Is it Better to Rake or Mulch Your Leaves. Leaf mulching lawn mower

The Best Mower Height for Mulching Leaves Explained

Everybody loves having big shade trees in their backyard garden. However, we may start regretting our choices when the fall comes, and all these beautifully colored leaves end up on the ground. A lot of people prefer to rake them and discard them somehow. But they can be used for a greater purpose – the leaves can also be mulched or picked up with a lawn mower, using them as compost for your lawn or trees. However, when I first tried to do this I wasn’t really sure what height setting I should use on my lawn mower. After all, some of the leaf piles can be very intimidating, and I wasn’t sure if my lawn mower can deal with them. So, what is the best mower height for mulching leaves? The best mower height for mulching leaves is 3 inches. However, the right height can vary from 2 to 4 inches, depending on the height of your grass. If you aren’t sure, using the highest setting on your mower is generally a good practice for mulching leaves. As you can see, these numbers can vary a little, and I will get into that in a bit as there are some caveats and details that are worth knowing. So if you are interested in learning more, read on.

Let me start by giving you the basics you need to know, then we can continue expanding on top of it. So what exactly is mulching? There are two types of mulch; (1) organic and (2) non-organic. Organic mulch consists of a tiny layer of decaying organic matter, which is spread out on the ground. For example, this is something that you would see naturally occurring in forests where leaves and branches fall on the ground and create a thick layer on top of it. Non-organic mulch consists of materials that will not break down and decay with time. Things like gravel, rubber chips and black plastic can be considered non-organic.

What Is the Purpose of Mulch?

Mulching is an excellent garden practice that a great many people do. Its purpose is to provide the soil and plants with nutrient-rich bio-degradable material. The mulch will lower the evaporation rate and keeps the moisture in the soil, and it will keep it from eroding, compacting, and crusting. The mulch is frequently used to protect plants during the winter by balancing out the soil temperature. It fertilizes the soil and creates an environment where microorganisms and worms will thrive and grow. Ultimately this will improve the plants’ health as well.

Can You Use Leaves for Mulch?

If you allow the leaves on your lawn to really build up without taking care of them, they will end up suffocating it. This happens because the thick layer of leaves that builds up over time will prevent any light and air from getting through it and reaching the soil underneath. This is where mulching comes into play. Mulching consists of shredding down the leaves into smaller pieces. The leaves will then act as a natural compost, fertilizer, and soil builder that will provide your lawn and soil with beneficial nutrients. Mulching your leaves can be an easy and readily accessible way for almost everyone to have a beautiful vibrant looking lawn without having to use chemicals, and best of all, it doesn’t require much time. Another advantage of using your leaves as mulch is that you don’t have to spend time raking them and collecting them into big piles. This can be extremely time-consuming, while in comparison mulching your leaves with a lawn mower takes very little time. Weeds are the bane of any gardener. But did you know you can also prevent weeds from growing naturally? Studies showed that using leaf mulch reduces the number of dandelions that will grow the following year.

Can You Use a Lawn Mower for Mulching Leaves?

Also, there are lawn mowers that come with a specially designed high-lift mulching blade(s) that tend to do a better job at mulching leaves.

But even the regular lawn mowers can do the trick, and a lot of people use them. After all, mowing thick grass can be more demanding compared to shredding dried leaves.

  • You can use the leaves as mulch on your lawn, in which case you can just go over them with the lawn mower without attaching the grass catcher. Keep in mind that it may not be recommended to use some mowers without a grass catcher. They may not even start. Make sure to double-check that in your user’s manual that came with your lawn mower. After you are ready, you may need to rake up the leaves in order to spread them out more evenly across the lawn.
  • The other option is to use the mulch somewhere else, in which case you can leave the grass catcher on and pick up the leaves with the mower.

Also, before you start, make sure to have all the leaves on your lawn. This may be the only real time-consuming part of the work as you will need to rake or blow the leaves from the driveway and patios.

What is the Ideal Mower Height Setting for Mulching Leaves?

Mulching at the right height is crucial as it will reduce the stress on your lawn mower. And there is a little caveat here that I’d like to explain – we need to consider the height of our grass first.

