Bay Friendly Tip: Leaves can Benefit your Lawn!
Alyssa Pietraszek, communications intern
Leaves as Fertilizer
While many people might think that it is necessary to remove fallen leaves from their yards during the fall, keeping the leaves on your lawn might actually be more beneficial! Although the ideal time to add fertilizer to your lawn has already passed (before October 15 or after spring when the lawn is actively growing), several studies, such as those conducted by the University of Minnesota and Michigan State University, have shown that mulching leaves in place can help improve lawn quality when it is revived in spring. The leaves of some deciduous trees, such as the honey locust, can add important nutrients like nitrogen to the lawn, while leaves from other trees, such as maple trees, can inhibit weed growth and add phosphorus. Together, these benefits decrease the amount of fertilizer and maintenance needed to enjoy a healthy and green lawn after winter.
While a thick, untreated cover of leaves can smother and kill your lawn, a moderate leaf cover can easily be broken down using a lawn mower and left in place. The shredded leaves break down over the winter and serve as fertilizer for your yard. A leaf cover of up to 6 inches thick can be mowed in one pass, depending on the capabilities of your mower. However, the task becomes more manageable if you wait for a sprinkling of leaves to accumulate, and mow 3 or 4 times during the fall. Simply raise the mower deck to its highest setting and mow your lawn like normal, passing over the leaves once or twice as needed. Small leaf pieces will remain and filter down through the turf to rest near the base of your grass within a few days. If done regularly, this layer of leaf pieces will fill in any bare spots in the lawn where weed seeds typically germinate, greatly reducing the appearance of weeds like dandelions and crabgrass.
Natural Fertilizers and the Bay
While mulching leaves saves you time spent on lawn maintenance and money spent on chemical or store-bought fertilizers, it also helps improve the health of Narragansett Bay! You’ve saved a trip to the hardware store and kept the nutrients produced by your trees cycling in your natural outdoor environment. Natural fertilizers like leaves and grass clippings that gradually accumulate on your lawn typically don’t run off into nearby water bodies or storm drains the way that chemical fertilizers do. By choosing this natural nutrient source, you won’t need to use chemical fertilizer and can feel great knowing you are helping preserve the water quality of the Bay!