Issue 12, October 8, 2022

Instead of Raking Leaves, Try Mulching Them into the Turf

There are many things to enjoy about fall, but raking leaves is probably not high on your list. It’s a labor-intensive process of collecting the leaves into piles, bagging them, and then hauling them to the curb or off-site. The process repeats until the last leaf is down. Mulching the leaves back into the lawn is a much easier method that has gained acceptance. Mulching is also an excellent way to recycle leaves and return nutrients to your lawn and garden.

Fall leaves on turfgrass. Image provided by Storyblocks

Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) conducted several experiments that explored mulching tree leaves into the turf as a disposal method. The research showed that a six-inch deep layer of maple and oak leaves could be mulched into established turfgrass with no apparent adverse effects. Subsequent studies investigated the additional benefits of this practice. The results suggested that the mulched, decomposing leaves provided nutrients to the turf, promoting quicker green-up in the spring. The mulched leaf pieces also helped to prevent weed seeds from germinating, possibly by covering thin spots and bare soil.

Tips for mulching leaves into turfgrass:

  • Set the mower at its highest setting and mow as usual.
  • For deep layers of leaves, you may need to make a second pass by mowing in a crisscross or 90-degree pattern.
  • Some visible leaf residues will remain on the lawn. This will continue to break down over the winter and early spring months.
  • If you are concerned about going all-in with mulching, you can also alternate between mulching and bagging. Use the collected leaves as mulch in landscape beds and vegetable gardens.

If you want to save time this fall and avoid the expense of lawn bags, try mulching your leaves instead of raking them.

Travis Cleveland


Kowalewski, A. R., R. N. Calhoun, and A. D. Hathaway. 20010. Using Cultural Practices and Leaf Mulch to Control Weeds in Established Turfgrass. Online. Applied Turfgrass Science

Kowalewski, A. R., D. D. Buhler, S. N. Lang, N. G. Nair, and J. N. Rogers IIII.  2009. Mulched Maple and Oak Leaves Associated with a Reduction in Common Dandelion Populations in Established Kentucky Bluegrass. HortTechnology

Nikolai, T.A., P.E. Rieke, and N.T. McVay. 1998. Leaf mulch forum ‘‘research and real-world techniques.’’ 68th Annual Michigan Turfgrass Conference Proceedings. 27: 66–68.

Travis Cleveland

Return to table of contents