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Leaf-cycling: Experts say it's the best way to take care of your lawn this fall

There's no need to bag up your leaves when your trees are done with them.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — As the temperature and the leaves fall around central Indiana, autumn leaves a return of the age-old question all over people's lawns.

"To leaf or not to leaf, that is the question, right?" said Cale Bigelow, professor of turf science and ecology in the College of Agriculture at Purdue University

Bigelow said there's no need to bag up and toss your leaves now that your trees are done with them. Instead, he said, studies have found leaf-cycling to be the most beneficial for lawns. 

"What we like to see people do is called leaf-cycling, and that's where you would, in a perfect world, mow a little bit higher kind of like a shag-carpet and mow those leaves back into the turf canopy, if you can," Bigelow said. 

Why? Because it's better for your soil.

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"Anything that's coming off the plants, that's recycling nutrients back into the soil and that's helpful," Bigelow said. "There are times of the year though where you get a really heavy leaf-fall and that can smother the lawn, you don't want to smother the lawn. So if you can rake things back into the turf, mow things back into the turf, that's good."

Credit: WTHR/Rachael Krause

If you have a heavy period of leaf-fall, you may need to do some raking along with leaf-cycling. When you're done, Bigelow said you should still be able to see about 50% of your grass's green tissue to ensure the lawn isn't smothered from the leaves. 

And, he said, it's important keep a close eye on your grass's length.

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"The biggest thing to get these leaves to cycle back into your lawn is that shag-carpet, 3 to 3 1/2 inches is going to be what you're looking for," Bigelow said. 

While raking, bagging and dumping fall's pesky colorful droppings can seem easier, don't just toss them out. Green waste shouldn't end up in a landfill.

"We can recycle those things, we can compost those things," he said. "Certain cities will actually collect the leaves and they have an on-site composting facility. In a perfect world, you do not want any of that green waste going to the landfills because that’s just not where it’s supposed to be. It can be recycled in some way, shape or form."

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