Behind the Forecast: Preparing to rake your leaves? Not so fast

Listen to Science Behind the Forecast with Meteorologist Tawana Andrew every Friday on 89.3 WFPL at 7:45 a.m.
Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 10:03 AM EDT
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A half-hour of raking leaves can burn more calories than general weightlifting, according to...
A half-hour of raking leaves can burn more calories than general weightlifting, according to Harvard Medical School.(WAFB)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - It is autumn, and leaves are falling. The question is, what should we do with them? The first instinct for most people is to rake up leaves, but that’s not always the best idea for your lawn or the environment.

Experts recommend mulching your leaves; a regular lawnmower with its discharge chute closed can help with this. A lawnmower can help to chop up leaves finely, allowing them to decompose and returning valuable organic materials into the soil.

Mulching not only returns vital nutrients to the soil, but experts say that it can help your grass grow even better the following year. Mulching can also help to suppress weeds. One study found that leaf mulch reduced the number of dandelions by up to 84 percent during the next growing season. Experts say that maple leaves are great for decreasing the number of weeds, while deciduous tree leaves can help feed the grass when left on the lawn.

Mulching most efficient when leaves are still sparse (covering 10 to 20 percent of the lawn), and the grass is visible through the layer of leaves. Once the leaves become more of a blanket over your grass, experts recommend removing 25 to 50 percent of the leaves (through raking or blowing) and mulching the rest.

Too many leaves on your lawn as winter arrives can inhibit grass growth, promote snow mold diseases, and enhance damage from animals like mice during the spring.

Are you wondering where you could put excess leaves? Your garden is a great option. Experts say that as long as leaves are allowed to decompose throughout the winter before being tilled in the spring, they can provide plenty of nutrients.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, yard trimmings, including leaves, made up 35.2 million tons of waste in 2017. Programs across the country composted 24 million tons, but more than 8.6 million tons (around 25%) were placed into landfills; this is not good for our environment. Leaves take up much-needed space and breakdown with other organic materials to produce methane, which is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and global warming.

Use caution when blowing leaves into the street. Leaves are packed with nutrients that breakdown when they drop into sewers and other water systems. As leaves decompose in these locations, they can cause algae blooms in waterways, which is dangerous for plants and animals living nearby.

Whether raking, blowing, or mulching leaves during the fall season, taking proper steps now can ensure a lush green lawn in the future. And remember, never mow when there’s frost on the ground.

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