To bag or not to bag?

If you start early, you can avoid all the work and time of raking, bagging and hauling leaves from your lawn.

Mowing leaves
All photos by Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension

Fall leaves look beautiful on the trees but not so much on the ground. While we can and do travel many miles to look at the fall colors, we don’t want to see those same colors all over our property. There are three options to get those leaves off your lawn.

Option No. 1: Rake or blow all those leaves into piles, bag them up and either take them to a compost facility or on trash day, carry them all out to the curb for pick up.

Option No. 2: Rake or blow all of your leaves and start a compost pile. Leaves are a great material for composting. You could add some grass during these final few weeks of grass cutting to get a nice compost pile started for next spring’s plantings.

Option No. 3: If you start now, you can avoid the raking and bagging and moving of leaves by mulching them back into your lawn. Michigan State University research has shown there are several eco-friendly benefits to mulching leaves back into the grass:

  • You get a faster green up of your grass next spring while using less fertilizer. The small decomposing leaf pieces provide nutrients to your lawn over the winter for quicker greening in the spring.
  • You will have less weeds. The small leaf pieces cover any bare or thin spots in the lawn that are good places for weed seeds to germinate.

Mulching leavesTo mulch leaves into the lawn successfully, just follow a few simple steps:

  • Start mowing and shredding the leaves as soon as there is a thin layer on the lawn.
  • Set the mower at its highest setting and mow as usual. Then mow in the opposite direction making a criss-cross or 90-degree pattern. There will be leaf residue on the lawn but it will continue to break down, falling through the grass to reduce future weeds and provide those essential nutrients. Also, fall is the best time to feed your lawn. After several years of leaf mulching, the process may almost completely eliminate dandelions and crab grass.

Under normal conditions, the lawn should only need to be mowed weekly. However, if strong winds occur, it may require mowing more frequently. Leaves can be mulched up to approximately 6 inches deep and still have good results depending on the type of mower being used.

If a total leaf fall occurs and there are too many leaves to mulch, another option for the leaves is using your mower to bag the leaves for use around flower beds, trees, shrubs and vegetable gardens. The small leaf pieces will easily break down over winter. They will provide nutrients to these areas and reduce weed germination making next spring that much easier.

Less work, better lawn and garden and saving money all adds up to some nice benefits for doing less.

For more information on mulching, see Michigan State University Extension’s “Smart Gardening” video below.

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