The same leaves that in autumn flutter lightly to the ground can, if left to accumulate, weigh down and smother your grass, flowers and ornamental plants.
Even if your property doesn't have many trees, leaves can pile up. But not all leaves are equal when it comes to the ability to cause damage. Our lawn experts say that smaller leaves — such as those from honey locust, dogwood, ginkgo and birch trees — can stay on the ground as long as they don't pile on too thickly. These leaves usually decompose quickly or blow away.
Larger leaves, such as those from maple, oak and sycamore trees, can form a solid, damaging mat and should be dealt with.
Our experts suggest several methods of clearing leaves:
—Mowing over them. Use your mower to chop them into tiny bits you can leave on the lawn, where they will decompose, improving the soil and adding trace amounts of nutrients. The mulch will also attract worms, nature's champion soil aerators.
Larger leaves — such as those from maple, sycamore and oak trees — may be too big for chopping and mulching, or it may take several mower passes to do the job.
—Raking and gathering them. If you prefer a pristine lawn and garden, this may be your preferred method. But keep in mind that leaves are a wonderful natural material. You may want to have them chopped and added to a compost pile. If you decide to bag leaves, note that paper bags will decompose much more quickly than plastic.
The best process for removing leaves depends on your property's layout. Some lawn pros prefer to blow leaves from flowerbeds and the lawn into large piles that are vacuumed up and hauled away.
If you hire a lawn company to remove your leaves, find out where the leaves are taken. Some companies take them to a recycling facility, where they're composted over winter and sold to landscapers in spring as a soil amendment. Companies may also chop leaves and apply them to your garden or compost pile.
A typical leaf removal fee starts at $100, depending on the size of the property, number of trees and methods used.
For recommendations about reliable lawn companies, talk to neighbors and friends and consult a trusted online source. Get several bids and ask for and check references. Make sure the company you hire is appropriately licensed for your location.
Falling leaves create another concern: clogged gutters. Plan to inspect and clear them after your trees have shed most of their leaves. If you hire a gutter cleaner, follow the same hiring tips as above, but be sure to also confirm that the company carries liability insurance in case of a ladder mishap or other accident.
Just as neglecting to deal with leaves can ruin your landscape, allowing them to clog gutters can lead to costly home repairs. Plugged downspouts and gutters cause water to overflow the gutter, which can damage fascia or soffit boards, erode landscaping, or cause a roof leak, which in turn may create additional exterior or interior damage.
So enjoy the season, but don't fall down on the job of autumn leaf maintenance.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, the nation's most trusted resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care. To find out more about Angie Hicks and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.