Can I skip raking leaves in the fall? Should I?

//Can I skip raking leaves in the fall? Should I?

Can I skip raking leaves in the fall? Should I?

Have you heard the latest? Turns out you don’t need to rake your leaves anymore!…except that that isn’t necessarily true. ArborScape Blog dissects the hype for reluctant rakers below.

2015 has been the fall for a chorus of sites and sources to rejoice gardeners and ardent landscapers with the refreshing news that not raking is a better option for the health of your turf come spring. As usual, these headlines are a mix of truth and exaggeration – so here’s a roundup of both sides, plus a definitive FAQ and guide from ArborScape’s turf and Plant Health Care specialists.

>>Can I skip raking my leaves in the fall? Should I?

Treehugger: Skip the rake and leave the leaves for a healthier, greener yard

“…you were probably told that the reason for this was not only so that the yard would look ‘tidier’ but also so that the leaves wouldn’t kill the grass. This myth has probably sold more rakes and bags than anything else, and while raking may have enriched the pockets of neighborhood kids (assuming you got paid to rake leaves), the practice actually removes important nutrients from the yard, which homeowners then usually repurchase, in another format, in a bag or jug of fertilizer from the local garden center.

[…]Fallen leaves, as an additional physical layer of organic materials above ground, provide food, shelter, and nesting or bedding materials to a variety of wildlife, as well as overwintering protection for a number of insects, all of which work together to contribute to a healthy yard. The soil itself is also a beneficiary of this autumnal gift of fallen leaves, as the leaves are essentially composted over time into nutrients that feed both the next year’s ‘crop’ of grass, but which also feed a vast number of microbes in the soil, which are actually the most important ‘crop’ you can grow, considering that all plant life in your yard depends on a healthy soil biology.”

Good points, as far as they go. Definitely want to feed your turf!

CSMonitor, with their own article: Leave the leaves: How doing less yard work helps the environment

Raking leaves, bagging them up, and hauling them away is standard autumnal practice, but scientists and conservationists are beginning to argue you should leave your leaves to be mulched – and risk the side-eye from your tidy-lawned neighbors.

Taking away the leaves does the lawn no favors and simply adds to landfills, claims the National Wildlife Federation.

“Let fallen leaves stay on your property,” naturalist David Mizejewski told the National Wildlife Federation. […]
“It’s not only not a problem, it’s awesome,” says Dr. Thomas Nikolai, a specialist in Michigan State University’s plant and soil science department, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

Yes, big piles of leaves can inhibit grass growth and even kill the lawn, but mowing the leaf-covered grass breaks leaves into small pieces that enrich the soil and enhance the lawn’s “natural fertility,” Dr. Nikolai explains. […] Another benefit: A chemical common in maple leaves can discourage dandelions and crabgrass from growing, according to Nikolai’s research with Drs. Paul Rieke and Bruce Branham. Nikolai describes the new lawn care technique as a “win-win-win,” because it saves the time and effort of raking, improves the health of the grass, and keeps giant leaf bags out of landfills.


Also excellent points, important and perfectly true.

Now let’s hear from the “must-rake” side – here’s’s Landscaping expert, David Beaulieu: No, Your Parents Weren’t (Just) Punishing You When They Sent You Out to Rake

You’ve probably heard that lawns, too, have to “breathe,” and that they can be smothered if a thick layer of unshredded leaves is left on top of them over the winter, causing problems such as snow mold.

That is true, but it is only part of the reason why we rake lawns.

Most lawns in the Northern U.S. are composed of one or more cool-season grasses. “Cool-season” lawn grasses are so called because they’re most active during those periods of the year when moderately cool weather predominates. Fall is one of those times.
Blessed with sufficient sunlight, nutrients and water, and enjoying temperatures that are neither too cold nor too hot, cool-season grasses […] revitalize themselves in fall. This is when they must “make hay,” strengthening their root systems.
But a thick layer of fallen leaves can impede the growth of these grasses. Why? Because they can deprive the grass of one of the key elements mentioned: sunlight. If not raked up in time, a thick and/or matted layer of fallen leaves casts excessive shade over the grass below.

Touché! Snow mold, unquestionably gross.

Should I rake my leaves in Fall or not? If you just leave them, you might get snow mold, shown here. Read more at ArborScape >>

snow mold – gross! image via noricum on flickr

And chiming in with more raking recommendations is Felder Rushing, Slow Gardening expert with HGTV: Raking Fall Leaves

While a few leaves left on the lawn won’t cause any problems (other than with neatnik neighbors), letting them pile up and pack down can smother the lawn and create conditions for diseases. Worse, a thick layer of leaves may protect the lawn from light frosts, but it can also keep the grass from “hardening off“ before winter, and a hard freeze can penetrate and damage the still-tender grass.


So what’s the final word? According to ArborScape’s PHC specialist team, the bottom line is a combination of all the above: while thick layers of untamed leaf pileup can prove problematic in all the way mentioned above, the best method of dealing with leaves is in fact to retain them insofar as is possible, while not allowing them to pile up – by mulching them and returning their nutrients to the soil.

And as an additional plus, mulching fall leaves into your lawn can also help you reduce fertilizer and weed control.

Here’s a good summary from Rebecca Finneran of Michigan State University extension:

…elevate your mower deck to the highest setting and set out on your merry way, crossing over the leaves once or twice. Usually this can occur once a week, but if there is a heavy wind, you may find yourself mowing twice in one week. There will be an obvious leaf residue on the surface of the lawn that only lasts for a few days. The tiny pieces will eventually sift down through the turf and provide future weed control and essential nutrients that can save you money and time. Come spring, you won’t even notice the tiny leaf particles […] Up to 6 inches of leaves can be “mulched” at a time, depending on the type of mower you have. Push mowers will handle smaller amounts, but are still very effective. During the research, several years passed and turf scientists starting noticing several benefits including needing less fertilizer to achieve that spring green up. The second benefit was – what, no weeds? The decomposing pieces of leaves cover up bare spots between turf plants that are an excellent opening for weed seeds to germinate. Experience has shown that nearly a 100 percent decrease in dandelions and crabgrass can be attained after adopting this practice of mulching leaves for just three years.

There you have it! Limited license to leave the Leaves – more or less.

For more smart management tips on dealing with leaf pileup, check out MSU Extension’s article: Smart gardeners mulch fallen leaves into lawn to save money 

And be sure to follow ArborScape for more tips roundups and fresh tree care and turf care news, including social-only discounts, seasonal specials and more.

Questions about your landscape health?
Schedule your free evaluation here or call ArborScape at 303-806-TREE!




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