Given that some leaves, such as those from red maple trees, look quite pretty lying on the grass, you might wonder why it's necessary to break out the rake and get rid of them—after all, it's an awful lot of work. In some cases, raking the leaves may not be necessary, and it might even be better for the environment to leave them. However, in some cases, raking the leaves may be important for the health of your yard.
Benefits of Raking Leaves
Raking leaves offer many benefits, both to you and to your property. The most important benefit of raking leaves is that it will help your grass grow. A thick layer of fallen leaves can deprive grass of sunlight, which gets in the way of the growth of some cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, which revitalize themselves in the fall. Cool-season lawn grasses are most active in moderately cool fall weather when they must "make hay" to strengthen their root systems.
Having a healthy lawn, even if you have other types of grass, does not depend on hunting down every stray leaf you can find. Having a few leftover leaves can't hurt your lawn. In fact, if you plan on mowing at least one more time in the autumn, the mower blade will shred up any remaining leaves and you won't notice they're there.
There are more benefits to raking leaves:
- You will get plenty of exercise and fresh air.
- You'll eliminate damaging lawn thatch (dead grass tissue above the soil) as you rake.
- Raking reduces the amount of leaves that harbor diseases that affect trees and plantings.
- Raking makes your property look neat and cared for.
When to Rake
Autumn is the prime time to rake leaves. But there's a fine line between early and late autumn raking. Ultimately, you will want to rake before the first frost or snow of the late autumn or early winter seasons and when leaves are dry. Many people like to keep up with leaves by raking as they fall, while other homeowners wait until all the leaves have fallen to the ground before raking. Regardless of your preferred schedule, wait until the leaves are dry to make it easier to rake.
Spring raking is also another time for this chore. Raking loosens up patches of matted grass that didn't survive the winter or that were overcome with mold caused by snow and other moisture. Left untouched, these dead patches create thatch.
What to Do With the Leaves
If you rake up your leaves, there are two ways to use them as mulch in your yard. The first way is to compost them. As you add raked leaves to your compost pile, try chopping up the larger ones with a shovel or rake so they decompose faster.
The second way you can create mulch is by using dry raked leaves, also known as leaf litter. This method also requires that you chop up the dry leaves. The more that leaves are shredded or chopped, the faster they will break down without matting or creating mold. The best way to chop dry leaves is to mow over them, and then collect them in a grass catcher, bags, or containers for mulching. Dry mulch insulates well when arranged around plantings a few inches deep. Or, you can work dry leaf litter into vegetable garden soil for extra nutrients.
Keep dry leaf mulch an inch or so away from the trunks of shrubs and trees to allow air to flow around the plantings, which will reduce matting and mold.
Reasons Not to Rake
If you're feeling lazy and don't want to rake, take heart that you might be doing the environment a favor. When the leaves break down where they fall, they return essential nutrients to the grass and soil. Additionally, the coverage that the leaves provide preserves soil moisture and suppresses weeds.
Finally, birds and insects such as butterflies and moths depend on the fallen leaves. Pupa takes up residence in the leaves during the winter, so raking them up means you won't enjoy the butterflies that come later. Birds also raid the leaf litter to find food for their babies.
Alternatives to Raking Leaves
Raking leaves can be great exercise, but also back-breaking work. To save your back, try using a leaf blower. If you have a thick layer of leaves, you'll need a powerful leaf blower that can move leaves that can at times be heavy, wet, or dense. There are also many models of leaf blowers that offer vacuuming options so that you can transport the leaf dander to the compost pile.
If you have a thin layer of leaves, pass a mower fitted with a blade over the yard to cut them up. Then, simply leave the remnants where they are so that your lawn and your local wildlife can enjoy the benefits of leaf litter.
Never burn leaves; the smoke it creates releases toxic chemicals like carbon monoxide. In addition, never put the leaves into plastic bags and send them to the landfill. Leaves take up space and the plastic bags will be harmful to the environment.