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Leafcycling: Fallen Leaves? Chop Them Please!

There are many benefits to practicing leafcycling around your home.

When grass grows in soil that contains lots of organic matter, the lawn is easier to care for and looks better. One way to improve the soil under the grass is to leave a layer of finely chopped leaves on the lawn each fall. This can add vital nutrients to the soil, improve your lawn’s root system, and reduce the chance of weeds showing up. Shredded or chopped leaves can also be used as mulch around trees, shrubs, and perennials.

Did you know that, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, you can leave the equivalent of more than 150 bags of leaves right on the average-sized lawn, feeding the soil and saving all that work raking and bagging?

How It Works

As an alternative to raking and bagging leaves, simply run your lawn mower over your fallen leaves and let them lie on the lawn. The finely chopped leaves will decompose over time, becoming food for the microbes that populate a healthy soil. A “mulching” lawn mower is recommended for leafcycling, but is not required. These mowers are designed to chop the leaves multiple times before discharging the mulched leaves back on the lawn. If using a standard lawn mower, it is recommended that you run over the fallen leaves at least twice to ensure the pieces are small enough to promote more rapid decomposition.

Leafcycling Benefits

Leafcycling helps conserve water by preventing runoff and adds valuable nutrients to your soil. Leafcycling also reduces the need for Baltimore County to collect and process this material, preventing pollution and saving tax dollars. Plus, think of all the time and effort you will save by not having to rake and bag all of those leaves!

Alternative Methods

Besides chopping and shredding the leaves to make mulch, you could let the leaves lie, especially in heavily wooded areas with native stands of trees. The leaves will enrich the soil’s nutrients and quality for maximum root growth. Also, as you clean up your garden in the fall, till or dig leaves into vegetable and annual flowerbeds to improve the soil quality.

Another method is to chop the leaves with a lawn mower and collect this mulch for distribution around annual plants and garden beds, as well as under shrubs, hedges, and trees. To start, a layer of about four to six inches is recommended as the leaves will settle after a few rains, creating an ideal three inch layer. The mulch will keep the soil moist and protect the plants’ roots.

Composting leaves at home is another great way to handle this material. Extra leaves can be composted in a pile or compost bin to help create a nutrient-rich soil amendment that can be used all over your yard and garden.

Revised November 3, 2010

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