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To bag or not? Turf experts explain why mulching leaves is a better solution

Crystal Graham
raking leaves in fall
(© Pixel-Shot – stock.adobe.com)

A pair of Virginia Tech turf experts suggest you try an alternative to bagging and tossing leaves that fall this autumn.

Mulching leaves in yards, instead of removing them, actually benefits lawns and gardens, according to the experts.

“If you collect leaves, it’s ideal to compost them rather than disposing of them in the landfills,” said Virginia Tech turf grass expert Mike Goatley. “The biggest concerns with landfills is that the leaves occupy space that would be much better served for typical landfill debris, instead of organic waste that can be used in a proactive way for the lawn, landscape, garden and flower beds.

Research has shown that leaves from specific tree species may provide some control of broadleaf-weeds or may provide nitrogen-fertilizer benefits.

“Using a mulching mower to not only mow but to mulch leaves will help keep your lawn properly trimmed, but also accelerate the rate of leaf decomposition into beneficial soil organic matter,” said Dan Sandor, who is also an expert in turf grass science at Virginia Tech. “While the tree leaves do not have a lot of nutritional value, chopping them up and returning them to the soil is a great way to increase soil organic matter levels.”

While leaves can be beneficial, you should be sure not to let your yard get too many leaves on it.

“A heavy leaf cover can significantly reduce the photosynthetic activity of the turf grasses in your lawn, restricting them from the beneficial sunlight that are required for optimal growth and development,” said Goatley. “If this is the case, you’ll need to rake some of them and consider adding those to your compost pile, otherwise you will need to run the mulching mower over the leaves several times so they can be more-readily broken down into soil organic matter.”

For more information about lawn care and leaf management, visit the Virginia Cooperative Extension website.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.