Should you rake leaves?

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Is it better to rake or leave leaves?

Q: It’s that time of year. The wind is a blowin’ and the leaves are a fallin’. Every fall, I spend hours raking my lawn clean, mostly because everyone else in my neighborhood does it and I want to avoid their glaring, condescending looks when they pass a lawn that hasn’t been raked. But I wonder, is it really necessary? What’s more, I was recently taking a walk in the forest behind my house, and I wondered — no one rakes the leaves in there, and yet the trees and shrubbery seem to be doing just fine. Could I just leave my leaves, too?

A: Ahhh, raking the leaves, an age-old fall tradition I could really do without. Back when I was young, we used to rake the neighbors’ lawns for money. The fall left no shortage of leaves in my wooded neighborhood, and my industrious friends and I were going to milk it for all it was worth. We’d charge $5 an hour. Five dollars. That was a measly thirty bucks for spending an entire afternoon shoving an old metal rake back and forth till our hands were raw. Nowadays, you couldn’t pay me $30 to fold your laundry (well, maybe you could — depends how close I am to the end of my credit card billing cycle). But I’m not going to lie — seeing a lawn free from leaves at the end of a long Sunday afternoon definitely appealed to my anal-retentive sensibilities, and the hot cocoa some folks offered to us afterward wasn’t bad either.

However, if you’re cultivating a ‘tidier’ look to your lawn, and don’t want those pesky dried leaves getting in the way, they can be raked into garden beds, flower beds, or as a mulch around trees, either as-is or by using a bagger on your mower to collect them. Covering garden beds with a thick mulch in the fall can be an effective and simple way to build soil fertility, as well as helping to keep the yard look tidier.

And far be it from me to encourage you to use lawn equipment in a way that it’s not intended, but I’ve heard that you can put leaves into a large trash can and then use your weed-eater in the can to slash the leaves into tiny bits for use as mulch.

Leaves can be a great additive to a home compost pile, and by keeping a pile of it next to the compost, leaves can be used to cover layers of kitchen food waste throughout the winter. Fallen leaves can also be used to reclaim sections of the yard that are marginal, just by building a huge leaf pile there and letting it sit all winter. By the spring, the lower part of the leaf pile will be converted into rich soil, while the middle and top layers can be used as mulch or dug into spring garden beds as a soil amendment.

If none of these uses for fallen leaves work for your situation, you can look into local options for leaf drop-offs, where this yard waste is collected at a central location and then turned into compost and mulch, and although this option does still require raking and bagging, it can keep this potential natural resource out of the waste stream.

And if you’re like me, and you’re always looking for sources of free organic matter to use as compost and mulch and soil-building materials, you can try putting your name out there as a prospective drop-off location for neighborhood leaves. You can also contact the coordinators of the local leaf drop-off and ask about getting bags of leaves for free from the event, which I’ve done before, and which can be an effective and simple ingredient for enriching your soil.

Is It Absolutely Necessary to Rake the Leaves in the Fall or Can it Wait Until Spring?

Raking leaves in the fall is a task that many homeowners perform without question. Whether the leaves absolutely need to be cleaned up at this time is another matter entirely. From an ecological standpoint, the answer to this question is no. However, if you intend to maintain a healthy lawn beneath your trees, you really should try to remove as many leaves as possible before the winter. First, a heavy layer of leaves can smother the grass beneath or prevent new growth in the spring unless promptly taken away. Leaves that are left on the lawn can also promote snow mold diseases which can cause significant damage to turf grass in the winter and early spring. While you can certainly wait until spring to rake up the leaves, be prepared to deal with other resulting yard and garden issues that may become apparent at that time.

Leaf cleanup can be a daunting task, particularly for those with large deciduous trees. One way to make things easier is to put the lawn mower to use. Passing over the leaves with the mower a few times is often enough to shred them into small pieces. This not only cuts down on labor, but also returns nitrogen to the soil as the chipped leaves decompose. Mulching leaves into the lawn works very well as long as it is done several times throughout the season. Once a thick layer of leaves builds up, it is nearly impossible to get all of the pieces to filter down between the grass blades. At that point, it is much easier to simply rake them up.

All too often, leaves are bagged up and hauled away to the transfer station. That is a terrible waste since leaves are an incredibly valuable, useful, and free resource. If space allows, composting leaves is a great way to recycle nutrients, and compost can be used to improve the soil in the lawn and garden.

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Good Question: Do you really need to rake all those leaves?

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There’s some really good information here for all of you homeowners looking to avoid the leaf raking process this weekend. The real answer to this question is NO, but it comes with one catch……he most important point with fall cleanup is that the tree leaves are not covering a significant portion of the turfgrass canopy. 10-20% coverage of your lawn might be okay, but I certainly would make sure the leaves aren’t covering any more than that. Excessive leaf matter on your lawn going into winter is bad for several reasons. First, it will smother the grass and if not removed very soon in the spring it will inhibit growth. Second, it can promote the snow mold diseases. And finally, turf damage from critters (voles, mice) can be more extensive in the spring.

