There’s been a fair amount of back-and-forth talk online about whether or not homeowners should rake the leaves off their lawns before winter. This talk stems from a blog post that went viral in 2022; while the advice isn’t entirely wrong, it is a little unclear. So we decided to talk about whether you should rake your leaves or leave leaves on grass.
The short answer is yes, you don’t have to rake the leaves, and you can leave them over winter. However, there’s much more to that answer you need to know—and think about—before you forego your fall cleanup tasks.
Benefits of leaving leaves
First, there are some great benefits to leaving fallen leaves to decompose over the winter.
When fully intact, the leaves serve as an opportune habitat for many types of wildlife. For instance:
- Toads, wood frogs, salamanders, chipmunks, box turtles, and thousands of insect species use the leaf layer as their primary habitat.
- Luna moths, wooly bear caterpillars (which metamorphosize into Isabella tiger moths), and red-banded hairstreaks overwinter in leaf layers.
- Bird species such as robins, bobwhites, wild turkeys, and wood thrushes forage in the leaves, searching for insects and invertebrates to eat.
As earthworms, insects, and other soil organisms break the leaves into smaller pieces, essential minerals are returned to the soil. Rainwater percolates through the leaf bits, dissolving minerals such as carbon, nitrogen, magnesium, and calcium. These minerals are then leached into the soil, where they are taken in by roots to be used by plants.
Finally, bacteria and fungi complete the decomposition process, resulting in fine black particles of beneficial soil organic matter. This organic matter helps the soil hold onto water and nutrients, improves water and air infiltration, and betters soil structure.
Drawbacks of leaves on grass
However, along with the good comes some bad. The bottom line is if you leave leaves on grass, excessive leaf matter over the winter can cause significant problems for your lawn.
- A thick layer of leaves can smother the grass by blocking the sunlight and inhibiting air circulation. If this blanket isn’t removed quickly come spring, it will severely impede grass growth.
- Heavy wet leaves are, well, heavy. Over time, this weight can compress the grass blades or even cause damage to the crowns.
- Leaves (and other debris) are a perfect environment for many turf diseases that overwinter in your lawn and then wreak havoc when temperatures start warming in the spring. Some of the worst problems include snow mold, red thread, and brown patch.
- A thick covering also encourages rodents, such as mice and voles, to cause significant damage through the winter as they feed on the roots and grass crowns.
So, should you leave leaves on grass?
No doubt, leaves serve a great purpose through the winter and as they decompose. Here’s our take on the topic.
Leaves are okay to leave on your lawn if you chop them up finely with your mulching lawnmower or shred them into fine pieces and put them back on the lawn. The goal is to have small pieces scattered across the grass. You want to keep good airflow through the turf and allow sunlight to reach the blades. You do not want a heavy, thick layer on the grass.
It is okay, however, to leave leaves in your garden, flowerbeds, around perennials, and under shrubs or trees. Treat them like mulch. Do not create a layer thicker than 3 to 4” and keep them away from tree trunks and plant stems.
However! If you have vole problems, it’s best to rake the leaves from your entire yard. If you leave leaves on grass, you run the risk of extensive damage come spring.
Need Help With Your Fall Cleanup?
Now that’s all said, let’s talk about how we can help take care of those leaves in your yard! We understand not everyone wants to spend their free time raking leaves, and if you have a lot of trees, you don’t want to leave leaves on grass.
We offer fall cleanup services that remove all leaves, sticks, branches, and other debris that has accumulated in your yard. We’ll even mow the grass one last time and cut perennials back. Our service is a great way to prepare your lawn and yard for winter!
Fallen leaves can be vacuumed and removed from the premises or put in a designated area (woods, etc) at a discounted rate to decompose. Removed yard materials are delivered to Earthcare Organic Farm in Charlestown, where they are composed and resold as organic soil.