Talk to me about using a lawn mower to mulch (or otherwise deal with) leaves

At the age of 50 I have finally graduated to learning to run the lawn mower. [waits for applause, bowing graciously, while orchestra plays “I Am Woman”] Thank you, thank you…

And it occurs to me, that as this fall I will have the unenviable task of dealing with a friend’s leaf output on a wooded lot (long story), I could use my new skills with the mower to mulch the leaves instead of raking them. Yes? So do I need a newfangled “mulching lawn mower” for that, or can I just run our current 10-year-old basic mower over 'em a couple times and hope the worms eat 'em?

Also 'preciate any general hints for lawn mower care and maintenance. I just learned today that it has only one (1) sparkplug. That is the level I’m at here, so keep it simple, speak slowly and use little words…

I mulch 'em but I don’t really care how the lawn looks. I think that leaves + grass clippings balacne out the ratio of nutriants needed by the lawn.

You’ll most likely need the Mulching Mower Duck unless you want to mow your lawn really slow… Also, make sure you fertilize with a PH reducing fertilizer because leaves like oak, maple are very very acidic. Years of raking and mulching taught me those few simple rules. Also, you may need to start thatching every year after you start mulching your leaves. It toughens the sod layer in the grass and can make brown spots. Don’t blame you for switching to mulching though, smart thing…

If there aren’t too many leaves, you can chop them up with the lawn mower and have no problems.

Tons of leaves, and this becomes impractical - too dense a cover, even of partially dismembered leaves, can lead to smothering of the lawn. My suggestion would be that more than half an inch of finely chopped leaves is probably too deep (a few inches would be fine over and around dormant perennials).

My simplistic maintenance schedule for the mower involves a yearly oil change and cleaning the air filter when I think of it.

I do it every year. Type of mower doesn’t matter. If I have a lot of leaves I pile them next to bushes and mow back and forth until it’s confetti. I then rake it into the bushes.

Congratulations on growing a new skill. You might consider browsing for a book about repairing and maintaining lawnmowers. Generally they are much more pleasant to work on than cars, because there is less frustrating sheetmetal covering whatever you need to do, and fewer specialized tools, and fewer of everything, and what there is is easier to lift and loosen and tighten and so forth. What a great place to start.

But if you want to take the blade off, please find out how to put it back on safely, for example what torque to tighten the bolts to. Otherwise you could put it back on in a way that looks right, but you know what? If you set your lawnmower to mow the grass 2 inches high, you could suddenly find yourself two inches shorter, if you catch my meaning.

I have a small yard, 3500 square feet (the size of a really big house). I mow it with a bagging mower, that vacuum cleans it in the process, and I carry the grass catcher bag over to the compost pile and empty it a few times each time I mow. When there are leaves on the yard, this completely takes them away without a trace left behind. I can walk barefoot afterwards and not get anything sticking to my feet. I really enjoy this sort of a yard and also enjoy communing with it as I mow. My mower is a 6 year old Honda, I think it’s an HRM-15 or something like that. It is not self propelled or electric start or anything extra, just a very basic bagging mower.

There is something wonderful about all of this. Have fun with it!

It depends a lot on the magnitude of the leaf problem. People like Napier, for example, don’t even have a leaf issue as far as I’m concerned. If you can bag your chopped leaves with a mower, you essentially don’t have leaves.

I have leaves. Lots and lots of leaves.

The problem with using a mower at my scale:

The blade wears down very quickly. Would require a sharpening after each use.

The chopped up leaves being spun around under the mower deck make highly effective grass clippers. It no time I would end up with completely bare ground, every blade of grass stripped away. If I wanted bare ground I wouldn’t be trying to get rid of the leaves.

So you go from big, easily raked leaves to tiny bits of leaves that are virtually impossible to rake. This is a plus because???

We have lots of leaves. To many to just mulch. So each fall, we mow the lawn, and bag the clippings. The clippings/leaves take up a lot less space then just raking the leaves, and is a lot easier on the back. Then you can compost or dispose of the leaves how ever you do now.

The thing is, they aren’t my leaves: I volunteered a year ago to “keep an eye on” the yard of a friend who moved to Wisconsin until their house was sold, assuming that of course their house would be sold by this time. Which it isn’t.

