Raking Leaves: Bag or Mulch?

Autumn leaves with their vibrant hues against a rich blue sky can be beautiful, but they can be a homeowner's ugly nightmare when they pile up on the lawn. Considering the pros and cons of bagging and mulching can help homeowners decide how best to deal with falling autumn leaves while still taking the best care of their lawn.

Bagging Leaves

Raking leaves is never a favorite fall chore, and bagging them can be a back-breaking endeavor. There are pros and cons to raking and bagging leaves, however, and this chore can be worthwhile.

PROS:

  • Fast disposal of all leaves, even huge piles.
  • Great cardiovascular exercise.
  • Keeps turf exposed so grass will not smother or rot.
  • Creates a cleaner, neater appearance and better curb appeal.
  • Decorative bags (pumpkins, ghosts, spiders) can be fun fall lawn décor.

CONS:

  • Requires much more intensive physical labor.
  • More expensive with purchasing bags and possible pickup or disposal fees.
  • Removes the nutrients decaying leaves would provide as nourishment to the lawn.

Mulching Leaves

Running a mulching lawn mower over fallen leaves is a fast, easy way to shred leaves and encourage their decomposition, but easier isn't always better.

PROS:

  • Easier labor to mow over leaves rather than rake them up.
  • Shredded leaves will break down faster to absorb into the lawn.
  • Mulched leaves can be ideal for covering flowerbeds or gardens.
  • Decomposing leaves block weeds and improve soil quality.
  • Backyard wildlife can feed on leaf litter or use it for winter nests.

CONS:

  • Mulching may need repeating as more leaves fall, as mowing large piles can clog the mower.
  • Mulching is not effective on pine needles, which would still need raking.
  • One pass may not be enough to break leaves down, requiring extra time and labor.

Which is Best?

Whether leaves are raked or mulched is a matter of personal preference, and many homeowners choose a combination of the two techniques – mulching leaves earlier in autumn to feed the grass, but resorting to raking later in the season when more leaves have fallen or autumn rains make mulching impossible. Whichever you choose, the leaves can be added to compost piles or layered in the garden or around new fall plantings to protect delicate roots, making the most of this chore and improving soil quality all around.