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Fall Yard Care

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
October 15, 2014        
Source:  Beth Berlin, Extension Educator-Horticulture
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns & Benton Counties

Fall Yard Care
By Beth Berlin, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (10/15/14) — The fall color is starting to fade, and we watch the leaves drop to the ground. Many of us may hope for a windy day and allow Mother Nature to just take care of the fallen leaves for us, but reality is it may take some work on the homeowner’s part.  Whether you rake, bag, or shred, the leaves that create a blanket on our lawns should not be left alone.

Leaf cover can cause turf grass damage by smothering the grass, and creating an environment more susceptible to “snow mold”.  The fungi that cause snow mold thrive in moist, cool environments, and therefore fall is the time to remove the leaves from our lawns to help prevent snow mold from occurring next spring. In addition, lawns should be mowed at a lower height. Lower your mower deck to 2.0 to 2.5 inches for your last fall mowing. This cuts back the height of the grass blades and allows more air circulation to occur, reducing the chance of fungi to thrive.

The leaves can be utilized in several ways, one is composting.  Leaves can be added to a compost pile with other lawn clippings, non-woody plant trimmings, yard waste, straw, etc.  Shredding leaves is not required but will speed up the process of decomposition.  Compost piles consisting of only leaves will require an extra source of nitrogen, such as commercial fertilizer, or materials high in nitrogen to assist with the decomposition.  

Another way to dispose of your leaves is to use them as mulch for our perennials and bulbs.  Snow is a fantastic insulator for our plants, but putting a layer of leaves, whole or shredded, on top of the perennials or bulbs will insulate them in case there isn’t a sufficient layer of snow this winter.

The best time to begin putting down protective mulch is when the ground starts to freeze.  In order for mulch layers on our perennials or bulbs to be effective it should be five or six inches thick.  In addition to whole or shredded leaves, partially decomposed compost, hay, straw, ground cornstalks, pine needles, and evergreen boughs can also be used.  Remove the mulch as it thaws in early spring, but after the chance of a late frost, to avoid crown rot and other fungus problems. 

Mulch not only protects the plants and bulbs from the extreme cold temperatures, but it also minimizes the fluctuation of temperature which could prematurely cause the plant or bulb to come out of dormancy.  It also minimizes the possibility of continuous freezing and thawing to cause the ground to heave, forcing the plant to lift out of the ground causing damage to the roots possibly resulting in death of the plant. 

So, before it gets too cold, grab your rake, lawn mower, and bagger and start piling up and removing all the leaves that fall on your yard.  Not only will your grass benefit from removing them, but your perennials will appreciate the added insulation.


Beth Berlin
Extension Educator, Horticulture
(320) 255-6169
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