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Fall Leaves

It’s Fall, and leaves are everywhere

K-State horticulture expert suggests adding leaves to compost bins

Nov. 2, 2023

By Maddy Rohr, K-State Research and Extension news service

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Cold temperatures came on quickly in Kansas, and leaves have begun to drop.

While keeping up with leaves every fall is a challenge, Kansas State University horticulture expert Cynthia Domenghini says the amount of leaf cover on the ground has an impact on the underlying plants.

“Photosynthesis will be restricted in a lawn covered with a dense layer of leaves, preventing it from storing enough energy to survive winter,” Domenghini said.

Leaves can be added to a compost heap, but Domenghini recommends shredding them first. This can be done by mowing over them on the lawn and collecting them in the mower bag or they can be added directly into the planters.

“Incorporate 2-3 inches of shredded leaves to the soil at a time,” Domenghini said. “This can be repeated until the leaves are gone or the soil is frozen and cannot be worked. Shredded leaves can be used as mulch around trees, shrubs and perennials as well.”

Leaf mulch incorporated into lawns can help prevent weeds from germinating between grass plants. Leaf mulch has not been shown to negatively effect turf quality, color or soil pH, she said.

Shredded leaves can be left on the lawn if they are not too dense, Domenghini adds. As the lawn is mowed, the leaf pieces will fall in between the blades of grass and eventually break down into the soil.

“It may require multiple passes with the lawn mower to get the leaf size small enough. It is also necessary to mow frequently to keep up with the leaf drop,” Domenghini said.

If incorporating leaves into a cool-season lawn, Domenghini said it makes sense to be on a fall nitrogen fertilization program and core-aerate in the fall as well. You can mow leaves into a warm-season lawn but wait until late May or early June to fertilize and core-aerate, she said.

Domenghini and her colleagues in K-State's Department of Horticulture and Natural Resources produce a weekly Horticulture Newsletter with tips for maintaining home landscapes and gardens. The newsletter is available to view online or can be delivered by email each week.

Interested persons can also send their garden and yard-related questions to Domenghini at cdom@ksu.edu, or contact your local K-State Research and Extension office.

At a glance

K-State horticulture expert Cynthia Domenghini shares tips for managing leaves in the fall.


K-State Horticulture Newsletter

Notable quote

"Photosynthesis will be restricted in a lawn covered with a dense layer of leaves, preventing it from storing enough energy to survive winter."

— Cynthia Domenghini, K-State horticulture expert


Cynthia Domenghini

Written by

Maddy Rohr


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K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well‑being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan. For more information, visit www.ksre.ksu.edu. K-State Research and Extension is an equal opportunity provider and employer.