What municipalities are part of the LELE initiative?

How much $$ can LELE actually save?

What are some "best practices" that can benefit my landscape?

What is Leaf Mulch?

What equipment do I need to mulch my leaves?

My gardener doesn't have a lawn mower that mulches. Can he use his regular lawn mower? If not, where do you recommend buying a lawn mower that mulches? And what should I expect to pay?

Will shredded Fall leaves harm my lawn?

What about pine needles, pine cones, and acorns?

Will mowing the leaves into the lawn look messy?

After I mulch mow, I can still see brown leaf shreds on my lawn. Is this a problem?

When I mulch mow, the mower leaves a trail of not-fully-chopped leaves behind. What am I doing wrong?

What is the optimum size for my shredded leaf mulch?

It looks like the leaf mulch is too thick on my lawn after shredding them under my trees. What am I doing wrong?

What do you do when there isn't much lawn but you still have loads of leaves to clear?

What if I don't like the look of leaf mulch on my landscape beds?

Won't the leaf mulch run off when it rains?

Can I mow over the millions of acorns on my property? I am afraid they will break my mower! There are SO MANY this year!

Doesn’t shredding all of your leaves result in possibly shredding next year's generation of butterflies and moths?

Are ticks an issue due to Mulching-In-Place?

What about leaf blowers?

What are some LELE Tips for Landscapers?

What is the 'Rolling Chop' technique?

How can I find out more about LELE trainings or on-site consultations?

Is there a list of local landscapers who provide LELE services?

What is Grass-Cycling?

How can I learn more about composting?

How can I learn more about Vermiposting?

What is GreenScaping?

I can't seem to view a file from the toolbox. What is wrong?




Last Updated: 11/06/12

What municipalities are part of the LELE initiative?

Download this list of Westchester towns and villages that are supporting LELE initiatives locally (.pdf).

How much $$ can LELE actually save?

How much time and costs savings are actually possible at a municipal level from the reduction in County yard waste tipping fees, labor overtime, fuel & transportation costs, specialized equipment purchase and maintenance, prevention of storm drain clogging, etc.? Potential savings estimates range from $100k to over $750k at a municipal level, depending upon the municipality:

Municipality Fall Cleanup (Est. Budget)
Irvington$130k
Dobbs Ferry$130k
Tarrytown$175k
Greenburgh$350k
Yonkers$650k
Scarsdale$760k
New Rochelle$835k

Note that these figures are estimates for budget spending for all organic yard waste handling. In actuality, a municipality should reasonable target a reduction of perhaps 50%-60% in budgetary costs due to continued handling of leaves and grass clippings in common areas and public easements. (Maximum possible savings will vary by municipality.)

County Statistics
During the Fall season (Oct-Dec), over 90% of all organic yard waste handled in the County is leaves. Over 60,000 tons of leaves! During the Summer months (May-Sept), 50% of yard waste is grass clippings. Over 38,000 tons. Removal of such yard waste from the County's waste stream could reduce total tonnage processed and transported out of the county by half! That's potentially a $4 Million savings.*

*Estimates supplied by the Westchester County DEF (Department of Environmental Facilities) based upon metrics gathered during 2010. See details in this report on Organic Waste Transfer.

What are some "best practices" that can benefit my landscape?

As the LELE initiative affirms, recycling organic yard debris on-site saves municipal tax dollars spent on collection and processing. There are many ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle grass clippings, leaves, brush and branches, and organic kitchen scraps.

Effective yard debris management reduces waste, recycles organic materials, and can help to beautify one's property.

What is Leaf Mulch?

Leaf mulch is the result of finely shredding fall leaves. As these fine leaf shreds decompose, the nutrients and minerals contained within the leaf are released, recycled into the soil. Additionally, the finely textured mulch adds air pockets to your soil, allowing better oxygenation, as well as enhanced water retention. Leaf mulch can be left in-place on the lawn, used as a landscape bed mulch or used in a compost pile.

What equipment do I need to mulch my leaves?

If you are a homeowner, you can shred ’em using a mulching lawn mower, a leaf shredder, a leaf vacuum/shredder, or even a do-it-yourself setup using a weed whacker inside a trash can.
Electric Mulch Mower
Electric Mulch Mower
Leaf Shredder
Leaf Shredder
Leaf Vacuum
Leaf Vacuum
We recommend using a high-torque mower for mulching deep piles or wet leaves. A 7 ft-lb torque gas mower should work quite nicely. If using an electric mower, look for 12  amp or greater motor.