The homeowner basically has three options to make sure that leaves are not covering a significant portion of their lawn:

1) Rake them up or use a blower- compost the leaves or dispose of them

2) Use the bagging attachment for your mower: compost the leaf/grass mix or dispose of

3) Mulch the leaves with a mower (i.e. chop them into small pieces so they will fall into the canopy). This is my preferred option because the nutrients and organic matter will benefit the lawn and soil. Some leaf types have been shown to reduce weed seed germination when mulched into a lawn canopy (maples, others). The leaves of some particular tree species (legumes like honey locust, others) might actually add a significant amount of nitrogen to lawns because these species fix nitrogen from the atmosphere just like soybeans, so higher leaf nitrogen contents in these leaves is possible. Additional resources for these two concepts are here:

Tree leaves and weeds (.pdf)

Nitrogen content tree leaves (.pdf)

Successfully mulching leaves into a lawn canopy requires more frequent mowing in the fall and possibly several passes with the mower to mulch the leaves sufficiently. Specialized mulching mowers can also be purchased, and these mower types will also be beneficial year-round to mulch grass leaves into the canopy. Chopping leaves into small pieces is important.

As always, please let me know if you have any questions on this information: [email protected]

Tree leaves that have built up to this level in your lawn would not be practical to mulch into the lawn canopy. Removal would be required in this situation. Photo: Sam Bauer

Moderate levels of tree leaves can easily be mulched into a lawn canopy, such as the situation shown here. Photo: Sam Bauer

Denise Panyik-Dale/Getty

When leaves change color each autumn, we all “ooh!” and “aah!” and run out to buy pumpkin spice lattes. But as soon as they drop to the ground, the magic fades and all that’s left is the drudgery of a weekend spent raking them up.

Or is there? The National Wildlife Federation actually recommends not raking your leaves at all. You read that right: Just leave ’em where they lie.

The reality is that fallen foliage isn’t a just nuisance that’s hiding your manicured lawn — it’s an active and necessary part of the ecosystem. Beds of leaves provide shelter and even food for animals like chipmunks, box turtles, and earthworms. Butterfly pupae use the layers for protection as they grow over the chilly months. Plus, as the leaves decompose (no, they won’t litter your lawn forever), they form a natural mulch and help fertlize the soil.

Of course, many commmunities have rules regarding curb appeal and leaf collection, and you should clear away sidewalks and paths to your house. But if you must get rid of your leaves, the NWF suggests placing them in a compost pile, using them for mulch in planting beds, or dropping them at your recycling center for municipal composting.

TELL US: Do you rake your yard’s leaves?

NEXT: 9 Things to Do In Your Garden Before Winter “

Photo: Denise Panyik-Dale/Getty

[via USA Today

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Queen of Green readers love to help pollinators — whether it’s planting a butterfly garden or getting a yard off grass.

Well, there’s another thing pollinator-lovers can do to help and it’s really simple…

DO NOT rake your leaves!

Butterflies begin in leaves, as larvae.

Those brown, dead leaves are the planet’s butterfly nursery. They’re home to butterfly larvae, microbes and worms. And leaf litter is where many species of butterflies and moths overwinter as pupae. Animals like toads, shrews and salamanders benefit from leaf litter to hide and hunt, too.

This fall, let your rake collect only dust.

Can’t leave all of your leaves where they fall? Here are a few other ideas:

Mulch leaves in your planter beds

Does your homeowner’s association have something against leaves? Rake leaves off the lawn and into your planter beds.

Mulch leaves on your lawn

Use your mower to mulch leaves on the lawn and improve your lawn health by suppressing weeds and fertilizing the soil.

Collect browns to compost

Backyard Composting Dos and Don’ts tells us to balance “greens” with “browns.” Store leaves in a bin and add them to your backyard composter throughout the winter months.

Craft with leaves

Have children collect their favourite leaves in your yard and throughout the neighbourhood and try your hand at nature weaving.


DO rake leaves out of sewers and drainage pathways.

The Harder They Fall…

First posted November 2017

Autumn leaves offer so many benefits to our gardens, why waste them by blowing or throwing them away?

Here in Mercer County, we have a lot of leaves to contend with at this time of the year–and corralling and collecting them can add up to a towering outdoor chore. If you’re not looking forward to spending your fall weekends blowing or raking all those leaves out to the curb for pickup, there’s good news: You don’t have to! That’s right, not only is all that bagging and blowing unnecessary, keeping those leaves on your property will also do wonders for your garden, and help the community too!

…the better it is for you! When it comes to leaves, there’s almost no such thing as too many. What’s so good about fallen leaves? Here are our top three:

  • Leaves are a natural soil builder
  • They reduce the need for fertilizer on our lawns and gardens
  • They offer excellent winter insulation for plants, animals, and potted bulbs

There are a few types of leaves you might not want to keep.
Scroll down for info on the few exceptions to the ‘Leave the Leaves’ rule.

That’s the Spirit: Helping Towns and Ecosystems

Leaves left at the curb can pollute local waterways and clog storm drains. (Photo by Louise Senior)

Significant as they are for your own garden, the benefits of holding onto your leaves stretch well past your property line. For one thing, not blowing leaves to the curb keeps them out of storm drains where they can release excess phosphorus into our water supply–polluting waterways and contributing to excess algae that can deplete oxygen in lakes and streams, killing fish and other aquatic life.

Even if they don’t make it into drains, leaves left at the curb can cover and clog storm drains, exacerbating fall flooding problems.

On some streets, trying to drive (or bike) through narrow gauntlets of leaf piles becomes a navigation nightmare. Leaves at the curb are also slippery underfoot as they blow back onto sidewalks, driveways, streets, and parking lots.

One other thing to ponder: lowering the size of the leaf piles at the curb means fewer pickups, which can add up to lower municipal collection costs–wouldn’t THAT be a welcome windfall?

