Does prac­tice of mulching leaves into the grass harm it?

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - HOME & GARDEN - Richard Nun­nally is a free­lance writer and is re­tired from Vir­ginia Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion. You can reach him at rt­dgar­[email protected]

QUES­TION: I have five large trees in my yard, and I usu­ally shred and bag the leaves and let the garbage com­pany haul them away. I nor­mally bag at least 40 of the large 32-gal­lon bags per year. How­ever, I found out that the new garbage com­pany just takes them to the reg­u­lar land­fill with the garbage. I don’t think that’s eco­log­i­cally sound. This fall, I mulched most of the leaves on top of the grass with my trac­tor. As a re­sult, I filled only eight bags, which I could take to the land­fill yard-waste area. I mulched the leaves weekly as they fell, not all at once. My ques­tion is: Is this prac­tice harm­ful to the grass?

AN­SWER: Mulching leaves reg­u­larly, as you did, pro­duces good or­ganic mat­ter for your soil. Of course, there can be too much of a good thing, where leav­ing mul­ti­ple inches of mulched leaves on the grass could smother it. But it sounds as if you’ve man­aged this well.

In the pub­li­ca­tion “Leave Them Alone: Lawn Leaf Man­age­ment,” Mike Goat­ley Jr., a Vir­ginia Tech turf spe­cial­ist, points out that mulching leaves di­rectly into the turf is an ef­fec­tive man­age­ment tech­nique. “Nu­mer­ous

It’s time to ...

Re­move any re­main­ing fo­liage from last year’s peren­ni­als. Cap­ture those dead tops and dis­pose of them in a trash bag. This will re­duce the chance of any pest or­gan­isms from in­fect­ing your new growth this spring.

univer­sity re­search re­ports have de­tailed how leaf mulching af­fects turf per­for­mance,” he says. “In al­most ev­ery in­stance, the re­sults show that chop­ping up de­cid­u­ous leaves as part of a reg­u­lar mow­ing sched­ule is an ef­fec­tive means of manag­ing these leaves with­out harm­ing the turf.”

How­ever, he notes that this prac­tice of mulching leaves into the turf does not ap­ply to pine nee­dles. Even when chopped into small pieces, they do not break down quickly like the leaves from de­cid­u­ous trees.

QUES­TION: I have a Ja­panese maple that I pruned back in Fe­bru­ary and made a few small touch-ups to in May. Then the growth started June through Septem­ber — and I mean lots of growth. The tree is pretty and healthy, but it has a lot of wild­look­ing long branches. I feel as if I re­ally need to con­trol its ex­ces­sive growth. This Fe­bru­ary, I plan to prune it again, but how much?

AN­SWER: I can’t be sure from your photo, but this looks like a Blood­good red maple that you seem to be try­ing to shape more like a dwarf Threadleaf red maple. If it is a Blood­good, they grow to 20 feet tall if al­lowed to de­velop nat­u­rally. That would ex­plain the “wild-look­ing long branches” you de­scribed. If I’ve prop­erly iden­ti­fied the tree, your best bet now is to skip any spring prun­ing and al­low it to de­velop nat­u­rally.

QUES­TION: I loved your re­cent re­sponse on grow­ing na­tive grasses. As a re­sult, my front yard is suit­ably brown now with com­mon Ber­muda grass. How­ever, my back­yard has be­come over­grown with those lit­tle pur­ple flow­er­ing plants I call lawn vi­o­lets. They’ve crowded out my Ber­muda grasses. Short of nuk­ing the whole yard, is there a fix?

AN­SWER: Vi­o­lets are ex­tremely hard to con­trol. The ideal time to treat them is early May, when they first start pop­ping up again. They are peren­nial, so they will re­turn in the spring. Vi­o­lets tend to be some­what sus­cep­ti­ble to her­bi­cides con­tain­ing ei­ther tri­clopyr or penox­su­lam, ac­cord­ing to the Pest Man­age­ment Guide from Vir­ginia Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion. You will likely find one or the other in a com­bi­na­tion prod­uct with other se­lec­tive lawn-weed con­trol prod­ucts. Again, start treat­ing when they first show up in the spring. You’ll likely need to re­peat the treat­ment once or twice dur­ing the sum­mer.


Reg­u­larly mulching leaves into the lawn is ef­fec­tive leaf man­age­ment and does not hurt the turf.



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