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TONY MELTON: Keep grass healthy with frequent mowing or raking

November 11, 2018

I was set back when a visitor to my church said, “I know you, you visit my home every Sunday.” She was talking about this column. Not only I but specialists and researchers that work for Clemson University visit because they are also represented by this column. I am just the front man and the one through which knowledge is relayed to the people of South Carolina.

A while back, I was talking to one of our turf specialists, Dr. Dara Parks. She told me that someone needed to write an article about the health benefits of raking/mowing leaves to both turf and people. Well, if you look at my picture closely you will understand why I had best leave the fitness benefits alone and write about the benefits to the grass.

When leaves fall and build-up on your lawn they become a mulch. Mulch is good for trees and shrubbery because it gives them a blanket of protection from the cold temperatures and desiccating winds. However, when leaves fall on grass it will also keep it warm and wet. This prevents the grass from going into dormancy.

During fall, grass needs to experience the shorter day lengths and cooling temperatures to trigger the process of hardening, which prepares them for dormancy. When your turf grass is dormant, it stores carbohydrates that are otherwise used for growth. By doing so, the grass is guaranteed the energy it needs during spring green-up to produce new plant tissue both above and below ground. However, if you have ever left your leaves and then raked in the winter, you know that grass will stay green and try to grow under the leaves.

This is because the blanket of leaves prevents the natural process of hardening to occur, and instead of storing the plants carbohydrates, the grass uses those carbohydrates to put out new growth. This causes the grass to be weaker during spring green-up which can cause the turfgrass to be more susceptible to disease, weed, and insect pressures.

In the Pee Dee, we have a tremendous problem called large patch disease on centipede and St. Augustine grasses that are wet, when temperatures are cool (not cold) and the grass is going in and out of dormancy. Therefore, under the leaves large patch is thriving and killing your grass. This disease is named appropriately because in the spring large brown patches of dead grass will appear.

The moral of the story is frequently mowing or raking those leaves will help keep your grass healthy, give you some needed exercise, and keep your neighbors from talking. Remember, instead of filling the garbage dump with leaves, use them to make your lawn and garden the best in the neighborhood.

The simplest way is just frequently mowing the leaves and leaving the clippings on the lawn. This works well with most leaves except for pine straw which is difficult to mow and acidifies the soil. The small pieces of leaves will sift through the grass improving the soil below. If you rake the leaves remember composting is so easy even a county agent can do it. Just pile-up the leaves, keep moist, and turn every now and then or (like me) when you think about it.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer. Email Melton at amelton@clemson.edu.

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