In 1988, New Jersey banned leaves from landfills and incinerators. Collected leaves are now generally composted at municipal, regional, and commercial sites. In addition, NJ farmers also make use of leaves collected from municipalities, and find they make both effective soil builders (through composting) and great field mulch.

Better Ways of Dealing with Leaves:

We’ve come up with some easy alternatives to piling leaves along the curb for pickup. Most require little or no investment, but all pay big dividends in healthier gardens and lower environmental costs.

The Mow Down: Mulching leaves into the lawn

Mulch mowing is the simplest method of dealing with leaves that land on the lawn. (Photo by Louise Senior)

Simply leaving leaves where they fall is fine in wooded areas, but as most homeowners already know, if leaves are left to pile up on lawns, before long they would become too thick and kill the grass! A better strategy: Simply mow them back into the lawn.

Depending on the type of mower you have, you can either switch to the mulch setting or make several passes over dry leaves to cut and re-cut them into fine particles. Either way, letting the small pieces drop between the blades of grass will allow microbes to further break them down. Over time, the mulch will release nutrients into the lawn and provide much-needed organic matter to the soil. Be sure to keep the blade height at about three inches.

One caveat to mulching leaves into the grass: After you mow over the leaves, make sure you can see green grass underfoot. If all you see when you look down is ground leaves—keep mowing. Leaves that are not shredded finely enough can smother and kill the grass.

Once mowed, check to be sure that grass is easily visible through the mulched leaves. If only mulched leaves are seen, they will block sunlight and possibly kill the lawn beneath. (Photo by Louise Senior)

It’s always best to mulch mow when the leaves are dry. Mulch mowing is also easiest to do when the layer of leaves is not too thick. The more powerful the mower though, the heavier the layer of leaves it can get through. Don’t own a lawn mower? Professional landscapers can be directed to mulch leaves into the grass as they mow your property. And, in case you’re wondering, mulch mowing is absolutely not correlated with thatching in lawns. (For more on what does cause thatch, see THE BASICS OF SUCCESSFUL LAWN CARE.)

Hitting Pay Dirt: Improving the soil

Shunting some of those fallen leaves into your garden beds will pay off big time in improved soil. Scientific research conducted by the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station has shown that adding a layer of leaves improves the water-holding capacity of soil, reducing drought damage and improving the “tilth” of the soil, i.e. how loose and crumbly it is. Loose, crumbly or “friable” soil is exactly what all gardeners should be shooting for–not only because it makes gardens easier to dig, but also because friable soil allows water to drain better and helps supply air and nutrients to the root systems. Plus, as leaves break down into compost, they help soil hold nutrients longer, reducing the effects of excess fertilization, and providing food for beneficial soil micro-organisms.

Original soil, before the application of leaves.

Soil after annual top dressing of fall leaves. (Photos courtesy of Daniel Kluchinski)

As you can see in the “before and after” photos shown above, the soil with zero inches of added leaves is dense, difficult to cultivate and erodes easily. But after adding six inches of uncomposted leaves each year over the three-year study, organic matter increases, along with soil tilth, fertility (which can then reduce the amount of fertilizer necessary), and moisture-holding capacity.

Take Cover: Leaves as insulation

The climbing rose bush pictured above–like a lot of shrubs on the borderline for hardiness in our zone– benefits from the winter protection provided by a blanket of fall leaves. (Photo by Catherine Horgan)

Fall leaves are great for protecting plants against freezing winter weather.

When it comes to gardens, it may be surprising to learn that freezing temps and drying winds are actually worse than snow. The fact is, snow acts as a kind of insulation, shielding plants from the coldest temperatures.

If we end up with a decent covering of snow during the coldest months, even somewhat tender plants will do just fine. But since we can’t always count on adequate snow cover, adding a layer of leaves can provide a little extra protection.

Simply rake the leaves up and over, to cover the plants. Be sure to remove the leaves in early spring (and add them to your compost pile.) Among the tender plants that will appreciate some protection: agapanthus, rosemary, and some types of lavender. Edible plants, such as garlic, strawberries and asparagus, also benefit from the protective winter insulation of a layer of leaves.

Another use for the insulating power of leaves is shown here: Potted bulbs can be set outside and covered with leaves. That way, the bulbs get the chilling they need to bloom, but a layer of leaves keep the pots and bulbs from freezing.

Leaves make great insulation when forcing spring bulbs like the tulips pictured above. (Photo by Catherine Horgan)

A top dressing with leaves ensures the bulbs are shielded from freezing temperatures. (Photo by Catherine Horgan)

In this instance, tulip bulbs were potted up, tucked into a window well, and surrounded with leaves. A top layer of leaves covers the pots completely, insulating them from killing frosts until it’s time to bring them inside, where they’ll be forced into early bloom.

(For more information on forcing bulbs, see Spring Flowering Bulbs.)

Nurturing Nature: Wildlife protection

Both decayed and fresh leaf litter are important for over wintering wildlife, like this eastern box turtle. (Photo by Margaret Montplaisir)

Leaves don’t just provide protection for plants. Layering leaves in your garden provides winter refuge for wildlife too. Salamanders, box turtles, toads, and shrews all either live in, or rely on, the leaf layer for food. Welcome them! They are all beneficial in keeping down the number of harmful bugs in your gardens.

Several butterfly and moth species also overwinter in leaf litter. You may not have realized that if you get rid of the leaves, you potentially get rid of some beautiful and beneficial insects too. All those butterflies and moths that are allowed to overwinter in the leaf litter will help other species too. Think about all those caterpillars they will produce in the spring, which will provide lots of food for birds to feed their hungry babies.

