Published on 08/31/17

Save time and build soil composition by mulching fallen leaves with mower

By Frank M. Watson

In the last couple of weeks, we have really seen the coming of fall, most notably by the falling of leaves. Everyone loves to have good shade trees in their yard, but once summer is over, most people despise dealing with fallen leaves. There is an option that avoids having to rake leaves altogether: Let your mower do the work.

It’s not necessary that the mower have a bag attachment. However, if you plan on making a compost pile with the leaves, a bag attachment makes it easier to gather the leaves, rather than raking them up by hand.

Leaves can also be mulched right back into the lawn. There are lawn mower blades made specifically for mulching, but they are not absolutely necessary. Those blades are designed to do a better job of cutting the leaves into smaller pieces so that they decompose faster. A regular mower blade will work, but it takes a little longer for the leaves to decompose. In order to do this, it is important that the blade not be worn out.

Mower blades have a fan tip that curves up on each end. The primary purpose for this fan tip is to create a vacuum that pulls up grass or leaves that are being cut. This upward pull creates a cleaner cut on the grass and picks up leaves that may be lying below the blade.

Unfortunately, the fan tip is usually the first part of the blade to wear out. Since the cutting edge of the blade is still intact, the blade will still cut grass to the satisfaction of those who never expect their lawn to look manicured. However, the lack of a vacuum on a blade with worn fan tips results in poor leaf mulching.

Operate the mower so that the leaves are being discharged toward the center of the lawn. Ideally, by the end, there will be one windrow, or row of cut leaves, in the middle of the lawn. However, if leaf volume is high, there may be more than one windrow. Don’t try to mulch when the leaves are wet. Even a new blade will not pick up wet leaves that are matted to the ground.

As the leaves are cut, the volume will be reduced with each pass made, but one or more windrows will be blown to the center. If necessary, raise the lawn mower’s deck as high as it will go in order to run over the windrow. Keep running over the windrow and blowing the leaves back to the center over and over, until most pieces are reduced to dime-size or smaller. Once all of the pieces are this small, use the mower to spread them back out over a larger area.

This mower-mulching method tremendously speeds up the decomposition of the leaves. While the leaves are being chewed around in the mower deck, they are also being inoculated with rotting bacteria that had been below the leaves. Also, the surface area that the bacteria attack has been greatly reduced due to the smaller size of the mulched leaves.

With just a little bit of rainfall, the newly mulched leaves will melt away in just a few days and provide valuable nutrients and organic matter back to the soil.

Frank Watson is the University of Georgia Extension agent in Wilkes County, Ga.

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