The Right Ways to Clean Up Leaves

Don't wait until the end to clean them up!

With leaf season being halfway through, many people wait until all the leaves have fallen before cleaning them up. This creates more work in the long run, because:

  1. The bottom layer of leaves will start to decompose, and stick to hard surfaces and your lawn, and also be harder to clean out of garden beds.
  2. The tannin from the decomposing leaves will at least temporarily stain wooden decks and some hard surfaces.
  3. Wet, soggy leaves take longer to blow or rake up, and create more of a mess when using a blower

It's generally much better for the landscape to clean up leaves in stages.

Only Certain Leaves Should be Mulched into Your Lawn

You've probably heard that it's either good or bad to mulch mow your leaves into your lawn, depending on the source. The truth is somewhere in between. Maples and smaller leaved trees are OK to mulch into your lawn if they're still dry and mulched finely enough, but some species like Magnolia and Oak are too fibrous or acidic, respectively.
Oak leaves release acids as they break down, making it much easier for moss to grow, and the extra acidity can also stunt grass. And Magnolia and other thick leaves are so dense and waxy that they need to be very finely mulched otherwise the pieces will smother and thin the lawn over the Winter.

Regardless of the tree species, a lawn can only accept so many mulched leaves, as too much will smother it.

Almost all leaves are great for your compost pile, however. Just mulch or shed the thicker leaves (like Magnolia) first!

Using a Blower

Just a few notes on using a blower: if you have a large hard surfaced area (driveway, large patio, etc.) it's usually more efficient to gently blow the leaves out of the beds and lawn and into that area before raking them up, especially if the leaves are fresh and still dry. Raking on a hard surface is much easier and quicker than a bed where you have to be careful of disturbing the mulch layer, or on the lawn where the grass creates resistance against the rake and you need to use more muscle.

I hope all of this helps. Happy leaf season!