Neat and Nutritious: Turning leaves into mulch

Dried leaves also make a wonderful mulch for garden beds. Cost effective and nutrient filled, they are a superior alternative to wood chips and dyed bark mulches. When considering using leaves as garden mulch, it’s always best to shred them first. (See How-to’s below.) Some leaves—like maples—are flat and tend to clump together forming a mat that can prevent moisture from reaching the soil. Shredded leaves look neater and are less likely to swirl around and out of beds. And, unlike whole leaves, won’t form a heavy mat that can keep moisture from reaching winter-parched plants.

Shredded leaf mulch offers the added bonus of keeping weeds at bay. In the fall, after you’ve weeded your beds one final time, add a thick layer of shredded leaves on top. Since most seeds require light to germinate, the blanket of shredded leaves will help keep weeds from reappearing.

Using shredded leaves in flower beds is both an attractive and wallet friendly alternative to purchased mulches. (Photo by Catherine Horgan)

Chop, Chop: Leaf shredding how-to

Shredding leaves using a string trimmer saves space and helps them break down more easily. (Photo by Louise Senior)

Leaf shredding doesn’t have to be a big deal–but it really does make a big dent in the volume of leaves you have to deal with. Depending on how finely you chop them, shredded leaf volume can drop to less than a quarter of the space needed for whole leaves. In addition to cutting leaf piles down to size, the smaller pieces decompose faster.

Here are a few easy and cost-effective shredding methods to try:

Leaf shredders, like this electric version, make short work of leaves. (Photo by Catherine Horgan)

String Trimmers: Use this lawn-manicuring staple to make short work of leaves. Just collect leaves in bins and churn through the pile with the trimmer until leaves are chopped into small pieces.

Leaf Blowers: Instead of using this tool to pile leaves up at the curb, use the reverse or vacuum mode with a bag attachment to collect and shred leaves in one step.

(Note: Some leaf blowers have small-ish collection bags which can fill up quickly. If you have tons of leaves, try emptying them onto beds as you go.)

Leaf Shredders: There are lots of lightweight leaf shredders on the market in a variety of price ranges. Most perch on edge of collection bins for easy collection and storage.

Regardless of the shredding method you use, make sure you use eye protection to prevent injury from any little twigs you might have picked up.

Give It a Rest: Creating leaf compost

Finished leaf mulch — a bag of dark, earthy-smelling garden gold (Photo by Louise Senior)

Maybe the easiest way to take advantage of all the good stuff leaves have to offer is to just gather them up and let them sit–creating leaf compost or leaf mold.

You don’t need any special equipment to make leaf compost, just a little space to put a plastic bag or two. Simply bag up your leaves, and add a little moisture if they are dry. Close the bag, and leave it be for about six months. Come spring: Tah-dah! You’ll be the proud possessor of the dark, earthy-smelling garden gold know as leaf mold or leaf compost.

As a rule, a healthy dose of leaf mold is already present in Autumn leaves–which is a good thing since that’s what gets the decomposition process started. But if this is your first try with “bag-and-let-it-sit” leaf composting, it might not be a bad idea to add a handful of compost, or healthy garden soil to the leaves to help them get started.

Leaf compost is a wonderful addition to gardens, supplying organic matter that improves soil structure and provides nutrients. Use the compost when you install new plants, or you can spread it on your flower gardens in spring. Properly maintained, a compost pile does not smell.

If you already have a compost bin but have more leaves in autumn than your bin can handle, store leftover leaves in bags or bins. Shredding first can save a lot of space. Depending on how finely shredded the leaves are, they can take as little as one-sixteenth the space of whole leaves.

Space-saving shreds:

These four bins of leaves fit in to one bin once they were shredded.

The smaller the pieces, the faster they decompose and the quicker you will be cashing in on all that “garden gold” (aka compost)

This is the finished result and it looks fabulous, dark and crumbly. (Photos by Catherine Horgan)

Even unshredded, leftover fall leaves will provide home composters with a ready supply of beneficial “browns” to use all summer, when dry leaves are in short supply. (For more info on how to make compost, see COMPOSTING AT HOME.)

In midsummer, there are fewer leaves available– so why not store some in bins now, while they’re plentiful. That way you’ll always have a ready supply for composting. (Photo by Catherine Horgan)

Southern Comfort: Using pine needles in the garden

Pine needles are “leaves” too! And can be put to good use in the garden. (Photo by Louise Senior)

Not all fall leaves come from deciduous trees–just ask anyone with a plethora of white pines on their property! Pine trees also shed their “leaves” at this time of year, in the form of dropped needles.

Pine needles make great garden mulch and are a popular addition to southern gardens, where they’re often known as pine-straw. Gardeners in the northeast can also take advantage of this attractive leaf alternative. Pine needles can be added right into compost bins or raked straight onto garden beds, no need to shred them.

And if you have a muddy path, pine needles make a great mulch in those areas too.

Some people might shy might away from using pine needles in their beds because they are afraid that the pH of the needles is too low for many plants. Not so! Just like deciduous leaves, plants thrive on them -think of all those beautiful blueberries, azaleas and rhododendrons in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens and Delaware Water Gap forests.

If there is a disadvantage to using pine needles, it’s their tendency blow around in heavy winds (because they are so light). If you have gardens that are exposed to heavy winds, consider saving pine needles for use in more sheltered areas.