Different types of grass have different high recommendations, so the right height will depend on what kind of grass you have. For example:

  • Bermuda grass and Zoysiagrass are cut at 1 to 2 inches;
  • Kentucky Bluegrass and Buffalograss are cut at 2 to 3 inches; and
  • Tall Fescue is kept at about 2,5 to 3,5 inches.

Generally speaking, the height of your grass will be roughly between 1 to 3 inches.

Of course, this may not apply to your particular case if, for example, you haven’t mowed your lawn for a while. So take a quick look at how tall the grass is and start by adjusting your lawn mower accordingly. Usually, three inches or just using the highest setting possible should be good enough.

And if you want, you can also mow your lawn by lowering the height of your lawn mower after shredding the leaves.

How Do the Height Settings on Lawn Mowers Work?

Lawn mowers have various height settings.

However, these do not always represent the same height across the different models. And the numbers do not necessarily represent the height in inches, so a setting the height in position one doesn’t necessarily mean one inch.

Make sure to refer to your user’s manual for more information.

If there is not enough detailed information in the user’s guide, you can use a ruler to measure the height from the blade(s) to the ground manually.

Can a Lawn Mower Mulch Thick Leaf Piles?

Say you have your lawn mower set at the highest setting possible, but you are facing a mighty big pile of leaves. What do you need to do in this case? Can the mower do it?

If the leaves are really thick and in big piles, don’t worry. Just raise the lawn mower a little on its back wheels to get the leaves to pass under the blades. Make sure to keep the back of the lawn mower low.

Lawn mowers are super powerful, and even bigger piles of leaves have no chance of standing up against them.

How to Mulch Your Leaves with a Lawn Mower

Mulching leaves is not much different than what you would normally do when mowing your lawn.

Pass through the leaves one or two times and inspect the result. What you want to see is leaves, which are cut and shredded into very tiny dime-sized pieces.

You should end up with about a half of an inch of grass sticking out of the leaf mulch.

Generally speaking, there shouldn’t be more than an inch of leaf mulch. Make sure to rake it and spread it out as evenly as possible if it piles up.

You can also use the lawn mower with an attached grass catcher and go over the mulch to pick up some of it.

If you want to place the mulch around trees, use between 3 to 6 inches of mulch, and for flowers, you can use about 2 to 3 inches of leaf mulch.

I would recommend going once or twice over the same area and in a criss-cross pattern. That way, you will ensure good coverage and proper shredding of all of the leaves.

The last tip is to mulch only dry leaves. Wet leaves can:

And trying to work on wet ground may be dangerous, as there is an increased risk of slipping and falling.

Hi! I’m Peter, the owner of BackyardGadget. Working around the house has always been a big part of my life. I’ve created this site to share my experience, and to help people choose the right tools for the job. Thank you for stopping by!

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Is it Better to Rake or Mulch Your Leaves?

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Can you smell that crisp autumn air? As breezes of pumpkin spice fill our noses, the magic of fall transforms our green trees into colorful masterpieces. But after the colors fade, the leaves fall and you’re left with a mess of leaves on your lawn. What to do now?

Tradition tells us to rake our leaves, jump in the pile, then bag them up and get them out. Many homeowners prefer bagging grass and leaf clippings after mowing for a cleaner end result. However, there are just as many benefits to mulching these leaves into the lawn with a properly equipped mower as there are for mulching grass clippings rather than bagging them. When mowed properly, leaves and grass clippings add nutrients to the lawn, improve the soil, and save time, money and the environment. To help you get started, we’re answering your most common questions about mulching.

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Will Mulching Cause Thatch Build-Up?

No, mulching grass clippings and leaves back into the lawn does not cause thatch build-up. Thatch is a naturally built-up layer of loose organic matter made up of grass stems and shoots that are slow to decompose, while grass clippings are succulent tissues that, along with fallen leaves, decompose quickly when mulched and return nutrients back to the lawn.

Pro Tip: Wait until the leaves are dry before mowing them. Wet leaves can be difficult to manage. Mow regularly through the fall to avoid an accumulation of leaves. A thick layer of leaves may have to be mowed several times in different directions to be properly mulched.

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Does Mulching Nourish Your Lawn?

