Ask a Local Master Gardener: To rake or not to rake?

  • As long as the leaves are off the lawn before snow flies, you should be OK. TNS/Karen Schiely

For the Gazette
Published: 10/24/2019 1:00:13 PM

Q: My husband and I are “discussing” when we should rake up the leaves in our yard — after they are all down (him) or as soon as the lawn is covered (me). Help! Any thoughts on a solution? —C.J., Northampton

A: We New Englanders love our vibrant red, orange, and yellow leaves as they embellish our autumnal landscape from their lofty branches. Once they fall and impact our yard — and our backs — however, that changes and the annual debate of “How often do we really need to rake?” begins. Below are some thoughts to help shape your conversation.

First, why is it important to remove leaves from your lawn? Here are three main reasons. One, lawns need to breathe. Layering a sizable heavy mat of unshredded, large leaves on top of grass prevents water, airflow, and nutrients from reaching it. The larger the leaf, the more potential blockage. What leaves do you have? Oak leaves block more air than ginko leaves, for example. Two, airless conditions under thick leaves can lead to snow mold growth, creating an unsightly mess and an unwanted lawn revitalization project come spring. Third, many northern lawns such as ours contain at least one variety of cool-season grass. Covering this grass with thick leaves blocks sun from reaching it, thereby inhibiting its growth.

Now back to your debate. Bottom line, as long as the leaves are off the lawn one way or another before snow flies, you should be OK. Regarding specific removal methods, the short answer is it depends a lot on your personality and how much time you have. Some people love the neatness of an always clear lawn. Some people love the efficiency of doing the job only once. There are a couple middle-of-the-road approaches that may help bridge those opposed ideals and leave you with a healthy lawn.

One method is to rake every three to four days, or about once a week. Raking leaves in small bites keeps the lawn looking decent while not leaving a huge job for the end.

Another way is a combo approach. Use a mower, ideally a mulching mower, once or twice a week for a few weeks, then finish the season by letting remaining leaves fall and raking or blowing them into a big pile on top of a tarp. Pull leaves to the compost pile or bag them up to take away. Using a blower to push leaves off sidewalks and pathways in the interim is quick and helps keep things neat.

Mowing leaves chops them, allowing light and water through to underlying grass. It is the same idea as leaving grass clippings on your lawn. Alternatively, if you have a mower bag attachment, you could catch the leaves in it and put them on your compost pile for free soil conditioner come spring.

Hope this helps resolve your debate, C.J. Thanks for asking a (local) Master Gardener.

Have a gardening dilemma? Please send questions, along with your name/initials and community, to the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association at AskAMasterGardener@wmmga.org. One question will be answered per week. wmmga.org


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