How to Know When It Is Time to Start Raking Leaves

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. 

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

Determining how long you can let leaves stay on the lawn before raking them off is a judgment call that involves several factors. But there is a general guideline that will work in most cases.

Determining When to Rake Leaves

Most lawn experts advise that you shouldn't let leaves sit on the grass for more than three or four days. That said, there are some factors to take into account that could change this suggested time frame.

If there is a particularly thick layer of leaves that has fallen on your grass, you likely shouldn't let three days go by before you rake. Likewise, if the leaves are very wet and have become matted together, you should rake them promptly. Taking immediate action in these cases will reduce the likelihood that your grass will be smothered.

Furthermore, you also need to consider the overall quantity of leaves you anticipate falling in your yard throughout the season. For instance, large yards with a lot of deciduous trees (trees that drop their leaves) pose a bigger cleanup challenge than other yards. In that case, you might have to rake a little every day or two just to make sure 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 that can influence your decision about when to pick up leaves is the leaf-removal equipment you use. For instance, if you use a leaf blower, you might be able to procrastinate for a bit longer than if you had to rake. This is because you'll still be able to get a big job done quickly, whereas a big raking job might take multiple days.

You also can use a mulching mower in place of at least some of your raking or leaf blowing. 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.

However, 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.