Note that some trial and error may be needed to adjust the mower height to an optimum level which balances leaving the grass cut high and keeping the in-process leaf shreds from blowing out too early from under the mower deck. A height of between 2.5"-3" is a good place to start.



If you are a professional landscaper, simply operate your mower in "mulching" configuration (with the deck plate shut). The after-market Vulcher 2 is an example of a professional-grade mulch door accessory.

You should also make use of specially winged Gator Mulching Blades which are designed to maximize shredding. (Mulching blades are typically the same cost as a regular blade and fit all standard manufacturers' mowers.) Remember to keep your mower blades sharp!

Commercial Mower
Commercial Mower


Vulcher mulch port assembly

Gator Blade detail of winged edge.
Gator Blade

My gardener doesn't have a lawn mower that mulches. Can he use his regular lawn mower? If not, where do you recommend buying a lawn mower that mulches? And what should I expect to pay?

A regular mower will not give the best results, esp. with deep layers of leaves. This is because the mower will expel the leaves from underneath the deck before they are fully chopped into small shreds. Even with repeated passes over the leaves, the result may not be acceptable.

What is needed is either a mulching kit accessory (for the existing mower) which closes off the output port of the mower deck, or an upgrade to a true mulching mower.

Many companies make mulching mowers for both homeowner market and for the professional landscaper market. Under the Homeowner tab (near the bottom of the page), there are links to various product pages. One of these links is to an Amazon.com page of walk-behind mulching mowers (consumer grade, not professional grade). Such mowers can range between $150 to $350 depending upon brand, size of blade and so forth. (Professional landscaper mowers are typically more expensive.)

Mulching mowers can also be found at Home Depot, Sears, and other similar stores.

We recommend that if selecting a gas powered mower, a mower with at least 7 ft-lbs of torque be chosen. If selecting an electric mower, a 12 or 14 amp motor is good.

For further information, see this FAQ: What equipment do I need to mulch my leaves?

Will shredded Fall leaves harm my lawn?

Many landscapers (such as out trainers) have been doing LELE for a number of years - they would not be doing this process if the results damaged the turf quality the following year! (Read their testimonials.)

Scientific research concerning leaf mulching on turf has been compiled by LELE team and by folks at the Westchester Cornell Cooperative Extension offices.

What about pine needles, pine cones, and acorns?

You will probably want to remove pine needles, pine corns and acorns from your lawn areas to prevent damage to your turf.

But keep in mind that pine needles are a good landscape mulch for acid loving plants like blueberries, mountain laurel, rhododendrum. Pine needles can also be very attractive simply left around the tree itself where they fall as they make a colorful, fragrant, and protective bed.

Positives about pine cones and acorns is that they can produce new trees and are important food sources for local wildlife. On the other hand, depending on your property design, too many can create an aesthetic impact and/or pose a tripping hazard. Some years oak trees produce huge amounts of acorns ("masting years"), while in other years none at all. As a property owner, you will need to decide each year where on the property you might keep some of the pine cones and acorns for wildlife feed. The surplus will need to be bagged and put out on the curb with yard waste (or perhaps placed into an active, hot compost pile).

Will mowing the leaves into the lawn look messy?

Most homeowners don't realize the landscaper is doing anything different after they switch to mulching-in-place. The shredded mulch generally cannot be seen on the lawn. Sometimes, if the leaf layer is very thick, you may need to make two passes to mulch all the leaves. Landscaping mowers equipped with mulching fittings reduce the leaves to such tiny fragments that you don't see them at all.

After I mulch mow, I can still see brown leaf shreds on my lawn. Is this a problem?

After mulching you may see leaf shreds both on the surface of the grass and in between the blades of grass. But they should not be of the density or size (under 1" square) that will block light and/or smother the turf. Over the winter, those leaf shreds on top of the grass should fall into the root zone soil, as well. There, they will decompose naturally by mid to late spring.

lawn showing fall leaves after one pass of mulching mower
Lawn showing shredded leaves (on right)
after one pass of mulching mower.

When I mulch mow, the mower leaves a trail of not-fully-chopped leaves behind. What am I doing wrong?

There is often some confusion about the "rowing" of chopped leaves left behind the mower. This is typically an issue during the late fall's peak leaf drop accumulation. When you’re processing large piles and heavier volumes, such "rowing" can be expected, requiring a second pass. For greatest efficiency, keep pushing the processing into the pile of unprocessed, meaning in a clock-wise motion.

