How to Know When It Is Time to Start Raking Leaves

When to rake and tools that make clean up easier

leaves on grass

The Spruce / David Beaulieu

Raking leaves isn't just about maintaining a neat appearance on your lawn. It's also essential maintenance for the health of your grass. Depending on your region, the fall leaf drop can occur from September to January. The warmer the climate, particularly in the southern U.S., the later in that timeline you will need to rake.

A thick layer of leaves can smother grass and block airflow and sunlight. It can also form a barrier that prevents water and nutrients from getting to the root system of the grass, or it may be a habitat for diseases and pests. If left under a layer of leaves all winter, your grass might not return healthy in the spring. 

It's a judgment call to determine how long you can let leaves stay on the lawn before raking them, but with some general guidelines, you can figure out what works best for your region.

Factors to Consider About Raking of Leaves

A few considerations factor into the frequency of leaf raking, such as weather conditions and the number of trees you have.

The general rule is that you shouldn't let leaves sit on the grass for more than three or four days. However, you might have to adjust that calculation based on wet weather, heavier than normal leaf shedding patterns, or how many deciduous trees you have.

Inclement Weather

Windy or stormy days may leave a particularly thick layer of leaves that has fallen on your grass. In that case, do not wait three to four days to collect the leaves. Take immediate action and rake them. If leaves are very wet and have become matted together, your grass can get smothered by the leaves.

Also, if you hear that a rain or wind storm is on its way and you already have a layer of leaves on the ground, get to it before the storm arrives. Soggy leaves are heavier to rake, so make the job easier on you by doing it in advance.

Number of Deciduous Trees in Your Yard

Consider the overall quantity of leaves you anticipate falling in your yard throughout the season. Large yards with many deciduous trees (trees that drop their leaves) are a more significant cleanup challenge than other yards. In that case, you will need to up your frequency, raking a little every day or two, to ensure you don't fall behind on leaf removal.

On the flip side, if the leaves are sparse on your lawn and conditions are dry, you probably can get away with not raking for a week or more. Just a few leaves scattered on the grass generally won't harm it.

Using Various Equipment to Clean Up Leaves

Another factor influencing your decision about when to pick up leaves is the leaf-removal equipment you use.


Rakes are a manual tool; however, the type you get can determine if your job will take longer. Do not skimp on this tool. For instance, do not get a rake with a narrow spread. It gathers fewer leaves and takes you much longer to complete the raking task. Instead, choose a wider tine spread with a fan spread of at least 30 inches. Also, get a "no clog" rake with specially designed, angled tines that do not pierce leaves, which can take more time to fix or clear out.

Also, avoid raking on a very windy day. Wind can blow your leaves everywhere, disrupting piles you might have diligently collected and add a lot more time to the task. If you have a gentle wind that day, rake in the direction of the wind. A soft, one-directional breeze can be your friend, helping you in your task.

Lawn Mower

Early in the falling leaf season, if you have a lawn mower with a mulching setting, you can get rid of leaves while adding organic mulch to your lawn. A mulching mower breaks down leaves into small pieces. The pieces then work their way down through the blades of grass and out of sight. And they actually can improve the soil, which in turn can improve the health and appearance of your grass.

Only use this method if the leaf volume is sparse. If you have a lot of leaves, you don’t want to mulch them to the point that they smother your grass. The grass blades should still be visible and standing vertically after mulching. If they aren’t, you have too much leaf mulch on your lawn and will need to redistribute it with raking or a leaf blower.

Leaf Blower

If you use a leaf blower, you might be able to procrastinate for a bit longer than if you had to rake. Equipment like leaf blowers gets a big job done quickly, whereas a big raking job might take multiple days. Start by sectioning the yard and establishing a grid pattern in rows or quadrants. Also, don't stand too close to the leaves, which can blow the leaves everywhere.

Lawn Vacuum

Lawn vacuums streamline the leaf removal process, saving time and space by sucking up the leaves and shredding them into small bits. Using this electrical tool, you reduce the number of leaf collection bags, and leaf removal is less of a hassle. This machine comes in three forms—handheld, walk behind, and tow behind.