GIMME SHELTER- When the leaves fall: Choose composting over bagging

Norm Carlson
Snow's Garden Center

Q: It's almost that time again. So what's the best way to deal with the fall leaves on my lawn? Don't they hurt the grass? And what about composting versus bagging?

A: While it's beautiful to see the leaves beginning to turn, it also reminds us of the ugly task of cleaning them up when they fall. While some choose to bag their leaves, lining them up neatly on the sidewalk for the City leaf collectors, others choose to make valuable compost. While it's true that leaves can hurt your lawn, especially if you have a heavy leaf drop, it's also true that leaf compost is like organic gold for your gardens and flowerbeds. 

A common mistake people make is waiting until all their leaves have dropped before they remove any. When they finally begin to rake, they find that large patches of their grass have died. This is because the thick, often wet layers of leaves suffocate the grass. Although it can be a lot of work, it's a good idea to rake your leaves periodically throughout the fall.

You can also run your mower over your leaves and grind them up. This adds organic matter to your lawn, but you have to do this frequently, especially if you have a heavy leaf drop.

Composting leaves is a great idea. It doesn't cost anything, and what you get is invaluable. In fact, composted leaves can be better than fertilizer, because the micro-nutrients in leaves feed the organisms in soil that make it ideal for growing plants. All you need is a makeshift bin to pile the leaves in. 

If you just pile your leaves and leave them, it usually takes between 12 and 18 months for the pile to become usable compost. However, if you turn the pile over frequently or grind the contents and use a compost accelerator-– a bacteria and fungus culture that expedites the organic breakdown— you can have useable compost in as little as six weeks. 

Properly composted, your leaf drop this fall can make the perfect fertilizer for your garden and flowerbeds next spring.