Take on no more than 2/3 or 3/4 of a deck's width of material at a time. With a full deck's width, you may be making the machine work too hard, often resulting in the “toss” of some un-chopped leaves right out the front and sides of the mower deck - it's simply a case of too many leaves at a time for the mower.

In every pass over the leaves, you want to strive to get the absolute perfect amount under the deck. No more-no less… It’s and experience thing. Your eyes and ears (mower engine sound) will tell you what you need to know.

What is the optimum size for my shredded leaf mulch?

Leaf shreds should be about 1" square maximum. When commercial mowers are used by landscapers, shred size is often much finer than this.

It looks like the leaf mulch is too thick on my lawn after shredding them under my trees. What am I doing wrong?

As the fallen leaves build up deep under large shade trees or if they are wet, a single pass of a mulching mower is often not sufficient to sufficiently shred them into small pieces. Sometimes several passes over the area will be required. (For best effect, mow "across the grain" on each pass.)

 For really deep pile of leaves, there are a couple of techniques to try: you can spread the leaves out (thin the layer) into other areas of the lawn before shredding. Alternately, a leaf blower can be used post-shred to help "even out" the mulch over-burden across the lawn and/or into landscape beds. 

A deep pile of leaves can be "attacked" by raising up the front of the mower and coming down on top of the pile, over and over, to pre-shred. Then perform a normal pass with the mower.

Other possible factors? The height of the mower deck (thus the blade height) might need to be adjusted lower to keep leaf shreds under the mower and in the blade path longer. Is the mulch gate (deck door) closed? Perhaps the blades have not been sharpened recently?

What do you do when there isn't much lawn but you still have loads of leaves to clear?

Rake or blow the leaves into long strips on the driveway, (the strips can be up to 2 ft deep) and mow over them with your mower. The pile will reduce in volume about 10-fold and you can blow the mulch back onto the landscape beds or around trees & shrubs.

The one “problem” area in your landscape may be your perennial beds including any ground cover areas. Whole fallen leaves can be heavy and damp (especially oak and sycamore) and may create bad air flow and drainage, leading to risk of perennial crown rot in some species. Carefully pull, vacuum, or blow off the leaves from the beds, then shred and apply the fluffy mulch directly back onto the same beds.

To see just how great natural leaf mulch can look, check out this Fine Gardening video of gardener Sydney Eddison showing how she uses shredded leaves to mulch her perennial beds.

What if I don't like the look of leaf mulch on my landscape beds?

Some people prefer the look of commercial mulches. In that case, use a leaf mulch about 3" deep and top it off with a cosmetic layer (1") of commercial mulch. This way you are still using the leaves productively.

Won't the leaf mulch run off when it rains?

In general the (finely shredded) leaf mulch stays right where you left it, especially when it rains. It begins to break down immediately and improves the structure of the soil.

Can I mow over the millions of acorns on my property? I am afraid they will break my mower! There are SO MANY this year!

Acorns are either too heavy and won’t be sucked up, and/or the mower setting/blade height won’t put the blade any where near the acorns.

You can gather them if they present a condition which either tracks the cracked broken shells in the house, or creates a concern for an unwanted 'roller skating' condition.

One nice "green" idea is to gather them up and put them off to the side, so the wild life can still have the natural food source.

Doesn’t shredding all of your leaves result in possibly shredding next year's generation of butterflies and moths?

It is certainly true that many caterpillars or pupae (whether in a cocoon or chrysalis) overwinter attached to a stem of the host tree or may drop down in the leaf litter. While mulch mowing will, as you point out, cause casualties for creatures clinging to fallen leaves that are then shredded, it is also clear that overwintering butterflies and moths have little chance of survival if the leaves they happen to be attached to are raked up, piled at the curb, vacuumed up and carted away to a commercial composting facility.

As a general observation, since grass does not survive under cover of whole leaves, most homeowners and property managers remove them every fall.  In this context, mulch mowing is the most environmentally-friendly way to enable people to maintain their lawns and to better utilize rather than remove leaves from their property.

It would definitely be a good outcome if more people will think twice about the needs of the tiger swallowtail, the crecopia, and other gorgeous and important lepidopterans, and how they can support these creatures by providing their specific native host plants. In the fall, the clean-up strategy should allow for at least some whole leaf litter to remain untouched around the base of host plants in landscape beds, yard margins, or wooded areas, wherever feasible on their property, thus increasing the odds of survival for these overwintering insects.

Are ticks an issue due to Mulching-In-Place?

