I bought my house 20 years ago in October, and I remember telling one of my co-workers I needed to rake the leaves, and that was a first time I’d done that in years. And he gave me a puzzled look. You don’t mow your leaves, he asked. It felt a little like cheating, but it didn’t take him long to sell me on the idea. Here’s why mowing leaves works, and is actually a pretty good idea.
How to mow your leaves
Mowing leaves does work, but it works best under specific conditions. If you just run your mower over the leaves like you would when you last mowed the lawn, the results may not exactly be ideal.
Mowing leaves does work, but it works best under specific conditions. First, you want to have a mulching blade on your mower. A lot of mowers do come with a mulching blade by default, so if your mower came with a mulching plug, and you have to remove that mulching plug to either put a side discharge or a bag on the mower, it probably came with a mulching blade.
Removing lawn mower blades can be difficult, so here’s how to remove a stubborn lawn mower blade safely and easily so you can change it.
Secondly, you want to put the mulching plug in. Mowing leaves definitely works best when you mulch the leaves, not when you chop them up and discharge them.
Third, raise your mower height to the highest setting. This gives the leaves maximum room to circulate under the mower deck. This allows you to chop them up more finely, so the decompose more rapidly. It also lessens the chances of leaves blowing into someone else’s yard, because they don’t have as much surface area to catch the wind. And if the pieces are small enough, no one is likely to notice.
Is mowing leaves bad for your mower?
If your mower has a belt, say, to drive its self propel unit, mowing leaves is not necessarily the best thing in the world for it. The wet leaves can cause the belt to degrade and need replacement before it otherwise would.
That’s less of a concern if your mower isn’t self propelled or a riding mower.
When in doubt, try to mow dry leaves. This may be difficult if you routinely get rain several times a week, but if you live in an area where you have significant dry time, and you are able to mow leaves once a week, you can minimize any possible damage to your mower.
The other concern is if you have too much accumulation of leaves, it may hide sticks. Mowing sticks is a good way to dull your blade. So you may need to sharpen and balance your blade more frequently if you mow leaves, but the time you save is likely to be worth it.
Is mowing leaves bad for your lawn?
If you have significant accumulation of wet leaves, mowing those leaves isn’t necessarily great for your lawn. If you are able to mow your leaves once a week and keep up with it, mowing leaves is good for your lawn. Leaves make excellent compost, because trees are pulling nutrients from deep underground.
Mulching your leaves puts those nutrients back into the ground. Raking and bagging the leaves and paying someone to haul them off into a landfill throws those nutrients away, literally.
Is mowing leaves better for the environment?
The answer to this one isn’t necessarily intuitive. Is it better to burn fossil fuels to cut leaves up and leave them where they are, or is it better to bag the leaves, and then burn fossil fuels to haul the leaves off, potentially where they end up in a landfill, where they don’t get a chance to decompose?
It’s better to give them a chance to decompose. Yes, many states ban yard waste from landfills, but not all states do.
Even in states that do, you’d still be paying money and burning fossil fuels to haul nutrient-bearing leaves off to decompose somewhere else.
Electric mower advantages in the fall
The other thing to keep in mind is that if you have an electric mower and use it, electricity won’t be generated by fossil fuels forever. We are getting better at generating renewable forms of energy all the time, and we are also getting better at storing that energy all the time, so we don’t necessarily lose it if we don’t use it right away.
Electric mowers are great in cool weather as well, because the engine doesn’t care nearly as much about the temperature. A gas mower can become hard to start in the fall, but an electric mower doesn’t really care. A marginal battery can get cranky at winter-like temperatures, but that’s not a problem in the fall, at least during the day.
There is little to no reason to feel guilty about mowing leaves with an electric mower. It’s one of many reasons I recommend them, and if you haven’t upgraded yet, prices are usually lower in the fall.