Skip to main content

News / Articles

The Leaf Burden, USGA Northeast Update

USGA Green Section | Published on 11/7/2023


By: Brian Gietka, agronomist, East Region

The days are shorter, temperatures are cooling off and many areas have experienced their first frost, with more on the way. With the beauty of fall foliage comes the ensuing leaf cleanup. Leaves are rapidly changing color throughout the Northeast and dropping at a steady rate. While the brilliant colors provide a nice backdrop to a golf course, once leaves fall the pleasantries are over.

During recent Course Consulting Service visits, the question was asked: “What is the best way to manage leaves?” The answer begins with moving the leaves for golf. The putting greens, tees, fairways and bunkers should be prioritized. However, maintaining leaf-free playing surfaces all day long is usually not feasible. Keep in mind that the wear from frequent blowing with large equipment can deteriorate turf quality at a time when we should be favoring recovery. In many instances, leaves are mulched with rough mowers to keep conditions playable, but continually mulching leaves causes more traffic wear and can smother turf canopies, which is especially problematic in newly seeded or recovering areas. Turf needs sunlight to build up energy for winter, so collecting and removing leaves is often a better option. Beyond leaves, there are other hidden costs of trees that impact turf health and playability year round and should be tracked since they’re not the same for every golf course. 

The extra expense of gathering and removing leaves on a daily basis needs to be balanced against the positive effect on turf quality and playability. Avoiding pace of play issues and making sure the turf is getting as much sunlight as possible before winter probably makes it worth staying on top of leaf removal. Near primary playing areas like greens and tees, removing trees to reduce leaf litter and other issues might be better for long-term sustainability. 

Northeast Region Agronomists

Darin Bevard, senior director, Championship Agronomy –

Elliott L. Dowling, regional director, East Region –

Brian Gietka, agronomist –

Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service


(616) 834-0450