LELE leaf mulching, when done with appropriate equipment and easy-to-learn techniques, results in very finely shredded leaf mulch. This is not what is termed in the scientific literature as “leaf litter.” Leaf litter consists of piles of whole leaves, typically found under trees and/or at yard margins such as along a fence, wall, or foundation. Leaf litter may be an attractive home to ticks.

While there are no specific studies on the impact of LELE practices on tick populations in suburban lawn areas, the available research allows one to reasonably conclude that there should be no increase in tick populations due to the fine mulching/shredding of leaves. In fact, population reduction would be expected. The recommended LELE practice of leaving leaves alone in wooded areas should not cause any increase in ticks: the net impact will not be significantly different from naturally occurring levels. Other environmental factors including rodent population levels will have a more direct effect on increased tick populations. Because of this, composting mulched leaves and/or grass clippings along with food waste, if undertaken by homeowner, should be carefully monitored for rodent attraction.

Final thoughts from a sustainability perspective:

What LELE practices provide at their heart is the low-cost restoration of a natural waste management cycle back into the landscape, by allowing the nutrients locked up into leaves to be re-cycled into the soil (on lawns or in garden beds). By the simple technique of finely shredding such leaves, the breakdown and decomposition of said materials occurs at an accelerated rate. Soil quality, water retention, and plant health are all improved.

Complete removal of leaves from properties, suggested by some as a solution to ticks, actually robs both your soil and plants of much needed nutrients and micro-nutrients, and incurs associated costs in higher erosion, loss of biodiversity, damage to roots and re-generating seedlings, and disruption of natural aesthetics. 

Read a more detailed analysis surveying some available tick research in this context.


What about leaf blowers?

The focus of LELE initiative is promoting and protecting soil and water quality, as well as reducing  organic yard waste from the solid waste stream thereby saving money (in terms of labor, transportation & handling fees, gas, etc.).

LELE is not an effort to eliminate leaf blowers (in spite of the various health, air quality, and soil issues that Leaf blowers create). Already in Westchester County, all landscapers and homeowners are supposed to be using the newer, cleaner, more efficient 4-cycle leaf blowers and lawn mowers.

As to the use of leaf blowers during the actual LELE process, there are a number of instances where such use is required:
  • gathering leaves from driveways, walkways and other paved areas, and thence moving them to a location (typically on lawn) where they can be mulch-mowed.
  • moving excess mulched leaves into yard margins such as landscape beds. (Effectively creates winter mulch.)
  • balancing out (spreading out) mulched leaves across the lawn to achieve a more even layer. (Note that nearer to trees or wooded margins, the concentration of leaves will typically be much higher than other more open areas of the lawn. Thus, the goal is to ensure that the buildup of 'leaf chippings' does not get too deep in any one spot - which would negatively affect lawn health.)

In the overall scheme of things, LELE methodology will typically reduce leaf blower use, although specific tasks (as outlined above) must still be assigned to their use.

In addition, it is still up to the landscaping crew supervisor to train workers about the importance of not leaving leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and similar gas-powered tools idling while other tasks are being performed. Or waste gas and create excess noise & pollution while chasing a single leaf around a client's property.

In many municipalities, leaf blower bans are being discussed and some have been enacted. The bans tend to be seasonal, with fall and early spring being the allowed times for use. Exceptions are often provided for extreme weather events and for municipal DPW/Parks staff. Some restrict the total number of units allowed to be operated simultaneously by a work crew.


What are some LELE Tips for Landscapers?

Some simple tips for effective and efficient mulch mowing from landscapers experienced with LELE practices in the field:

  • SLOW DOWN! Mulch mowing is different than grass mowing. (Slower speed allows finer leaf chop.)
  • Install mulching blades (e.g.; “Gator" blades or mower brand-specific blades) on mowers.
  • Close the mulch plate on the mower deck.
  • Keep your mower blades well-sharpened.
  • Mow grass high through the fall so that leaf shreds can settle between grass blades.
  • Adjust the blade height to 2.5-4 inches high. (You'll need to experiment to determine optimum setting for your mower and site turf conditions to maximize leaf chop and minimize throw from under the deck.)
  • Mulch when leaves are dry or semi-damp, whenever possible.
  • Take on no more than 2/3 or 3/4 of a deck's width of material at a time. (With a full deck's width, you may be making the machine work too hard, often resulting in the “toss” of some un-chopped leaves right out the front and sides of the mower deck - it's simply a case of too many leaves at a time for the mower.)
  • Face mower discharge to the work-to-be-done side for easy re-grind when necessary.
  • If required, multi-pass to shred leaves completely (around 1" square is target size).
  • On subsequent passes, use a criss-cross pattern over the lawn to minimize rutting.
  • With deep leaf piles, raise the front of the mower to "attack" into the pile, then lower deck back down. Repeat this "raise & lower" chopping technique as required. (Hint: a counter weight on the rear of the deck helps reduce the effort to raise/tilt the chassis.)
  • Blow excess leaf shred on surface of turf across a wider lawn area to even out. Excess shred can also be blown into nearby landscape beds as a mulch.
  • Mulch mow collected leaves next to a target area where you desire to use the resulting mulch.
  • Learn the ROLLING CHOP technique to allow the mulcher man to work in concert with the man with the blower so that in a short time, everything is processed "in situ." (See details here.)