Last fall my son and husband very kindly assisted me in raking and burning the leaves, but due to the one having back trouble and the other leaving for college, that isn’t an option this year. So what I wanted to know was whether an ordinary lawn mower is up to the task of simply running over and over leaves and effectively transforming them into leaf crumbs that would hopefully disappear by themselves, whether there are any unseen pitfalls therein that would leave me standing in the midst of piles and piles of leaves wondering what on earth I’m going to do this year…and with a busted lawn mower to deal with, too.

I have a 2 1/2 acre yard. Parts of it are woods and parts of it are pretty open grass shaded by trees that drop leaves that get scattered in the fall. For the pretty open part, I do just what you describe. I run my ordinary Sears mower with a mulching blade over it and forget about it. The leaves get torn to bits and disappear by the time the grass grows again in the spring. In the areas where there are many trees, the mower tends to get bogged down and stalls so I have to do some raking. I have never broken the mower in the process however.

Read the owner’s manual which comes with your mower. Pay particular attention to the maintenance schedule and instructions for preparing the mower for off-season storage.

Use your mower.
Blow the leaves to a particular spot or spots and rake or compost there.
Usually we don’t even rake leaves because the wind blows them away.
If you do nothing by spring the leaves will be rotted to the extent that you’ll only have veins showing anyway.
We live in SE Iowa so our winters are somewhat similar.

My mother faces the same problem. I bought her a Black & Decker Leaf Hog ($49) and she lets the yard guy use it.

He has a rather ingenious system. He removes the bag and points the open orifice away from him and toward the neighbors yard, thus blowing the shredded (10:1 ratio) leaf “confetti” into their yard at about 140 mph.

He wears eye protection. I tried it his way and it seemed safe and was kinda fun. If you stay on top of it, weekly say, it doesn’t take long to clear a large area.

BTW, folks who tend toward “yard OCD” and large, leafy yards use a Billy Goat machine, which is a 3-foot wide vacuum cleaner for your yard. The bag is HUGE.

I rake the leaves into piles and go over them a bunch of times w/ my mulching mower w/ the bag attatched.

I keep all my shredded leaves, they make a kick-ass mulch for flower beds (wood mulches bind nitrogen and inhibit the growth of your flowers!).

What is mulching?

In the context of lawn mowers, it means a mower with a specially designed blade that basically does a Cuisinart number on your grass clippings, instead of merely slicing them off at whatever level. This means that the bits fall down into the grass and decompose, instead of lying around on top of your nicely mowed lawn in big clumpy drying windrows.

Some good info here, thanks, people. I will especially look into buying a Leaf Hog–I had no idea they were so cheap. I thought they were, like, $400. Shows how much I know about yard machines. :smiley:

Here’s a last tip for getting rid of leaves, but it depends on using a little muscle. This technique is probably the fastest way of clearing leaves without leaving ANY trace.

Use the leaf hog to blow the leaves against/toward a fence–preferably a fence with pet fencing.

Next get a medium-duty 9 x 12 foot tarp and two HUGE plastic rakes. Rake the leaves onto the tarp. Pick up the tarp and dump leaves into the next yard. Repeat. It’s amazing how much ground you can cover using this method. I’d guess a fully loaded tarp of DRY leaves weighs about 20 lbs–not much really.

Blowing leaves with a Leaf Hog works well unless you let them accumulate for weeks. In cases of REALLY deep leaves, think flamethrower.

When people put a layer of somehing on the ground around their plants. The theory is it keeps weeds down, keeps the soil cool, and helps retain moisture.

Most people use some sort of shredded wood, but that is supposedly a bad idea. Wood breeds shotgun fungus, can provide food for termites, and binds nitrogen, retarding plant growth. Cite.

I use shredded leaves (whole leaves are too heavy) and grass clippings, but not together, or else you’ll have compost, not mulch!

Make sure that you get the mower blade sharpened EVERY year.

Find a small independent hardware store and they’ll do it for you…runs about $5 or so.

I generally replace the sparkplug once a year as well…they’re cheap and that way I don’t forget.

Make sure you buy good quality oil for the mower…the oil is poured into your gas can to mix…NOT directly in the mower.

General mowing advice…mow high during the summer. As in 2.5-3 inches. You should not be mowing more than 1/3 of the grass height, so don’t wait too long (especially in the spring when it’s growing faster).

In the fall, you might mow lower for mulching purposes.

Belated thanks to Dave for good advice. However, both my husband and my son both assure me that our current lawn mower–unlike the ones I remember from my childhood–does not need oil mixed with the gas. And indeed, there is a special place to pour “oil” in. But thanks anyway. :slight_smile: