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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Use dead leaves the way nature intended; Don’t rake

Before long, you’ll get tired of moving fallen leaves from one place in your yard to another. Maybe you end up stuffing them into plastic bags or you decide to call a mound of leaves a "compost pile." Here’s an idea: instead of using a rake, use your lawn mower to improve your soil and get fallen leaves out of sight.

The easiest and most environmentally sensible thing to do is leave the leaves where they fall, and shred them up with your mower. That’s what I do, once or twice during the winter.  No special mower or blade is necessary; just do it like you’re cutting the lawn. By far the worst thing you can do is rake up all the fallen leaves, leaving bare ground exposed to the elements. Raking just encourages unwanted vegetation and erosion. A thin carpet of shredded, dead leaves protects the soil from compaction and erosion; and it’s free!  It also loosens the soil so it holds water better.

 After the leaves are shredded into tiny bits, the next rain will make them disappear. They’ll filter down between the grass blades and become part of the soil as they decompose, just as nature intended.

Most of the trees in north Texas are oak trees. All spring and summer, the leaves store up nutrients gathered from the soil. These nutrients are roughly equivalent to the nutrients in store-bought compost, which we'll gladly pay good money for! About now, however, leaves are dying and falling to the ground. Then they start decomposing naturally, releasing the nutrients and strengthening plants’ roots.  They’re also composting as they’re releasing all of that naturally stored nutrition.

Shredding them up with a mower simply increases their surface area, so they decompose a lot faster. (It's a natural, yearly cycle.) This coming winter, the dead leaves will protect fragile roots (which are usually near the surface) from the cold, and plants will green up faster come spring with the extra nutrition. 

Owen Yost, in addition to blogging, is a Landscape Architect emeritus from here, whos worked in north Texas for over 30 years.  He is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Society of Landscape Architects, the National BirdFeeding Society, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement award by the Native Plant Society of Texas. His design office is at

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