UT Extension News: Don’t Let Leaves go to Waste

November 17, 2020

By Chris Hicks, County Director – UT Extension Smith County

Management of the lawn and landscape changes this time of year from mowing every week to dealing with piles and piles of leaves. Blowing, raking, and bagging leaves is time consuming and not my idea of a fun afternoon, so it’s a shame to do all that work and then burn or trash the leaves. Instead of wasting them by sending them to the landfill, why not use them to your advantage?

The simplest method of managing leaves is to mow them. Research from Michigan State University indicates that a depth of up to 6 inches of leaves can be successfully mulched at a time, but of course, this will vary depending on the size and performance of your mower. When mowing leaves, make sure you can see the grass beneath the cut-up leaves. If the leaf layer is too thick, it can smother and kill the grass.

Not only will mowing the leaves make the lawn look nicer, but the cut-up pieces of leaf material will fill voids in your turf and be broken down by microbes in the soil. This will help prevent weed seeds from germinating while also contributing to your soil’s organic matter and providing nutrients for your turfgrass to use.

Another great option is to compost the leaves. Composting is a good way to recycle the nutrients and organic material in leaves and improve the growth of vegetable gardens or flower beds. Think of it as a free soil amendment which will increase moisture holding capacity and improve root penetration when incorporated in your garden or flower bed.

Composting is easier than you might think. All that is needed is to alternate layers of chopped leaves (carbon) and grass clippings or other suitable organic materials (nitrogen). The pile will need to be turned or stirred occasionally and should be kept moist but not saturated.
While you may dread the piles of leaves around your yard, keep in mind they are a valuable and free resource for the landscape. For more help with lawn and landscaping information, contact the local University of Tennessee Extension office at 615-735-2900.