What to Do With Leaves on Your Lawn – 6 Ways to Deal With Fall Leaves

The colorful autumn days have passed, and now you’re left with a yard covered in a blanket of leaves. You watch your neighbors rake and bag their leaves and put them on the curb for the trashman to take away. But you wonder if there is a better way to deal with your leaf debris.

As it turns out, you’re right! Ridding your lawn of leaves doesn’t mean you have to spend hours painstaking raking every piece of debris from your grass. And it certainly doesn’t require putting a bunch of nutrient-dense plant material into plastic bags to be thrown into the landfill.

If you’ve got a yard filled with leaves and want a better way to get rid of them, we’ve got you covered. Below, you’ll find six ways to deal with fall leaves that require less work and provide a bigger payoff than traditional disposal methods.

A person raking leaves in a pile

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Do You Really Need To Get Rid Of Leaves On Your Lawn?

Yes, you do need to remove leaves from your lawn in the fall. The one exception to this is if the leaf covering is sparse or very light. In this case, moisture and wind throughout winter will be enough to disperse and break down the leaves to avoid problems in the spring.

But if you have a dense covering of leaves, you will need to remove it to avoid potential issues with grass growth, mold, and pests.

Grass Smothering and Growth Restriction

a lawn with uneven discoloration

A thick layer of leaves left on the lawn over winter has the potential to smother the grass. As that dense layer gets wet with snow, it becomes compacted and restricts airflow. Once the weather begins to warm up again, that lack of airflow can cause the grass to die.

Even if your lawn doesn’t succumb under that compact blanket of leaves, its presence is harmful; it can slow or even stop the growth of the grass during the spring. This means your grass will not be able to grow up through the leaves. Plus, you’ll have to manually remove them, which is much more difficult after they’ve become compacted.

Once the leaves are removed, you’ll be left with patchy areas of dead and stunted lawn.

Snow Mold

lawn covered with snow mold

Snow mold is a fungal lawn disease that causes rings of dead grass. Pink snow mold will kill grass down the roots, while gray snow mold typically only affects the blades.

When your lawn is covered with thick snow early in the fall before the ground freezes, it creates the perfect environment for snow mold to grow. Another great way to invite snow mold to take over your lawn? It’s leaving a thick blanket of leaves on top of the grass.

The leaves help insulate the ground and extend the period that snow mold is active in the fall. This combined with a lot of moisture through the winter will bring about a spring filled with rapid mold growth and a lot of dead patches.

Voles and Mice

A nice, thick layer of leaves also creates an inviting habitat for rodents like mice and voles. These little pests make tunnels and paths under the leaves during the winter. All this activity causes the grass below to die, leaving you with a patchy, unsightly lawn in the spring.

What To Do With Leaves On Your Grass

If you have a decent covering of leaves on your lawn, you’ll want to make sure you remove them before the first snowfall of the season. In terms of what to do with all those leaves, you have many different choices.

1. Mulch Them With a Mower

a person pushing a lawnmower to mulch the leaves

Mulching your leaves using your mower is, by far, the easiest way to deal with them. It requires the least amount of work from you and can also greatly benefit your lawn.

When leaves fall in the forest, they begin to decompose. After a few years, they will break down completely to become nutrient-rich soil that the trees and plants depend on for healthy growth. Of course, you don’t have the luxury to wait and put your lawn at risk. 

Luckily, there is an easy and effective way to speed up the decomposition process. Mulching your leaves thoroughly with your mower will break the leaves down into small pieces. This method helps the leaves fully decompose by spring and prevent them from forming thick mats that can be dangerous to your grass.

Note: To mulch your leaves, simply use the mulching attachment on your mower, or alternatively push your mower back and forth over your lawn until all the leaves have been chopped up.

If your mower doesn’t have this feature, you may want to consider investing in a new cordless lawnmower.

2. Compost Them

A person adding leaves and other brown materials in the compost bin

Composting your leaves is another great way to take advantage of all the nutrients locked inside. You will need to remove the leaves from your lawn to do this, but you’ll be rewarded with rich soil you can use in your garden beds the following summer.

To compost your leaves:

  1. Pile all the leaves from your lawn in a sheltered, sunny corner of your yard or in a compost bin.
  2. As you add the leaves, you should layer in nitrogen-rich material such as fruit and vegetable scraps, lawn clippings, and manure.
  3. Turn the pile every few weeks until it freezes. Begin turning again once it thaws in the spring.
  4. Once the pile is mostly soil, use it in your garden beds or sprinkle it over your lawn.

For more in-depth instructions and to learn more about the benefits of composting yard waste, click here.

3. Use Them As Garden Leaf Mulch

If you don’t like the look of a lawn covered in mulched leaves, you can always repurpose those shredded leaves to your garden beds.

Just as this shredded leaf mulch will decompose and return nutrients to your lawn, it will also add a healthy heaping of fertilizer to your garden beds.

To use your leaves as garden leaf mulch:

  1. Use your mower to mulch the leaves on your lawn.
  2. Collect the shredded leaves and disperse them evenly over your garden beds and around the base of trees.
  3. You’ll help assure the leaves settle into place instead of blowing back onto your lawn by timing this for right before snow or precipitation.

Leaf mulch is an excellent addition to bare soil gardens and vegetable beds. It protects the soil and microbes through the winter while injecting some much-needed nutrients back into the environment.

4. Leave Them There

For those who prefer the least labor-intensive solution, you will like this one.

As discussed above, you can leave your fallen leaves on your lawn. But you should only do this under certain circumstances.

