Don’t Rake Those Leaves, Mulch ’em Instead

Some trees that were stressed by the drought are already starting to drop their leaves, but soon, homeowners across the state will be delving into the chore of leaf raking. Adam Thoms , a horticulture professor at Iowa State University and a turfgrass extension specialist, says there may be a better alternative to raking that doesn’t require you to buy those leaf recycling bags some cities require.

“The only thing is, as the leaves start to fall, you might want to consider mulching those leaves if they get really deep in the yard because they can smother out the grass,” Thoms says. “So, just run your mower over those to mulch those up and that’ll help.” While some lawn mowers are sold as mulcher mowers, just making a few passes will typically grind up the leaves sufficiently. Thoms says mulching this fall can bring a healthier lawn next spring.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Thoms says. “You can return those nutrients that are in those leaves back into your yard and that’ll add organic matter and make a healthier soil as well. So mulching is the way to go if you can do it.” Iowans who have bare patches in their lawns due to drought, construction or something else, might consider buying a bag of grass seed and a bale of straw.

“If you can apply any kind of seed to it, now is the time to do that because you’re not competing against crabgrass, things like that,” Thoms says. “Make sure that you rake a little soil over the top and that’s fine. Straw can be added as well, if you want to. It just kind of holds the moisture longer.” This is also a good time to aerate your lawn, he says, as that process reduces compaction, improves soil health, and produces deeper rooted plants which should stay greener, longer during dry spells.