Is It Bad To Leave Dead Leaves On Your Lawn?

As autumn turns to winter, the colorful red and gold leaves that have decorated the trees all season begin to fall from the branches and drift onto the ground, creating a tapestry of colors across the lawn. After gathering them into a pile, some members of your household may seize the opportunity to run and jump into the mountain of leaves. This fun tradition is one reason why many people decide to leave fallen leaves on the ground for a little while before eventually collecting and removing them. But what would happen if you left the leaves in your yard all winter instead of raking them up? Is it a good idea to leave dead leaves on your lawn? The answer depends on your intention. If you decide just to skip raking them up one year and let them stay where they fall, this lack of a plan can harm your grass. However, if you incorporate fallen leaves into a strategy to cultivate a healthier lawn, then allowing dead leaves to remain in your yard can provide many benefits.

A yard covered in dead leaves throughout the winter might seem like an unusual form of lawn care. This is especially true if they are piled high in clumps, unevenly distributed, and mostly the result of procrastination or simple absentmindedness. However, dead leaves that have been finely chopped by a mulching lawn mower and evenly distributed can play a part in adding to the health of your lawn and garden.

Piles of leaves can cause problems

Leaves are full of nutrients that have been drawn from the trees, and they can contribute to the health of your yard when they are returned to the soil. However, they can also damage the lawn when left in thick piles across the grass. They can create a barrier that prevents the yard from receiving enough sunlight and fresh air, resulting in large bare spots where the grass has died. While a few leaves can provide a habitat for beneficial insects to thrive, a large accumulation of fallen leaves will breed a host of unwanted pests. Rats, snails, and snakes are just some of the invaders who will take advantage of the protection that piles of leaves will provide, laying eggs, building nests, or tunneling through the fallen foliage.

A thick mantle of dead leaves can also create an insulating layer of moisture and heat, which creates an environment where damaging lawn fungus can develop. This growth can create patches of brown or yellow grass, and it can even spread to the plants and flowers growing in your garden. Leaving piles of wet leaves unattended to blanket your lawn is not a successful plan of care. However, there is a way to capture the benefits that fallen leaves have to offer without experiencing these negative consequences. The key to drawing on the advantages of this organic matter is to break the leaves down so that they can decompose quickly.

Shredded leaves create healthy mulch

By using a mulching mower to chop up the leaves, you will break up the dense layer on top of your yard. Use this machine to redistribute the shredded leaves back onto the lawn, or collect them in a bag to scatter. Even a regular lawn mower can break up the leaves into smaller pieces that fall between the blades of the grass, allowing sunlight and fresh air to circulate. The leaves are an organic resource that will eventually break down and decompose, supplementing the health and structure of the soil. 

Shredded leaves that begin to decompose act like mulch in the garden by preventing weeds from growing. They also offer a layer of protection for plants during the winter by maintaining the soil's moisture, and they benefit the roots of plants during a freeze by regulating the temperature in the ground. When added to a compost pile, mulched leaves become "black gold," creating a rich resource that can be used later to fertilize the lawn and flower beds. By breaking down the autumn leaves and turning them into a resource for your yard, you're preventing them from being added to a landfill and enjoying the benefits of a natural material. The piles of leaves that collect at the end of the season can provide a chance not only to have some fun, but they can also offer an opportunity to enhance the health and beauty of your yard for the rest of the year.