Mowing and Leaf Cleanup, Despite the Wet

By R.A. (Bob) Brame, director, North Central Region
November 30, 2011

Blowing leaves into the rough and then mulching them with rough mowers offers cost- effective and environmentally friendly cleanup.   


With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, course maintenance and projects are coming to an end or slowing significantly as weather conditions deteriorate throughout the North Central Region.  Nonetheless, it is important to stay the course with rough mowing and leaf cleanup, as needed, to maximize flexibility next spring. 

Research has shown (, and field observation continues to endorse, mulching leaves to be the most efficient cleanup strategy.  Blowing leaves into the rough and then mulching/pulverizing while mowing offers very good results, while avoiding having to remove and dispose of fallen leaves.  There are occasions when removal is the only option, but it is better avoided if at all possible, and in most cases it is avoidable. 

While staying the course with ongoing rough mowing and leaf mulching, maintain the same level of cut.  In other words, avoid raising and lowering the rough mowing height.  A level of between 2 ½” to 3 ½” is common for golf course rough, and when the same level is maintained all year-round, the turf will be healthier and exhibit better density as compared to raising and lowering the cut to manipulate playability and/or leaf cleanup.  Mowing lower in the fall is sometimes thought to aid leaf cleanup, but a higher cut that is maintained consistently will better accommodate the pulverized leaves.  Then, in the spring, when whining kicks in about the rough being too penal, mow more frequently rather than lowering the cut on the eve of summer stress.

When rough seeding is needed to tighten density, and it is applied efficiently (late August on into and through mid-September), growth should be adequate to accommodate late fall leaf mulching, as long as proper fertilization was part of the mix and the seedlings were protected for excessive traffic during the first few weeks of growth.  Conversely, if spot or complete seeding is initiated later in the fall, mulching in leaves could be a concern, but then the later seeding is in and of itself a concern.  Proper timing is a critical issue that can’t be trumped, despite the occasional political and/or economic attempts to do so.    

The wet season has added to maintenance and project challenges this fall, which further underlines the importance of continuing the mowing and mulching as long as needed or as weather conditions allow.  It’s interesting to note that the Cincinnati area has set records for the wettest year (2011) and wettest month (November, 2011).  Yet, it is, after all, Mother Nature’s home court.  Clearly, the last couple of years have solidified this truth.  This serves to underline the value of planning now for how your course will use our Turf Advisory Service in 2012.  As always, we look forward to working with you. 

Next up on the conference circuit – the Ohio Turfgrass Conference and Show will be held during the 1st full week of December in Columbus, OH  Our “Morning with the USGA” open forum will be on Thursday, December 8th, beginning at 7:00 am.  Hope to see you in Columbus.     

Source:  Bob Brame, or 859-356-3272


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