Lisa's Landscape & Design

Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time

Should I Leave My Leaves In The Landscape?

To leave or not to leave, that is the question and the answer is yes, and no. Timing, type of leave, depth of beds and so and health of the plants dictate the benefit of leaf matter in your beds. Stiff hard leaves like those below take time to break down and should be cut back and thrown in your compost pile after the last freeze.

In Central Texas one of the most popular trees are the Live Oaks and as beautiful and stately as they are in the landscape, they can also be a pain in the hiney when they decide to drop all million leaves over the course of a few days. It can be a tremendous amount of work to keep a lawn alive or beds from drowning in the ocean of leaves that drop.

A common question about Live Oak leaves is what in the world do you do with them. Unfortunately, the answer is they have to be removed and bagged for the city recycling program or added to your compost pile. A mulching lawnmower can also be a huge help in breaking down these hard leaves that can take years to decompose otherwise. The same is true for huge leaves that cover too much of the lawn or beds. If you have especially course leaves, acorns, leathery or oversized leaves on your lawn, you will need to remove them to avoid suffocation of plants and lawn. If you don’t have a compost bin or pile, make one. You Live Oak tree owners will have a LOT of valuable compost over the years or a whole lotta bagging up to do.


The leaves of this Daylily are super soft and thin and can be turned into your soil to break down very easily. Most times I just mulch and compost right over them. Be sure however, to leave these dead leaves on your plants until the last freeze has past as they offer protection for the new green and roots below.

However, if you have healthy fruit trees, crepe myrtles, Red oaks or any soft leaved trees and plants, those can be worked right into the soil over the winter months. These leaves will decompose by the end of the season and be ready for planting in the spring. If your beds are void of mulch, spread the soft leaves across the tops of your beds and mulch over the top to cover. Water well and keep moist for about a week or so to encourage the microbes to get eating, then you will be well on your way to better soil. Earth worms also love leaf matter as do other beneficials so they will be working for you while you’re snuggling through the winter.


While this purple fountain grass is thin leaved, there are a lot of them so in this case I recommend cutting them up into small pieces and till right into your soil, cover with mulch. ***AGAIN, please note that your dormant perennials should not be trimmed back until after the last freeze as these leaves offer protection from hard freezes***.

Large leaves and oversized bark mulch can steal more nitrogen from the soil to break down than the nutrients they provide. Sick plants and tree leaves should also be raked up to prevent spreading of pests and diseases like the sooty mildew below.

 Adding compost each spring and fall is crucial to the success of your lawn and garden. Amending your soil throughout the year with items you may use every day like egg shells, coffee grounds and banana peels are also an excellent way to promote microbial growth and micorrhizal fungi. Decaying leaf matter provides layers of food broken down in various stages for a ready nitrogen and carbon source. Nitrogen is the green stuff and carbon is the brown stuff; (Also know as compost) which can save the world.

So don’t be in a big hurry to remove every little leaf from your yard. Your lawn may not appreciate being covered with leaves, but your beds will really benefit from it and so will the planet when they don’t end up in a land fill. Rake, recycle, compost and regenerate those leaves into beautiful new soil when you can. If you have hard or waxy leaves, create a compost pile to break them down so you can use them as compost at a later date. You will be creating a natural environment for your garden just like Mother Nature does.

if you live in Austin or the surrounding area and would like help with your landscape care, organic solutions, plant choices and so much more, contact me for a Landscape Consultation/ Garden Coach service at or text me at 512-733-7777.

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape & Design (like me on Facebook)

“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”


  1. Hi Lisa. Would cedar elm leaves be similar to live oak leaves, or can they be worked into beds? Thanks!

    • Hi Cally, great question. You can compost those right in your beds as long the piles aren’t too huge. You should be able to bury them under the mulch or hand till them into your soil with mulch on top and not see them afterwards. Water them in to get the fungi going and they will break down into food rather quickly. Elm leaves aren’t nearly as waxy as the oaks. Be sure tomulch deeply though to keep any Cedar Elm seedlings at bay but you can spread corn gluten in mid February for weed sprout control as well as nitrogen and Fire ant repellant.

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