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Eco-Answers from the Pros: What Should I Do with Leaves?

I am a groundskeeper who is trying to manage my grounds in a more ecological manner. I currently mulch (chop into tiny bits with the lawnmower) my leaves and leave the mulch on the lawn. I’m wondering would it be better for me to leave the leaves whole and let them blow around where they may. Or perhaps collecting them and dumping them into nearby non-lawn naturalized areas? Any insight you can provide is very helpful.

I recommend mulching the leaves into the lawn as long as possible. There are plenty of studies (Cornell, Purdue and Michigan State) that show the benefits. I know the Cornell study found faster green up and less weed pressure in the spring. It is not a good idea to leave whole leaves on the lawn; they will kill the grass.

I saw a talk by Joanne Neale ( recently. and she proposes raking the leaves into the beds to overwinter. Besides protecting the soil, it is a great habitat for bees and butterflies to hibernate. Neale says to take the leaves off in the spring, grind them with the lawn mower, and use them for mulch in the beds. Click here for a related article in the Washington Post.

-Mike Murray, Owner, Organic Soil Solutions, Woburn, MA