Leaves –Mulch, Compost, Burn or Let Lie? (12-03-12)
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Several frosty mornings have occurred and deciduous trees are dropping their leaves. With an abundance of leaf litter covering our lawns the question arises as what is best to do with them. It may be argued that these leaves will provide insulation to the turf from hard freezes later into the winter. However, there are stronger arguments that leaves left on the lawn for long periods of time can become detrimental to the turf’s health. Leaves lying on the turf canopy reduce light and air circulation necessary for healthy turf. A blanket of leaves covering the turf will trap moisture between the soil and the leaves providing an ideal environment for the proliferation of pathogens such as large patch (rhizoctonia) and other diseases most prominent with the moderate temperatures of fall. With a layer of leaves covering the lawn attack and damage from diseases and insects can easily go unnoticed until the turf is totally destroyed. While leaves can become excellent mulch or compost they should not be left intact on our Southern lawns over the fall and winter. Therefore, leaves should be periodically raked from the lawn or mulched down into the thatch with a good mulching mower. Thoroughly composted leaves can become a very desirable amendment for flowerbeds, vegetable gardens, etc. later on so burning should be considered a less desirable option of disposal. Burning may also create a liability from a wild fire, frustration to neighbors from the smoke and can be illegal in some areas.
While a good pair of soft work gloves, a nice large lawn rake and a lightweight tarp are ideal tools to get leaves off the lawn leaf blowers and bagging mowers can make the work go a lot faster and much easier. Although, with these modern machines you may not get the full benefits of great exercise and sore muscles to reward you from this chore.
Dr. Wayne Wells is an Extension Professor and Turfgrass Specialist. His mailing address is Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Mail Stop 9555, Mississippi State, MS 39762. firstname.lastname@example.org