In short, yes, mulching nourishes your lawn. It is extremely valuable to your lawn care regimen and provides numerous nutrients to the soil. Mulching your grass clippings back into your lawn when you mow can return up to 25% of your lawn’s nutritional needs. Mulching leaves into your lawn can improve soil conditions and provides nutrients to the lawn.

In addition to nourishing your lawn, mulching grass clippings and leaves when you mow saves time, money and is better for the environment. Dealing with lawn clippings or raked up leaves can often be a painful and laborious process. Mowing, bagging and disposal takes a lot of time out of your day. Plus, returning clippings to the lawn saves valuable landfill space. Cutting that process in half and providing your lawn with added nutrients sounds like a win-win to us! Let us be your guide on how to become an expert mulcher.

How Do I Mulch My Lawn?

In just a few steps, you can save both time and money by learning how to correctly mulch leaves and grass clippings back into your lawn when you mow. All you will need to find success is a mulching mower or a mulching kit for your mower and a few simple steps.

  • Mow. Most rotary style mowers provide the option to mulch rather than bag or side discharge clippings. If not, a mulching kit may be required. Setting your mower to the correct height whenever you mow your lawn is crucial. You should aim for a mower height that removes no more than one-third off the top of the grass.
  • Refine. When mulching leaves, you may have to pass over an area of accumulated leaves more than once in different directions to grind the clippings and refine their size even further. This is best done when leaves are dry.
  • Hydrate. Typically we experience an increase in rainfall in the fall which contributes to improved growing conditions and lawn recovery after stressful summer conditions. However, if dry conditions are experienced, lawns should be watered regularly to avoid drought stress. This moisture will also aid in the breakdown of leaves once they have been mulched into the lawn.

Mulching when you mow should not be limited to the fall to address fallen leaves. Mulching whenever you mow your lawn, rather than bagging grass clippings, returns nutrients to the lawn, saves you time and effort and reduces landfill waste. The key is to mow at the correct height for your grass type and never remove more than one third off the top of the grass blade.

When Should I Rake My Grass?

After an intense winter, your lawn is probably looking less than ideal. To get it back up to par, raking your grass is definitely something to consider. Raking with a leaf (fan) rake encourages healthy growth by removing dead grass and residual fall leaves, improving air circulation and addressing mold issues. Knowing the correct time to rake can ensure that you have a full, green lawn for the warmer months ahead. For the healthiest lawn, the best time to rake is once the lawn has dried out somewhat and you notice your lawn starting to turn green again. Raking too early when the lawn is still saturated in early spring may cause damage. This exact timeframe may vary by your location and the climate you are in.

Whether you’ve decided to mulch your grass clippings and leaves when you mow your lawn or take the old-school approach and rake and bag them, TruGreen’s certified specialists can provide guidance and services backed by our TruGreen Guarantee.

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Mulch Mowing Fall Leaves

Like clockwork it happens every fall with the changing of the seasons. This annual change has an effect on many of us as we deal with the bounty of falling leaves. The trees have given us so much during the summer, from shade, homes for wildlife, and the beauty of the changing of color with the seasons. Once the leaves begin to fall we usually forget about their beauty and think of the mountain of leaves as work.

I can remember being handed the old fashioned rake, which appeared to be an inch wide compared to the size of the area to be raked. With each sweep of the rake it seemed like the lawn grew bigger and progress was slow, at best. Shoulders began to ache, callouses appeared on the hands and the project became boring work that seemed like it would never end.

I dreaded raking the leaves. I felt fortunate as I did not have knee deep piles to pick up. My goal was to find creative ways to avoid retrieving the rake from the hanger in the garage. Being a good Extension agent I did my homework and researched alternatives to leaf raking. I am glad to report that the rake rarely gets dusted off now. I found that managing fallen leaves takes a creative approach and judicious use of the lawn mower. I am here to tell you it works if you follow a few simple guidelines and strategies.

Mulch mowing leaves back into the turfThe first step to avoid raking is to embrace the concept of mulch mowing. Mulch mowing is basically what it sounds like. The leaves are mown back into the turf and turned into mulch like material that is returned to the soil. Years of research at leading land grant universities such as Michigan State have shown this process is efficient and actually benefits the lawn when properly done.

