The Leafy Dilemma: How Long Can Leaves Stay on Grass?

Many of us welcome the fall season. The cooler temperatures and bright colors of foliage are a celebrated change from the heat of the summer. Even the leaves that have fluttered down onto your lawn may inspire a cozy vibe – I personally grow nostalgic each fall, remembering childhood games that inevitably ended with jumping into piles of raked leaves.

Now, as an adult, I see the leaves on my lawn a bit differently. After a few weeks they become a subtle reminder that there’s work to be done. Raking leaves to neaten up your yard’s appearance is a compulsion many homeowners can identify with.

But it’s not just a matter of aesthetics. Letting fallen leaves pile up can also have undesirable consequences to your lawn, come spring.

Let’s explore the effect of the autumn season’s fallen leaves on your grass, how often you need to tackle the problem, and your options for removing leaves.

How Long Can Leaves Stay on Grass?

While a few days of leaves on your lawn might not pose an immediate problem, it’s a good idea to address them within a week or two, depending on the thickness of the leaf layer and the specific weather conditions in your area.

Determining how long leaves can stay on your lawn is dependent on a few factors:

Thick or Thin Layer? A single layer of leaves isn’t going to harm your lawn. Once you have several layers piled up, that’s when you should start thinking about removal.

Wet or Dry Leaves? If you’ve experienced heavy rain recently, you should really make the effort to clean up the fallen leaves as soon as you can. Wet leaves can mat together and prevent air flow, as well as encouraging fungal growth which can harm your lawn.

Can You Ever Just Let Leaves Sit on Your Lawn?

Unless circumstances prevent it, fallen leaves left in an unaltered state (not mulched) shouldn’t be allowed to pile up on your lawn. If you have leaves covering more than 20% of your grass, you could be asking for trouble.

However, a thin layer of leaves – less than a 10% coverage – can insulate the grass roots from freezing temperatures in the winter months, especially if you hadn’t had time to mulch in the fall.

Read our related post “To Mulch or Not To Mulch: Can Mulching Leaves Kill Grass?” here.

What Can Happen if You Leave Leaves on Grass?

If a thick and/or wet covering of leaves is left unattended to on your lawn, you can run into several issues come spring.

  1. Potentially smother new grass growth and cause bare spots that will need reseeding.
  2. Increase insect and rodent activity which can kill your existing grass.
  3. Encourage fungal disease that could destroy your lawn, if left untreated.

Read our related post “How Long Does It Take for Leaves to Decompose?” here.

How Often Should You Clean Up Leaves in the Fall?

As a general rule, you should aim for cleaning up fallen leaves every three to four days, if possible.

But it’s fine to do it once per week, say, every Saturday or Sunday, if your schedule is tight. Make it a designated activity that you take care of first thing, and then kick back and enjoy the rest of your weekend.

If you are cleaning up your leaves manually, it is important to properly dispose of the leaves. Follow the tips by the Town of Newmarket by placing them in the correct containers!


The 3 Best Ways to Clean Leaves Off of Your Lawn

You have several options for taking care of that leafy buildup, and it may not be a bad idea to switch it up, as leaf removal will need to be done weekly.

1. Leaf Blower

Leaf Blower removal idea

In my opinion, this is the easiest option for the average homeowner and very affordable. You can pick up a decent corded leaf blower from a home improvement store for only $80-$100, while gas-powered leaf blowers range from $150 – $400+. It may be a little bit of cash to outlay, but you’ll no doubt find it worth the expense.

2. Raking

leaf rake removal

Never dismiss the good old-fashioned option of raking your leaves by hand. It’s free (beyond the cost of a rake), it’s great exercise out in the fresh air, and you’ll find it satisfying in a way that leaf blowing is not. Plus, for the young (and young-at-heart) you’ll have the bonus of a huge pile of raked leaves to jump into!

3. Lawn Vacuum (Commercial Option)

leaf vacuum removal

You can always rent a lawn vacuum machine for a few hours to clean up the leaves. This will cost you anywhere from $50 to over $100 for a day rental. 

If you simply do not have the time, ability, or inclination for raking or leaf blowing, there’s always local landscaping companies who will be glad to remove your leaves by vacuuming with a huge vacuum and machine. Although it’s a little pricey, averaging about $35 -$100 per hour, plus a small fee for removal.

For one thing, the leaves will be removed completely from your property – whereas leaf blowing tends just to clear them to the outskirts. Also, you don’t have to go to the additional bother of bagging leaves after raking!

Can I Mulch Leaves with my Lawn Mower?

Leaving the best option for last (pun intended)! Consider mulching leaves with your lawn mower instead of removing them. Mulching your leaves offers two main benefits:

  1. Mulching leaves and allowing them to degrade naturally will feed your lawn, giving it a boost in the spring.
  2. You don’t need any special equipment besides your lawn mower (though you can buy specialized blades if you choose to).
  3. Mulching is a lot quicker than raking, allowing you to keep up with the season’s falling leaves.

Tips to Mulch Leaves With Your Mower

  • Remove your lawn mower’s bag (unless you want to spread the mulch in a different area).
  • Set the platform height to 4” to avoid clogging the blades.
  • Don’t attempt mulching if the leaf depth is over 16”.
  • Make several passes – the smaller the leaf bits that remain, the quicker they’ll break down and feed your lawn.

We hope this article has provided you with some options and incentives for clearing away your leaves this fall. Though the beauty of colorful autumn leaves fluttering down from the sky is truly one of nature’s masterpieces, it’s best not to skip the maintenance that goes hand in hand with the scenery.

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