Piney pathway: Pine needles make great mulch for muddy garden walkways. (Photo by Louise Senior)

Gotta Go: Leaves you shouldn’t leave in your yard

Most home landscape leaves are fine for composting and the other uses suggested here; however, there are a few types of leaves that homeowners may want to remove from their properties. Because of allergic reactions, many homeowners choose to discard poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac leaves rather than risk the adverse effects of handling them.

Black walnut leaves contain juglone which inhibits plant growth. A few walnut leaves will not harm your compost, but a large concentration of black walnut leaves may be better left for municipal pick-up where their effects will be ‘diluted’ down the line.

Diseased plant material, such as blighted tomato and squash plants, are generally better bagged and added to trash as most home compost regimes do not kill off the diseases.

Beech, birch, hornbeam, sweet chestnut, magnolia and holly all contain high amounts of lignin (the structural material in trees), and these should be shredded before composting to speed their breakdown.

The popular belief that oak leaves increase acidity does not affect their use in compost; it is perfectly fine to include all of your oak leaves in the practices described here.

Fun & Frolic: Leafy fall decor

Turn your usual approach to leaves on it’s head: Instead piling them at the curb, add them to your fall decor, like these leaf-stuffed scarecrows. (Photo by Louise Senior)

Deciduous trees are such a boon to our properties all year long. They not only look beautiful in summer but store carbon and release oxygen into the air. They trap odors and pollutant gases and provide much-needed shade in the heat. But they are perhaps at their most spectacular at this time of year when their brilliant colors end the gardening season in a blaze of glory.

Take it easy: Don’t rake first–just scoop up whatever leaves have fallen right around your scarecrow. (Photo by Louise Senior)

Why not extend the splendor of the trees in your own yard by clipping small leaf-filled branches to make easy arrangements, wreaths, bowls, and so much more.

You can also use leaves to stuff the clothes of scarecrows. By Thanksgiving, the leaves inside will have already started to break down into garden-nourishing leaf mulch. When you empty the scarecrow’s clothes, add what’s left to your compost pile, or bag them up and let them sit for the rest of the winter.

If you’re bagging up leaves for compost anyway, why not use bags that do double duty as holiday décor, like these decorative pumpkin sacks? When your Halloween décor gives way to other decorations, just add a little water to the leaves in the sack and put the bag aside, where it will reward you with a batch scary-good leaf mold come spring.

Boo-full baggers beware: Some decorative sacks can break down over the winter. Use caution when moving them in the Spring. (Photo by Louise Senior)

In the end, leaves offer so many benefits to our gardens, it seems a such shame to waste them by throwing them away. So whatever way you decide to use them in your landscape this year–be sure to leave the leaves! Happy Fall!

The above information was based on the Master Gardener program “Seven (at least) Good Things To Do With Your Leaves” presented by Rutgers Mercer County Master Gardeners Catherine Horgan and Louise Senior.

More information:

Backyard Leaf Composting

Using Leaf Compost

Yard Trimmings Management Strategies in New Jersey

Home Composting

On-Farm Leaf Mulching: Getting Started

Should I rake leaves off my lawn? No, but yes. Here’s why.


Visit this Fall Forecast Guide to the Season for the Fall Forecast, Winter Weather Preview and more.

Find Your Forecast Daksha Rangan
Digital Reporter

Saturday, September 22, 2018, 8:16 AM – As fall nears, so does the recurring question about autumn lawn maintenance: Should I rake dead leaves off my lawn?

The short answer? No, but yes.

No, you shouldn’t rake and dispose of leaves the traditional way.

“We have this idea that goes back generations that the leaves need to be raked out of our yard and either put in a compost pile somewhere or disposed of somehow,” says Canadian gardening expert and best-selling author, Mark Cullen.

In recent years, the environmental impacts of raking have become increasingly well known. In the U.S., a heaping 33 million tonnes of yard debris is disposed of per year, totalling more than 13 per cent of the nation’s solid waste.

It doesn’t help that most yard debris — including fallen leaves — are disposed of in plastic bags or non bio-degradable packaging, contributing to landfill build-up that can take decades to break down. While the leaves sit in landfills, lacking adequate oxygen to decompose, they release the greenhouse gas methane. In the U.S., solid-waste landfills are the biggest source of man-made methane, the National Wildlife Federation reports.

RELATED: Season of METEOR SHOWERS awaits skywatchers in Fall 2018

If that isn’t enough to deter you, raking leaves also takes time and money, Cullen says.

“Think about how much work this would save you. If you’re not raking leaves up and putting them into a plastic bag or a kraft-paper bag — that we so often use now for disposing of our leaves — and then hauling those bags down to the curb of the driveway and leaving them for the municipality to pick up. You just saved yourself all of that work, and you saved the municipality the expense of doing it.”

But yes, it’s still important to maintain your lawn — which includes clearing dead leaves.

It’s true, dead leaves do act as a fertilizer for soil, providing a natural source of carbon for the earth. It’s the reason why some people choose to leave the leaves where they fall — but according to Cullen, you shouldn’t do that.

“Don’t leave on your grass, because when leaves fall on your lawn they cut out rays of the sunshine and cause brown spots to occur,” the horticultural expert explains.

The idea that leaves need to be removed altogether is where we’re wrong. Instead, Cullen says raking the leaves and putting them into your garden is best.

DON’T MISS: 2018 Fall Forecast – abrupt start to winter?

