Using organic materials in the home landscape makes good sense. An excellent way of utilizing fall leaves, in addition to composting them, is using them as a mulch in the garden or landscape. A blanket of leaves will also provide an effective insulation for tender vegetation during winter months.
Shredded leaves tend to stay in place better than whole leaves, which are easily blown away by the wind. If you do not have a shredder, rake the leaves into small rows, approximately three feet wide and six inches to one foot high. Then, with the lawnmower set on the highest wheel setting, run over the row. A bagger attached to the mower or a tarp laid along the side of the windrow will help collect the leaves efficiently.
Place the leaves three inches deep under and around rose bushes, azaleas, or around trees and other shrubs, and extend the mulch two to three times the canopy spread, if possible. A thick layer of mulch more than three inches is not recommended.
Grass cycling is now being strongly recommended in landscape recycling. It simply involves letting the clippings fall back onto the lawn area when mowing. Research has shown that grass clippings do not
contribute to thatch build-up. Instead, they recycle valuable plant nutrients back to the grass while helping to enrich the top soil. The key to successful grass cycling is mowing frequently, as small clippings decompose more quickly and can more easily sift downward through the grass than longer lengths of blades.
Grass clippings can also be used in the compost pile or as mulch, but it is best to mix them with leaves or other organic materials. Grass clippings alone tend to mat down on the soil surface and inhibit oxygen penetration to plant roots.
Javier Vargas, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service