It is simple, with only one drawback. The drawback is more frequent mowing, which still beats hand raking. Frequent mowing is the key for successful mulch mowing. Mowing during the leaf season is not based on grass growth but on the rate at which leaves fall and collect on the lawn. Mow each time a thin layer, an inch or so of leaves cover the turf. This thin layer is chopped by the mower and then filters through the leaf blades where it works its way down to the soil, naturally composting and returning nutrients to the soil.

This process of frequent mowing can continue as long as the shredded leaves do not start to pile up on top of the turf and shade out the grass. Research has shown if done properly six inches or more of fallen leaves can be chopped by the mower and returned to the soil without causing damage. Let me repeat this important point. This is a series of frequent mows over a period of time which reduces up to six inches or more of leaves into fine mulch that filters back into the turf. This is not waiting until six inches of leaves blanket the lawn. I have practiced this approach on my own lawn for several years with great success.

Another trick to help this process become more effective is proper fertilization. This may be an added bonus as normally our cool season lawns, bluegrass and tall fescue, are fertilized in the fall months of September through November. The nitrogen required for a healthy lawn stimulates and activates the natural soil- borne organisms to feed on the decaying leaf organic matter. This process turns the leaves into natural compost to help improve the soil and, in turn, promote good grass growth.

Okay, I realize some of you may be rolling your eyes and saying “Six inches of leaves? I get two or three times that many. Mulch mowing won’t work for me. I’m still going to have to rake.” There is a second step that lets your mower do the heavy lifting while requiring less time raking.

Mulch mow then bagOnce you have successfully mown at least six inches of leaves back into the turf your next option is to continue to mow but in a two-step process. The key is to remove the bagging attachment with the first pass. Once a covering of leaves have fallen get out the mower sans bagger. Mow the leaf piles and allow them to fall onto the turf. Mowing leaves the first time over with the bagger results in the leaves being sucked into the bagger and not being shredded. Without the bag the leaves are chopped into smaller pieces. It is alright if during this pass the fragments cover the lawn. The second pass will be made with the bagging attachment in place. The chopped leaves will now be sucked into the bag were they take up considerable less space because of their smaller size. The volume of leaves collected will be decreased two- to four-fold. This means you have to physically handle less leaves.

Chopped leaves as garden mulchThe good news is these collected twice-mown leaves are an excellent source of mulch for the landscape. Chopped leaves can be spread around trees, shrubs and gardens to help conserve moisture and control weed growth.

Keep yard waste from entering our ponds and streamsThe worst way to manage fall leaves is to rake, sweep or blow the fallen leaves out into the street. Leaves that end up on the streets can clog storm drains. These leaves eventually work their way into our streams. As they breakdown they release nutrients which contribute to lower water quality, cause algae blooms which can lead to fish kills and unpleasant views of nature. This is a major problem for many of our neighborhood ponds.

Many sub-divisions have bodies of water they manage at great expense to each homeowner. The organic matter from fallen leaves and grass clippings is a leading contributor to the algae issues which result in expensive chemical treatments to control. If each of us do our part and keep our leaves at home and out of the streets it will help make a difference.

As the leaves start to fall, give mulch mowing a try. It really is not that much work because the mower does the work for you. Adopt my goal of letting the leaf rake collect another layer of dust hanging in the garage this fall. I know your back will appreciate the break from this ritual of fall.

Leaf mulching lawn mower

Leaf mulching is the practice of chopping leaves into small pieces. Mulching can be done with a lawn mower or a leaf shredder.

Mulched leaves can be left on the lawn (they fall between the grass blades) or piled 3″ or 4″ deep on garden beds and around shrubs where they act as a protective layer in the winter and, in the growing season, prevent weed growth and help conserve water. Leaf mulch decomposes over time (natural composting) adding important nutrients and structure to the soil

The small pieces of leaf material that is left on the lawn after a deep pile has been mulched can be raked or blown around shrubs or simply redistributed around the lawn to slowly decompose and feed the soil. Mulched leaves reduce in volume more than 10-fold.

Mulch-mowing can be done by commercial landscapers with relatively inexpensive mulching tools.

Ensure that your mower blades are sharp.