What is the 'Rolling Chop' technique?

One important technique is to have your crew create long row-piles of leaves: instead of waiting for them to gather everything into a pretty pile, you can start at the far end of the row, mulching into 1/4 or 1/3 of the pile while they continue to wrangle leaves onto the other end. This way, no one is having to stop their task flow or creating working space and safety conflicts. The “setters” can keep building and setting the leaves for processing, and the "mulcher man" won’t have to stop and wait, he can keep processing. Some of the crew can advance onto the next space and some can drop back behind the mulcher man to “dust off” (even out) the tiny chips. It’s what we call the ROLLING CHOP.

The ROLLING CHOP is absolutely the best approach when it’s windy, too. You are quickly on the leaf rows the setters are making, very few leaves have the exposure to get caught by the wind potentially shifting about and creating a mess.

Learning the ROLLING CHOP allows the mulcher man to work in concert with the man with the blower so that in a short time, everything is processed "in situ" (and you can move on to the next yard space). No dragging of barrels, tarps, blowing/pushing piles long distances to curbside, or lifting/loading into trucks. The goal is to handle all the leaves on the ground where they lie with great ease, resulting in an efficient, time saving effort.

How can I find out more about LELE trainings or on-site consultations?

Training of LELE techniques is planned for Fall 2012 around the county. Please refer to the Events page for currently scheduled locations. If you want more information, or if your municipality or environmental group would like to host a training session, contact Anne Jaffe Holmes (see below) to discuss program details.

If you are a landscaper or municipal staff and would like an on-site demonstration of effective, time-saving and cost-reducing techniques for mulching leaves and grass right into your property, contact Anne Jaffe Holmes (see below) to schedule a free consultation.

Contact Anne Jaffe Holmes at the Greenburgh Nature Center: 914-813-1251. Or email her at info@leleny.org.

Is there a list of local landscapers who provide LELE services?

For a list of Landscapers who provide LELE services, download this updated contact list (.pdf).


What is Grass-Cycling?

Grass-cycling simply refers to the process of leaving your grass clippings in place on your lawn as you mow. Since your mower is left in its "mulching" configuration, mowing both grass and fall leaves provides a 3-season solution to lawn care, while yielding all of the benefits discussed on this site (e.g.; time savings, cost savings, green house gas reductions, soil enhancement).

The average lawn produces 1,500 pounds of grass clippings - clippings from a 1,000 square foot lawn contribute 1/2 to 1 pound of nitrogen back into the soil. Clippings can provide up to 1/3 of the annual feeding requirements of your lawn. Clippings left in place can also help block weed germination.*

Note that according to Cornell recommendations, for best effect, grass should be mowed no lower than 3" to 3.5" and your mower blades should be kept sharp. If the grass is wet, several passes may be required to effectively (finely) mulch the cut blades. Done properly, grass-cycling will not create a buildup of thatch.

* From presentation on Backyard Conservation - Lawn Care Practices developed by the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. (Summary taken from slides 10 & 11. See also slides 12-14 for more discussion of leaf mulching.)  Read the entire presentation with speaker's notes (.pdf) on grass-cycling, leaf mulching, and water management in turf care. Also, be sure to get their 4 Simple Steps to Lawn Care.



How can I learn more about composting?

Composting is not a very difficult process to learn or to implement. It is nature’s way of recycling and returning valuable organic matter and nutrients to the soil to be used again.

How can I learn more about Vermiposting?

Composting kitchen scraps with red worms is simple, effective and fun for the kids, too!

What is GreenScaping?

GreenScaping encompasses a set of landscaping practices that can improve the health and appearance of your lawn and garden while protecting and preserving natural resources.

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