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Don’t Rake and Give Your Back a Break

Leaves provide an almost endless supply of essential nutrients to your landscape. Mowing and leaving them exactly where they fall can provide multiple benefits for your landscape.

By now, leaves are falling and we ponder whether to rake, mow, or just ignore them. Although options vary, leaves do provide multiple benefits and maybe the path least traveled is the one to pursue.

Leaves supply an almost endless supply of essential nutrients like nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. Moreover, they supply simple and complex carbon chains to the soil that is food and energy to a variety of macro and micro organisms. Without leaves, trees would soon run out of the building blocks to make their own food.

This is not to say that leaves don’t have some downsides. For those enamored with large expanses of grass, a steady supply of leaves on top of the grass will be detrimental. Live oak leaves, in particular, decompose at a rate similar to the proverbial “molasses in January” and can quickly cover a lawn.

Here are some options to maximize leaf benefits and minimize leaf detriments:

Rake up repeatedly and dispose in the proper receptacle. This option benefits only those who require outdoor exercise.

Rake up and dispose in a compost bin. Exercise, reducing landfill input, and creating organic fertilizer are the chief benefits. You may have to speed up decomposition with small amounts of fertilizer and moisture.

Mow and mow often. Mow over the leaves and then mow again. You have all of the above benefits plus added nutrients for the tree and the lawn and, most importantly for some folks, reduced winter weed population.

So, keep the mower out of storage for just a bit longer. Sharpen the blades and mow, mow, mow those leaves.

Mark Peterson
Mark Peterson
Mark A. Peterson is a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you’re likely to find him hiking San Antonio’s wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.
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