Mulching blades, also known as 3-in-1 blades, are designed with a greater curved surface, and often have several or longer cutting surfaces along the edges. This allows the grass to recirculate beneath the deck to be cut several times. The resulting smaller grass clippings are ideal for mulch, as they will decompose faster into the soil.

Gator blades are designed with angled teeth on each end of the blade. The teeth are angled toward the center of the blade, which guide the grass to the cutting edge over and over again.

Be sure the fallen leaves are dry. Wet leaves will not chop up as much as they need to and can create more of a headache in the form of a clogged mower and messy lawn.

Skip the raking! Leaves should be left in place. You can mulch up to 6” of dry leaves at any one time, though the less accumulation the few passes you will have to take to complete the mulching process. If there is a thick accumulation of leaves you may have to go over the area 3 or 4 times to adequately chop them up.

Be certain the leaves are chopped up sufficiently. If you can see a consistent canopy of the green grass then you are in good shape. You can chop up leaf-piles much thicker than 6” but if you notice them covering the canopy of the turf you may have to rake and remove or spread them out more to adequately chop them up.

If you are in heavily wooded area this may involve having to mow your lawn up to 2 times per week to stay ahead of them but it is quicker and easier than raking and putting into bags to remove.

Oak leaves fall much later than maple leaves and other species. If you have oak trees, you may be out mowing your lawn in the middle of January but you’ll still be recycling the nutrients back into the lawn, so its worth it!

Research has shown that mowing leaves can actually aid in an earlier spring green up and in fewer winter annuals, crabgrass, and broadleaf weeds, because the leaves act as a mulch essentially shading the soil from light reducing germinating weeds.

If there is a too thick of an accumulation of leaves, they may have to be raked into piles but can still be used as valuable mulch in your flower and garden beds, recycled at a nearby composting landfill facility, or piled up an used as a compost for later use.

better, rake, mulch, your, leaves, leaf

better, rake, mulch, your, leaves, leaf

It’s a pretty simple concept: Instead of getting rid of the leaves that fall on your property, shred them, spread them, and leave them in place as a natural fertilizer.

How Do I Do It?

better, rake, mulch, your, leaves, leaf

Equipment: A leaf shredder or lawn mower

  • Mow over or shred accumulated, dry, leaves on your lawn.
  • Shred the leaves into smaller pieces in order to increase surface area and allow air and water to penetrate the soil.
  • Spread a 3”. 4” layer of excess shredded leaves on garden beds or around plantings.
  • Compost and/or save any remaining leaves for future use. They can be stored until spring and used as mulch.

Why Should I Mulch?

Leaves falling off trees return important nutrients back to the soil. This no-maintenance natural system keeps soil covered and naturally fertilized. With the introduction of modern lawn care last century we interrupted this cycle, leaving soil exposed with those nutrients literally removed and hauled away. Your soil is begging you to reconsider those leaves and finally leave them! It’s time to break them up and mulch them over your lawn.

When leaves are mulched over your lawn they provide a vital. and natural. service. First, they keep small gaps covered. Your lawn lacks a sweater to hide under and it hates to be bare. Mulching leaves provides a fine layer of protection that keeps heat and moisture in your soil over the winter months.

Keeping your soil covered also contributes to weed suppression. If your soil has a fine layer of mulched leaves, those spring weed seeds have a more difficult time making contact with the soil and are unable to germinate. Your grass is dormant, but weed seeds are actively seeking a new home. As leaves break down over winter, earthworms feed on them, weaving their way up and around the soil, naturally aerating it.

Finally, mulched leaves return important minerals and nutrients taken by the tree from the ground, back to the ground leaving a naturally fertilized soil for your lawn to grow. Mulching your leaves over your lawn will not kill your grass; it will make it stronger. How is this achieved? There are a number of ways to work with your landscaper or mulch leaves in place yourself. The resources below will help you get started.


Fall is the time to talk to your landscaper!

Many landscapers have leaf mulching attachments available upon request. If your landscaper does not have one, they can mow a fine layering of leaves without it. Please request they consider purchasing one. If you manage your own lawn, there are an abundance of YouTube videos available to do it yourself.

If you’re considering a new landscaper, consult Rye Sustainability’s landscaper directory for a list of suggestions. Working with a lawn care professional committed to natural landscaping practices is an important component to achieving a truly healthy yard.


