Everyone loves the brilliant fall colors… until that beautiful canopy of leaves rains down on your yard. But what if you could retire the leaf rake hanging in your garage, or at least greatly curtail its use?

Some landscaping professionals and lawn experts say you can do just that, by mulching that fallen foliage with your lawn mower instead of raking and bagging. Sound too good to be true? Well, others say mulched leaves may damage your yard.

Take a look as some trusted grass specialists weigh in on the issue.

Mulching leaves
Leaf-mulching proponents include horticulture educator Steve Mayer with the Marion County (Indiana) Purdue University Extension Office.

“First of all, it’s easier and takes a lot less time,” Mayer says. “Second, you’re adding organic matter that will break down, nutrients are released and that’s beneficial. You’re also keeping them out of  the landfill.”

Mayer’s office conducted a four-year study, during which they collected maple tree leaves, ran them through a garden shredder and applied the mulch to perennial ryegrass. Similar to studies at Cornell and Michigan State universities, the Purdue study found that mulched leaves have no effect on turf visual quality, color or growth; soil PH or nutrient availability; or the likelihood of developing weeds, thatch, red thread, pink patch or dollar spot diseases. Their research also suggests mulched leaves can reduce dandelions.

While a mulching mower or mulching blades aren’t essential, they provide better results by circulating pieces under the deck for multiple cuts, which creates a finer material that decomposes faster.

Mayer offers two primary tips for leaf mulchers.

“You don’t want to wait until there’s five or six inches (of leaves) on the turf, and it’s much better to do it when they’re dry,” he says.

Raking leaves
Not everyone is on board the leaf-mulching bandwagon, including Alan Little of Hendricks County Lawn and Tree Care in suburban Indianapolis, a lawn care pro since 1986. He says while mulching a light coating is acceptable, there’s a fine line.

“I wouldn’t do it for the benefits, and I wouldn’t do it repeatedly, especially if you can’t see the grass beforehand,” Little says. “There’s much more of a benefit to leaving grass clippings than leaves, and I don’t even recommend doing that too much. If the person has a lot of trees and leaves, I’d remove them.”

Travis Tayman, of Tayman Landscaping in Edgewater, Md., which serves the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore markets, agrees. He says while mulching is good in theory, leaves don’t fall and lay at the same rate throughout a yard.

“If they were evenly spread, that’s one thing, but leaves are clumpy and will kill the grass,” he says. “If you want to mulch in between cleanups, that’s okay, but you should still have the yard blown down or raked out.”

Little says potential negatives outweigh possible positives.

“You’ll get leaves that fall over a month, some early and some late, and if you keep mowing and it all adds up, it can smother grass instead of help it,” he says. “Especially if you add late leaves after mowing that aren’t picked up, you can get yellowing and
bare spots.”

Brent Glasgow is a reporter for Angie’s List, a trusted provider of local consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services from top-rated providers. Visit AngiesList.com.

By Brent Glasgow, Angie’s List