Whether you have one tree or one hundred trees on your property, you'll want to consider raking your leaves in autumn. Though leaves do make good compost and mulch materials, leaving them on the groundbe can cause various garden and landscaping issues. Beyond the simple aesthetic reasoning (a raked yard looks neater), clearing leaves off your lawn and garden beds helps cut back on a number of things such as mildew, insect pests, and unwanted wildlife.
Raking leaves can be slow and tedious, but we have expert instructions and tips for fast and efficient raking that'll have you finished in no time.
Most people dispose of their leaves in paper lawn waste bags, though some towns allow for curbside pick up of piles of leaves and brush.
When to Rake Your Leaves
Timing is important when raking leaves. If you have different varieties of trees in your yard, some may drop their leaves earlier than others. This may mean more than one session of leaf raking, or you can wait until all of them have fallen, but that may mean dealing with lots of leaves that may be wet from wintery weather. Check the weather forecast frequently and try to get your leaf raking sessions in before it rains or snows. Leaves will dry out after a rainstorm as long as it gets sunny, but it can take a few days. Check the forecast for windy days, too. Hard winds can make raking almost impossible.
Equipment / Tools
- Garden gloves
- Blower (optional)
- Hand rakes (optional)
- Tarp (optional)
- Paper lawn waste bags
Gather Your Tools and Materials
A rake, paper lawn waste bags, and maybe a tarp are the essentials to have on hand. Choose a rake suitable for you; consider its height, the size of the handle, its weight, and what it's made from. Some people prefer old-fashioned metal tine rakes, while some prefer the newer plastic ones. There are also ergonomic rakes for better comfort while raking. A pair of well-fitting heavy duty gloves (leather, kid or canvas) is also a good idea to help prevent blisters and protecting your hands from branches. Wear long sleeves, sturdy shoes, and maybe a hat and sunglasses.
Rake the Garden Beds and Yard
Starting in your garden beds, set your rake on the ground and pull it toward you so the leaves move in one direction. You may need to bend down and used gloved hands to remove leaves collecting around the base of shrubs like hydrangeas or spireas. Once you've done the garden beds, you can move on to the rest of the yard.
There's no "right" way to rake, other than making sure to avoid overdoing it. Take frequent breaks as needed; raking is work! Switch directions and positions to alleviate discomfort and fatigue.
Put the Leaves Into a Pile
Keep raking the leaves together until you have them all in a pile or in a line. Any branches should be broken into smaller pieces that would fit into a bag.
Plan to bag the leaves soon after raking to prevent rain or wind from undoing your hard work.
Use a Tarp to Move the Leaves
If your yard is large, and you want to put your leaves closer to the curb to avoid having to drag the heavy bags later, the easiest and fastest method is to use a lightweight tarp and rake your leaves onto it, then drag the tarp to the curb. Pull it by two corners held together, then roll it sideways with the leaves wrapped up (like a burrito) to position it before you unroll it to drop the leaves. This is less cumbersome than using a wheelbarrow or cart.
Keep the tarp on hand to toss over a raked pile of leaves in the event of a sudden rainstorm or if the wind picks up; weigh down the corners with a brick or some garden pots.
Bag Your Leaves
There are a number of ways to get leaves into your bags. You can use your hands, wear some of those nifty gloves with little rakes attached, or hold the rake in one hand and keep the leaves on it with your other hand. As long as the bag is less than half full, you can put it on its side and rake the leaves in. If you're using a tarp, you can ask a friend to help you funnel the burrito of leaves into a bag.
As you fill the bag, shake it gently to settle the leaves, and press them down with gloved hands to compress them and make more room. Don't fill them too full; leave enough space so you can fold the top over to prevent them spilling and also keep wildlife out of the bags. Also resist the temptation of putting anything in your leaf bags that isn't compostable yard waste, and avoid adding food scraps — even an apple core will encourage critters to go exploring.
Drag the Bags Curbside and Cover
If your leaf bags won't be removed for a while, keep an eye on the weather report and throw a tarp over them if it's going to rain heavily. Wet leaf bags can break and scatter leaves everywhere!
Mulch or Compost Your Leaves
Instead of disposing of leaves, many gardeners use them for mulch or compost. It's best to shred the leaves first (especially oak leaves which are very thick and tend to break down more slowly), which you can do by using your lawnmower to go over the leaves on your lawn. Some lawnmowers even have a mulching setting. You can also rake them out of beds onto your lawn, and use the mower that way. This is also an alternative to raking if you don't have very many fallen leaves in your yard; leaving the shredded leaves on your lawn will add nutrients to your lawn as they slowly decompose. If the leaves are relatively small, they need not be shredded.
If you're using unshredded leaves as a protective mulch over your flower beds or vegetable garden in the winter, use a fairly thin layer (2 to 3 inches maximum) to discourage wildlife from bedding in them. Also be sure to remove them in the spring. Some gardeners do this in stages, waiting until the first spring plants appear to provide food for beneficial insects that may be sheltering under the leaves.