest the leaves and break down even faster into compost. This light layer of compost naturally decomposes the thatch layer.

Leaves don’t always fall on our schedule. If the amount of leaves begins to accumulate, try this option before raking. Remove the bagging attachment and mow. Let the mower chop the leaves then mow a second time with the bagging attachment. The excess chopped leaves will be pulled up by the mower. This process significantly reduces the bulk of leaves, making them easier to manage.

Never rake or blow leaves out into the street. They move into the storm drains, potentially clogging the intake and slowing water movement. The result is increased flash flooding. Excess leaves load streams with organic matter, which impairs water quality. As they break down, they release nutrients that can increase algae and harm fish.

The goal of mulch mowing is to decrease work and the number of bags of leaves saving you time, money and energy.

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.

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