Leave the leaves? Not so fast

By Brandie Piper

Last year several articles were published touting the benefits of skipping the task of raking once leaves start to fall from the trees. As great as the idea sounds, if you want to put down the rake this fall, you’ll still need to put in a little bit of work to keep your yard healthy.

According to Paul Ratliff, product development manager at Monsanto, leaving whole leaves on your lawn throughout the winter can be detrimental because metabolic activity continues in cool season grasses as well as the soil despite the cold weather. Dense piles of leaves that deprive the turf of sunshine and oxygen can cause dead patches.

Ratliff says a good approach is to “mow in” the leaf litter. Also known as mulching, the smaller leaf pieces will break down naturally once they find their way to the thatch layer.

“Over time, decaying leaves can build soil organic matter, feed beneficial soil microbes, and can help to overwinter beneficial insects,” said Ratliff.

But mowing isn’t the only way to utilize leaf litter. A layer of leaves can benefit perennial flower or garden beds throughout fall and winter.

“Not only will the leaves break down over time to provide organic matter and fertility, but they also help protect sensitive perennial root systems from stretches of extreme cold,” said Ratliff. “The leaves can also suppress weed growth the following spring, which can benefit perennial plants as they emerge because they don’t have to compete with weeds for moisture and nutrients.”

If you have a compost pile, you can also add your leaves to the mound. Once the leaves break down, organic matter is left behind which can be applied to vegetable gardens.

Published Oct. 17, 2016 on Discover.Monsanto.com.

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