After watching Rye Sustainability’s 2017 leaf mulching demo at Rye Nature Center, Rye resident and RSC member Linda Mackay was inspired to buy a leaf mulching blower and mulch her own leaves.

better, rake, mulch, your, leaves, leaf

better, rake, mulch, your, leaves, leaf

better, rake, mulch, your, leaves, leaf

better, rake, mulch, your, leaves, leaf

Linda reports that turning the leaves into mulch was very satisfying and only took an hour. It was very easy to manage and she had lots of mulch to spread around her beds.

Rye Sustainability Chair Melissa Grieco leaves leaves alone in her yard and doesn’t cut back her perennials. Leaving the leaves provides natural fertilizer for the soil and protects the topsoil from erosion. By not deadheading and cutting back stems, she provides a habitat for insects, birds and small mammals to overwinter in.

Insects, birds and mammals that pollinate and disperse seeds have evolved with plants and depend on them for food and shelter. Many butterflies and other insects overwinter as eggs, caterpillars, pupae or adults. Each life stage has different requirements; overwintering stages need the surfaces, cavities and insulation that dead plants and leaves provide.

Leaf mulching lawn mower

The following was written by the Scarsdale Conservation Advisory CouncilMowing leaves into tiny pieces on your lawnalso known as mulch mowing is healthier for your lawn and soil than piling or bagging them to be removed. Leaf-mulched lawns often need less fertilizer and water. It is also better for our environment because the pollutants from leaf blowers and trucks that must haul away the leaves are avoided. And, leaves piled in the streets can be a thing of the past! Homeowners around Scarsdale have been mulch mowing leaves for many years with great results. Here are the facts:

Mulch mowing does not harm your lawn—it makes your lawn healthier. Decomposing mulched leaves nestle between the individual blades of grass where weeds can germinate. Once the small bits of leaves settle in, microbes and worms start breaking them down. The nutrients from the decomposed leaves enhance the soil.

Done correctly, mulch mowing should not make your lawn look messy. As long as the mulch mowing creates small piecesabout the size of a dimethe shredded leaves quickly settle into the lawn, and your lawn should not look messy. It is important that the leaves are shredded because whole leaves left on a lawn can smother the grass.

It’s easy. Mulch mowing can be done with any standard homeowner or commercial lawn mower. Simply mow over the fallen leaves. All types of leaves can be mulch mowed. (Pine needles, which are acidic, may change the ph balance of your lawn if mulch mowed in large quantities, so consider using pine needles as a mulch around the base of pine trees.)

All landscapers have the equipment to mulch mow. If you have a landscaper, ask them to mulch mow your leaves. Many, but not all, landscapers have experience mulch mowing. If your landscaper is new to mulch mowing, the following are key points for them to know:

If you mow your own lawn, just keep mowing! You can continue using your mower without installing a mulching blade, but sometimes you may have to go over certain areas of your lawn twice to make sure the leaves have been cut into small pieces. Better yet, you can install a mulching blade yourself or bring it to any local mower shop to install. Try to mulch leaves once a week so the piles don’t build up too high for your mower, especially during the heavy drop of leaves. Remember to keep the blade sharpened and the deck height adjusted as needed.

Large piles of leaves will become markedly smaller when mulch mowed. Shredding piles of leaves significantly reduces the volume of leaves. What looks like a huge leaf pile will shred into tiny pieces and quickly settle into your lawn. Even if you need to put some leaves to the curb during the heavy leaf drop, any reduction in leaves put curbside benefits our environment.

Excess mulched leaves can be placed in your garden beds. Leaf mulch can be placed into garden beds to help prevent weed growth, to conserve moisture and sprinkler usage and to provide a protective layer in winter. Shredded leaves look great, are a healthy addition to your yard and will save you the cost of buying wood mulch. Remember, to avoid damaging trees and plants, never place mulch directly against a tree trunk or shrub and never pile mulch more than 2”- 3” high in a garden bed.

Leaf mulch mowing benefits our local landscape, reduces the number of truck trips in our community and gets large piles of leaves off our streets.

If you would like to learn more about mulch-mowing, the Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em Mulch Mowing site is a great one or email Scarsdale’s Conservation Advisory Council.