Mark Cullen carrying out fall maintenance on his lawn. |

“itting on the surface of the soil, become a meal for earth worms. They come up from about a metre deep in your garden, and they come up to the surface of the soil … and they pull those leaves down into the ground and they consume them. They literally eat them.

The worms then convert the leaves into nitrogen-rich earthworm castings, adding both nitrogen and very valuable microbes to the soil, which, Cullen says, is excellent for the overall health of garden soil.

“Now if you really want to be efficient about this, you’d run your lawn mower or power mower over the leaves a couple of times, break them down into tiny little pieces, and rake the mulch of the leaves onto your garden,” Cullen says. This way, the leaves break down and become incorporated with the soil much quicker.

So yes, it’s important to rake the leaves off your lawn. But you don’t need to remove them altogether. Just relocate dead leaves to a garden space where they enhance the natural plant cycle while saving you time and money.

What Should I do With Fall Leaves?

As fall is rounding the corner…

So does the looming pressure of the fall leaf clean up.

Having leaves on your lawn can be seen as a message to the rest of the neighborhood that you just don’t care.

Most people don’t know this, but there are several schools of thought on what should be done with the leaves in your lawn.

Some people say that having leaves on your lawn will kill the lawn and promote rot and mold.

Others say the decaying of the leaves helps the lawn get important nutrients.

But what is the real story? Let’s take a look…

It’s true, if you live in Florida you may not have this issue.

However in most of the country, leaf clean up is a big deal.

Throughout the Midwest and Northeast, deciduous trees will cause headaches for homeowners. But, is it best collect them and remove them from the property, or should you just leave them?

Or, Is there a better way?

The Natural School of Thought

Many people argue that leaving the leaves on the lawn is simply natural.

After all, Mother Nature put the leaves there, Mother Nature can take them away too.

According to many gardeners, homeowners only rake their lawns because they worry that the lawn will be killed if it is still growing. This school of thought argues that the truth is that the lawn is dormant over the winter, so there is little worry concerning growth.

They also argue that when spring comes along, leaves tend to decompose anyways.

But that is not the whole picture!

The Truth About Leaving Leaves in the Lawn

The whole picture however is that your precious grass lawn did not evolve to have the leaves there.

It’s true that lawns go dormant in the winter, and the decomposing leaves won’t cause it harm during that time. However when spring comes around, and new grass starts to grow, the decomposing leaves will be blocking their light and the grass will not grow.

That’s is only the beginning of the problem.

Bugs such as gnats will flourish in wet decomposing leaves. As will many molds and fungi, some of which may be harmful to your lawn or the plants in your landscape.

Worst of all, if you wait until spring to handle the leaves they will no longer be easily removed.

When the leaves are dry and crunchy, they can easily fly away and it is not a problem. Wet, soggy leaves on the other hand are a big problem though. Additionally, leaves can be a road hazard to motorcyclists, so cleaning them up fast, is an all around a good idea!

The Modern School of Thought

If leaving the leaves in the lawn is so bad, it must be best to remove them entirely right?

Well, that is the line of thought behind the modern method. Which is the practice of removing leaves from the lawn entirely.

Aesthetically, removing the leaves from the lawn may be the only option for some commercial properties. If you are a homeowner you may also simply prefer the simple leaf free look of your lawn.

But there is a better way!

The Truth About Removing all Leaves from the Lawn

Here’s the deal. By removing the leaves year after year, you are truly removing vital nutrients from your lawn.

Most people don’t know this, but there are many beneficial fungi that can thrive from decomposing leaf matter in the lawn. One of these fungi call Mycorrhizal fungi thrive on decomposing plant matter. These fungi attach to plant rhizomes, and help exchange nutrients and fight off other harmful fungi and bacteria.

So if it isn’t wise to leave leaves, and completely removing them can waste valuable nutrients…

What is the best option?

Mulch Your Leaves

Well, as it turns out, there is a method which is mixture of keeping your leaves on the lawn, and getting them off!

It’s simple, in the Autumn, when the leaves are on your lawn, rather than raking them up, deal with them using a lawn mower.

The dry leaves will be swept up into the lawnmower, where they will be chopped up or mulched into tiny pieces this is why dealing with dry leaves is best. Once the leaves are chopped up, the leaves will be spread over the lawn in tiny little pieces. This helps the lawn three-fold.

  • First, it prevents the leaves from collecting in a pile and killing the lawn underneath in the spring, while promoting rot.
  • Second, it gives your lawns the nutrients and organic matter from the decaying leaves, which are scattered all over the lawn.
  • The third, and best benefit is that you no longer have to take several hours raking up the leaves!

Of course, the downside is you can’t jump into a pile of leaves at the end.

To Wrap it Up

So, the answer to keeping your leaves on your lawn comes down to a little from column A and a little from column B.

This method of mulching leaves is the same method you should use when mowing the lawn. You can read more on mulching grass in our article Should I bag My Clippings?

If cutting the leaves into your lawn is too much for your mower, you can always hire a pro with GreenPal!

GreenPal offers you competitive lawn care bids from lawn care providers near you. It only takes 5 minutes to sign up!

Don’t FALL behind on your lawn care this autumn. Hire a pro.

  • Tips for Fall Lawn and Landscape

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Why You Should Leave the Leaves

Savvy gardeners know that keeping fallen leaves on their property benefits wildlife and the environment

  • Laura Tangley
  • Garden for Wildlife
  • Oct 01, 2015

The marbled salamander (above) and eastern box turtle (below) are among many bird, mammal, reptile, invertebrate and other species that rely on leaf litter for food and shelter.

IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN: The air turns crisp, the leaves turn red and gold and homeowners turn to the annual chore known as “fall garden cleanup”—including disposal of those leaves after they fall to the ground.

Traditionally, leaf removal has entailed three steps: Rake leaves (or blast them with a blower) into piles, transfer the piles to bags and place the bags out to be hauled off to a landfill. Yet, increasingly, conservationists say these actions not only harm the environment but rob your garden of nutrients while destroying wildlife habitat. The alternative? “Let fallen leaves stay on your property,” says National Wildlife Federation Naturalist David Mizejewski.

Leaves in Landfills

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, leaves and other yard debris account for more than 13 percent of the nation’s solid waste—a whopping 33 million tons a year. Without enough oxygen to decompose, this organic matter releases the greenhouse gas methane, says Joe Lamp’l, author of The Green Gardener’s Guide. In fact, solid-waste landfills are the largest U.S. source of man-made methane—and that’s aside from the carbon dioxide generated by gas-powered blowers and trucks used in leaf disposal.

For gardeners, turning leaves into solid waste is wasteful. “Fallen leaves offer a double benefit,” Mizejewski says. “Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down. Why spend money on mulch and fertilizer when you can make your own?”

Removing leaves also eliminates vital wildlife habitat. Critters ranging from turtles and toads to birds, mammals and invertebrates rely on leaf litter for food, shelter and nesting material. Many moth and butterfly caterpillars overwinter in fallen leaves before emerging in spring.

Need one more reason to leave the leaves? “The less time you spend raking leaves,” Mizejewski says, “the more time you’ll have to enjoy the gorgeous fall weather and the wildlife that visits your garden.”

Every Litter Bit Counts

What should you do with all those fallen leaves you’re not sending to the landfill? Here are some tips:
• Let leaves stay where they fall. They won’t hurt your lawn if you chop them with a mulching mower.
• Rake leaves off the lawn to use as mulch in garden beds. For finer-textured mulch, shred them first.
• Let leaf piles decompose; the resulting leaf mold can be used as a soil amendment to improve structure and water retention.
• Make compost: Combine fallen leaves (“brown material”) with grass clippings and other “green material” and keep moist and well mixed. You’ll have nutrient-rich compost to add to your garden next spring.
• Still too many leaves? Share them with neighbors, friends, schools and others. Some communities will pick up leaves and make compost to sell or give away.
• Build a brush shelter. Along with branches, sticks and stems, leaves can be used to make brush piles that shelter native wildlife.
For more wildlife-gardening tips, visit

Become an NWF Wildlife Gardener and sign up for our Garden for Wildlife™ newsletter. It’s free and you will receive great gardening tips and learn how to certify your yard as a Certified Wildlife Habitat® site or your community as part of NWF’s Community Wildlife Habitat® program.

Laura Tangley is senior editor of National Wildlife magazine.

More from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation:

A Helping Hand for Early Bees “
6 Excuses to Avoid Yard Work This Fall “
Why Leaves Fall From Trees in Autumn “
What to do With Fallen Leaves “
Family Fun: Make an Autumn Obstacle Course “

Raking leaves again this fall? Stop right now


It’s fall and that means leaves are littering lawns around the country.

Time to take out the rake and bag up them up, right? Wrong.

Environmental experts say raking leaves and removing them from your property is bad not only for your lawn but for the planet as a whole.

Although people often rake fallen leaves and send them to a landfill to prevent their lawns from being smothered and to make yards look better, in most cases, you’re fine not moving them.

“Just leave them where they are and grind them up,” said John Sorochan, a professor of turfgrass science at University of Tennessee.

However, if you have a lot of trees dumping leaves or the piles begin to mound up, Dan Sandor, a postdoctoral researcher of turfgrass science at University of Minnesota, advises mowing over the leaves with a mulching blade about once a week.

Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t rake your leaves and other tips to care for your lawn this fall:

Leaves and yard waste take up space in landfills

According to EPA data, yard trimmings, which include leaves, created about 34.7 million tons of waste in 2015, which is about 13% of all waste generation.

The majority of that – 21.3 million tons – was composted or mulched in state programs, the EPA says, yet still, 10.8 million tons went to landfills, accounting for just under 8% of all waste in landfills.

“The worst thing you can do is put (leaves) in bags and send them to landfills,” said David Mizejewski, a naturalist at the National Wildlife Federation.

Leaves take up space and they also can break down with other organic waste to create methane, a potent greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change, he added.

Lawn care: Here’s how to grow a great lawn with beautiful, green grass

Leaving your leaves could make your lawn healthier – and save you money

Think you need to spend money on expensive fertilizers to keep your grass healthy? Think again, said Mizejewski.

“Leaves cover up root systems, preserve soil moisture, suppress weeds and other plants. They also slowly break down and … return (essential) nutrients to plants,” Mizejewski said. “It’s a perfect system. Nothing is wasted in nature.”

Don’t rake grass clippings, either: Why you should avoid raking grass clippings after mowing the lawn, and more mower taboos

“It’s free fertilizer,” said Sandor.

Some leaves like maples do a great job of reducing weed seed germination while other species like honey locust add a lot of nitrogen to lawns, Sandor said.

The environment around you depends on your leaves

Butterflies and songbirds alike depend on leaf litter, according to Mizejewski.

