Mow, Don’t Rake, Those Leaves!

November 19, 2015 | By | Comments (6)

Photo: Steve Bender

“The debate is raging at my house,” writes a faithful reader, “what to do with all those leaves? The teenager favors a) leaving them or b) blowing them into the shrub beds. Hubby says we have to rake and bag. I took out my New Southern Living Garden Book but couldn’t find any advice other than to compost, which hubby will never do. We need advice before we all get grumpy over this one!”

Grumpy’s 110% guaranteed correct response: Why would you ever consult a teenager? You know their solution will have two goals: 1) Do absolutely nothing right now, because I’m texting, which I always am by the way; 2) Ignore the problem until it looks so awful that somebody else takes care of it.

As for your hubby, his reluctance to compost reflects a mistaken belief that composting is harder and takes more time than raking and bagging. JUST THE OPPOSITE IS TRUE. Let Grumpy explain.

Composting does not necessarily mean buying some high-tech compost bin, hauling the leaves back there, stuffing them in, and waiting until our country’s Tricentennial¬†Celebration for them to decompose. All you need is a mulching mower. Set it on its highest mowing setting and run over the leaves on the lawn. The mower will chop the leaves into small particles and deposit them in place. They will filter down through the grass to the soil surface, enrich your soil, feed your grass, and — most importantly — DISAPPEAR. This process will take MUCH LESS TIME AND EFFORT than raking and bagging. More time for watching football and drinking beer.

Grumpy must also point out that unless your community has a central composting site for city leaves, stuffing leaves in plastic bags and sending them to the landfill is a terrible environmental practice. Leaves in bags do not decompose and return their precious organic matter to the soil. They just take up space and make more landfills necessary.

Having said all this in my customary display of flawless logic, let me add that it’s perfectly OK to add a bagger to your mower to pick up all of the chopped leaves if you want. Each time you fill the bag, take it over to a garden bed and use the chopped leaves to mulch your plants. Chopped leaves make great mulch! They look natural, stay in place, and improve your soil as they decompose. So spread a layer several inches thick. Your plants will love you for it. So will your teenager.




  1. Don

    I’ve read that oak leaves are acidic and shouldn’t make up a large part of your compost. My yard does tend to run acidic and i end up adding lime every year and that photo does look like there’s some oak leaves.

    January 15, 2016 at 3:38 pm
  2. Patricia Dye

    Mr. Grumpy I need your help. I have a double white ALTHEA that had problems with losing leaves and lime color this summer. Too Much Sun and HEAT?/?? Also, all of the bark and branches et al is full, full of fungus [it seems to be a fungus almost just like the crape myrtles get].

    It suffered a lot of stress last summer [2015] , and I would like it to have a less stressful 2016. Can I do anything this winter to help it? Maybe it wasn’t planted correctly, deep or not deep enough. What else can I do in early spring for summer. Thank you, Patsy Dye

    December 8, 2015 at 9:07 am
  3. Kathleen

    PS: Ninety some percent of the time I don’t follow my own advice on this, but particles of dry leaves (such as pecans) are irritating to your eyes when they fly up into the air from your mower. Wear eye protection. When I don’t-which is most of the time-I can barely see the following morning.

    December 1, 2015 at 8:44 am
  4. Kathleen

    Thank you for this. I thought I was the only one who recommended mowing over leaves . When I suggest it to most folks, they think it’s just a lazy redneck thing & don’t take me seriously.

    December 1, 2015 at 8:33 am
  5. Maid Service

    Great Idea! I love to mow over those pesky little leaves.

    November 19, 2015 at 8:19 pm
  6. Betsy

    I gather leaves, shred them and mulch my flower beds. If I have leftovers, which I don’t, they would go in the compost.

    November 19, 2015 at 11:29 am

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