You can safely leave your leaves on your lawn if:

  • The leaves are only present in a few spots, such as below trees, and are not piled.
  • The layer of leaves is very thin.
  • The leaves that are present are small in size.
  • Your climate does not receive a lot of moisture or accumulating snow.

If you have a relatively small amount of leaves on your lawn, but they are piled in spots, be sure to use a leaf blower or rake to spread them out.

5. Burn Them

For those with many leaves to deal with, burning them often seems like the easiest and quickest way to deal with the problem.

Unfortunately, this method of leaf removal has a long list of downfalls, including:

  • Negative health effects. According to the EPA, burning leaves releases harmful toxins into the air that can cause health problems in people.
  • Increases pollution. Any type of burning creates pollution.
  • Fire hazards. Burning dry leaves in your backyard is inherently dangerous and requires numerous safety precautions to help keep the fire contained.
  • Legal ramifications. Open burning is illegal in most cities and suburban centers and may carry a heavy fine.

Before you consider burning your leaves, you should talk to your local fire department to find out if you can legally burn in your area. Always educate yourself on necessary safety precautions to keep yourself and your property safe.

6. Bag Them

men collecting dry leaves and putting them inside a trash bag

One of the most common ways people deal with excess leaves in their yard also happens to be one of the least desirable options.

Bagging your leaves in plastic trash bags and leaving them for the trashman to take adds unnecessary strain to landfills. 

If left alone, leaves will return to the earth in the form of soil. If bagged and sent to the landfill, they will slowly break down over time but can’t return to the soil in any meaningful way. This is true whether you use compostable or plastic bags.

For those who like to bag their leaves to keep your yard looking clean and tidy, there are ways you can approach this method to make it more environmentally friendly.

These include:

  • Black bag composting – In this method of leaf disposal, you bag your leaves in black trash bags as you normally would. Before you seal them, add a ½ cup of high nitrogen fertilizer, two shovels full of soil, and a splash of water. Tie the bags, punch a dozen small holes, and set them outside in a sunny location. Turn the bags every few weeks for 6 to 12 months until the leaves have decomposed.
  • Leaf pickup – Many municipalities offer leaf and yard waste pick-up services. These services typically require you to fill compostable bags with leaves or use a bin that can be dumped into the collection truck.
  • Leaf donations and drop-off – Often, you can find local farms or composting facilities that will accept leaves. These places may have rules concerning how the leaves are contained, so call ahead of time.

How To Get Rid Of Leaves On Grass Without Raking

a person using a leaf blower to remove leaves on grass without raking

Except for mulching your leaves with a lawnmower, all of the methods above require you to remove the leaves first. If you hate raking, this may seem like a daunting task.

Luckily, there are many ways to get rid of leaves on your grass that don’t involve picking up a rake.

Use a Bag Attachment on a Mower

The easiest and least labor-intensive way to remove leaves from your lawn is to use a bag attachment on your mower. With this tool attached to your mower, all you have to do is go over your lawn as usual and dump the bag as needed into the compost or in your garden beds.

This method has the advantage of mulching your leaves as you pick them up, making them more useful around the yard.

Blow The Leaves Away

While using a leaf blower will still require you to haul your leaves away, it is much easier on the back than a rake. A leaf blower also allows you to remove leaves from mulched garden beds and rocky areas.

To make your life as easy as possible, choose a cordless leaf blower with the right amount of battery life to suit your needs.

Use a Lawn Vacuum

Lawn vacuums are precisely what they sound like; a machine that sucks debris off your lawn and stores it in a large bag for disposal. 

These tools have a much larger storage capacity than your typical mower bag and are great for big yards. On the downside, not all these machines have a mulching function, so make sure you choose your product carefully to get the most benefit.

Try a Lawn Sweeper

Lawn sweepers are similar to lawn vacuums in function but different in execution. Instead of suctioning leaves off the grass, these machines use a rotating sweeping brush, like a street sweeper, to push leaves into a collection bag.

These machines don’t typically have a mulcher function. But they tend to be more effective for cleaning up heavier lawn debris like acorns, small sticks, and bark mulch.

The Clean Up

Dealing with a yard full of leaves is a yearly chore no one looks forward to. Luckily, there are some methods for leaf removal and disposal that are easier and better for the health of your yard than others.

Mulching the leaves on your grass using your lawnmower is the quickest and easiest way to get rid of them while improving the health of your lawn. With this method, you don’t have to worry about removing the leaves at all.

If you prefer a cleaner look, you can always remove the leaves from your lawn using a lawn vacuum, lawn sweeper, or mower bag attachment. Once the leaves are gathered, it is simple enough to compost them or mulch them into your garden beds.

Have more questions about removing or getting rid of leaves? Leave your question in the comments section below!

About The Author

Aaron is the founder of and Essential Home and Garden. He likes to spend his spare time with his family, and doing DIY projects in the home and garden.

1 thought on “What to Do With Leaves on Your Lawn – 6 Ways to Deal With Fall Leaves”

  1. I’ve found this leaf vac system to work very well. Simple rules: leaves must really be dry, not soggy from autumn rain AND this is about leaves, not sticks and branches! My leaf vac system is from Home Depot and compacts gobs of leaves into nicely shredded mulch and compost. I add a layer of this to my compost bin and turn it in with a pitchfork to help offset the heavy fruit scraps of late summer. More can go around my delicate fern, and of course on my cedar garden boxes. I have even saved surplus in a craft paper bag (leaves must be VERY dry!) in my metal shed to use the following spring. And of course, any that I don’t want to vacuum can just be shredded with the mower to feed the grass.
    Thanks for your useful info!!

    Reply

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