“Over winter months, a lot of butterflies and moths as pupa or caterpillar are in the leaf litter, and when you rake it up you are removing the whole population of butterflies you would otherwise see in your yard,” he said.

Without the insects in the leaf litter, you also risk driving away birds that might have come to your yard looking for food to feed their offspring in the spring.

Fall foliage: Ready for leaf-peeping season?

That’s especially concerning in 2019, Mizejewski said, citing a September study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, which found that North America has lost nearly 3 billion birds since 1970.

“Keeping some leaf litter can really benefit these kinds of declining wildlife,” Mizejewski said. “This is wildlife conservation on the scale of your lawn.”

Sorochan, at University of Tennessee, said that keeping leaves on your lawn also has the added benefit of reducing fertilizer runoff.

Algal blooms can kill wildlife and harm human health, and they often form when excess fertilizer runs into waterways. Because leaving leaves on your lawn serves as a fertilizer, if no other fertilizers are added, it will reduce runoff, Sorochan said.

Blowing leaves into the street is also bad, said Minnesota’s Sandor. Because leaves have so many nutrients in them, they can break down when they get into sewers and also cause algal blooms in waterways, he said.


But you still might need to do some raking

While in most cases, your lawn will benefit if you keep the leaves where they fall, some raking may be necessary, the experts agree.

Sandor said leaves and lawns are different shapes and sizes, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach. If it looks like your mower won’t be able to handle all the leaves or like your lawn is being smothered, that’s when you may need to rake them to thin it out, he says.

If you do remove your leaves, the best thing to do is cut them up and drop them in a plant or flower bed or another part of your lawn that doesn’t get leaf cover, Mizejewski said.

That will provide a natural fertilizer and mulch for those parts of your yard. If you’re worried the leaves will blow away (though they should be fine), lightly water them, Mizejewski said.

If you don’t have a plant or flower bed or have too many leaves, start a compost bin, he and Sandor advise.

Some municipalities also have compost programs, which allow you to send your leaves off and get mulch back, Mizejewski said, but composting at your house is better so you don’t have the added pollution of trucks and off-site machines taking and processing the leaves.

“This is about taking baby steps for most people and getting to a maintenance on your yard and garden that is a little bit more environmentally friendly and wildlife friendly,” Mizejewski said.

Contributing: Mary Bowerman, USA TODAY. Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller

The pumpkin spice lattes are back, and sweater weather is finally here. To get in the fall spirit, we’re looking at when fall foliage is expected to peak this year and rounded up 15 of the most photogenic spots across the United States to see the leaves turn. Your Instagram feed will thank you. Justin Tang, AP Fall foliage is expected to peak slightly later on the east and west coasts this year compared to the past, while the middle of the country will stay more on track with tradition, AccuWeather meteorologist Max Vido tells USA TODAY. The northeastern part of the country is expected to start seeing color around late September into October, with the Midwest and south following suit in the ensuing weeks. The mid-Atlantic and west coast are expected to peak closer to late October and early November this year, he added. Continue scrolling through for some of the prettiest spots across the country to catch the changing colors this fall. CJ GUNTHER, EPA-EFE Polebridge, Montana: Glacier National Park Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake, AP Paris, Maine: Little Androscoggin River Reservoir Russ Dillingham, AP Northwestern Wyoming: Grand Teton National Park National Park Service Clifftop, West Virginia: Babcock State Park Craig Hudson, AP Ward, Colorado: High Rockies Jack Dempsey, AP Virginia: Shenandoah National Park Nikki Fox, AP Newland, North Carolina: Blue Ridge Parkway Linn Cove Viaduct Dave Allen Photography/iStockpho, Getty Images Rutland, Vermont: Green Mountain National Forest Dennis Curran, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Mississippi River David Joles, AP Bryson City, North Carolina: Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Nick Breedlove, Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Somerset, Pennsylvania: Somerset County Historical Society John Rucosky, AP Hancock, Maine: Acadia National Park Pat Wellenbach, AP Albany, New Hampshire: Kancamagus Highway JIM COLE, AP New Paltz, New York: Mohonk Mountain House Mohonk Mountain Resort Red River, New Mexico: The Enchanted Circle STEPHANIE YAO, Associated Press

Interested in this topic? You may also want to view these photo galleries:

Can’t get motivated to rake leaves off your lawn? Now you have an excuse to avoid that chore — you’re saving the environment.

The National Wildlife Federation says leaving leaves where they fall helps critters in your yard and contributes to a healthy planet in general.

RELATED: How to Create a ‘Humane Backyard’ for Wildlife and Turn Your Ordinary Garden Lush

Toads, turtles, and other animals eat the fallen leaves and birds use them to build nests. Caterpillars ride out the winter beneath the moist blankets to emerge as butterflies or moths in the spring.

Letting your leaves fall where they may also reduces greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The EPA estimates 33 million tons are dumped into landfills every autumn, accounting for 13% of America’s solid waste. Buried underground without oxygen to help them decompose naturally, leaves turn into methane gas that slowly leaks into the air.

CHECK OUT: New York City Plants One Million Trees, Reaches Goal 2 Years Early

You can also keep leaves out of the landfill by composting them at home or using them to keep flower beds warm in the winter climates.

If you avoid the yard work of raking in the fall, you can avoid even more yard work in the spring, say some landscapers. That’s because leaves become a natural fertilizer for your lawn if you use a mulching mower to break them down. The nutrients may even cut down on pesky weeds.

(WATCH the video below from Fox9)

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