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To Rake, or Not To Rake: Should You Leave Your Leaf Litter In Place?

Rake Leaves

It is a question that is asked year after year. Spring, fall, summer: When is the best time to rake? Should you even rake at all? While many people hate to rake, there are arguments both for and against that make sound, scientific points.

There is a difference between raking and using a leaf blower, too. It isn’t just the annoyingly loud sound of the leaf blowers either. If you’re interested in finding out why you should tell your neighbor to quit waking you up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, we have you covered.

Raking leaves does serve many purposes, as does not raking. After exploring the matter in way too much detail, we understand what makes a perfect summer lawn. If you’re ready for some barefoot grass next summer, we should warn you that it will involve a rake or two.

Rake? Don’t Rake? Why It Matters

Nobody likes to rake leaves. Well, maybe some masochistic people do. Most people hate it. The chore that keeps giving. You rake one day, and the next day your yard is full again. This endless cycle continues until all the neighborhood trees have dropped their bounty.

If you live in an area with zoning restrictions, you must rake, or the city gives you a citation and possibly a fine. That’s certainly no fun, so you rake. If you are in a more lenient municipality, then you have the choice.

The decision then comes to what you do with the leaves and how you use your yard. If you garden, rake and save those leaves because they do make great compost. If you’re into saving all the bugs and nature’s forgotten critters, don’t rake. The creepy-crawly things live in those rotting leaves, and it becomes a whole eco-system under the snow.

If you like a lush, green lawn, some claim that leaves starve a lawn of oxygen, sunlight, and water to reach your grass. That cycle deprives your grass of nutrients, thus making your yard sparse and icky. If you like “barefoot” grass, the argument is that raking is a necessity.

Types of Rakes and How to Use Them

Rakes

“Rake” is a universal term. Most people have a picture in their head of a standard leaf rake or a garden rake when they hear it. There are more than 15 different types of rake, and they all have a different purpose.

Don’t worry. We aren’t going to bore you describing all of them. We are going to discuss the most common types briefly. These are the ones most homeowners use to maintain an exceptional lawn and garden area.

Leaf, lawn, landscape, or flex rakes

Most people picture a standard leaf rake as a flimsy fan-shaped rake with plastic or metal tines. While the leaf, lawn, and flex rakes all look similar and can do the job of raking leaves quite well, there are some differences.

Leaf Rake, 26 Tines, Wood, 24 in.W Tines
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A landscape rake has stiffer tines and is useful for doing heavy-duty jobs. The leaf rake has flat or round plastic tines and is perfect for moving lightweight leaves around quickly.

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Lawn rakes or flex rakes usually have flat metal tines and more flexibility than their plastic-tined brethren. All are commonly seen perform leaf-raking duties.

Flexrake 1W Lawn Rake 19-Inch Steel Head with 48-Inch Wood Handle
  • Flex rake Flex-Steel Lawn Rake Head With 48 Inch Wood Handle 19in To create the healthiest...
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Garden rake

The garden rake has a short, stubby head and pointy, rigid steel tines. It is often seen spoofed in cartoons as an unwitting victim steps on upturned tines and catches the handle in the face. While it may be funny to watch, it does happen in real life, so always place your garden rake tines down.

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Although you can use this rake for leaves, it is not very useful on the open lawn. It does a much better job scooping leaves out of garden areas and under shrubs. It is also great with wet leaves, but it will snag some of your grass along the way. This rake is great for loosening soil before seeding your lawn.

Thatch rake

A thatch rake removes the layer of organic debris that can build up on your lawn. It has a steel head with tines that are more like blades. The sharp tines grab the thatch while leaving your grass intact.

AMES 2915100 Adjustable Self-Cleaning Thatch Rake with Hardwood...
  • 15-Inch self-cleaning rake head
  • Curved tines are designed to clear dead grass clippings
  • 10-Inch end grip adds comfort and control

If you don’t rake this fall, you may need a thatch rake in the spring to help your lawn breathe.

Recommended Read: The Best Fire Pit Kit for All Seasons – Everything You Need to Know

The Argument for NOT Raking Leaves

Leaves

The cat ate my rake is not an acceptable reason not to rake unless you happen to be Joe Exotic, and a tiger did eat your rake. On the plus side, there are valid points made by the folks in the anti-raking camp.

Fallen leaves provide a wide variety of benefits:

  • Food, shelter, and nesting for wildlife
  • Winter protection for creepy-crawly insects
  • A layer of organic material (insulates the ground)
  • Leaves compost adding some nutrients for the grass
  • Composted leaves also feed biological microbes

The natural mulch formed by leaves suppresses weeds, according to David Mizejewski, a National Wildlife Federation Naturalist. While Mizejewski also confirms that a thick layer of leaves will smother a lawn, he makes recommendations to repurpose the leaves in other areas, such as planting beds.

A healthy leaf layer becomes a mini-eco-system. Among species using the leaf layer as a primary habitat are chipmunks, wood frogs, toads, box turtles, and salamanders. Also included are beneficial critters such as earthworms, millipedes, and a wide variety of insects.

Many species overwinter in leaf layers. Butterflies and moths winter as either eggs, pupae, or adults, depending on species. In addition to being pollinators, many of these provide spring food for birds feeding new hatchlings. Don’t forget the bats, which also winter in leaf layers. They won’t survive winter to eat all the spring mosquitoes if you remove their habitat.

Why You Should Rake In the Fall

There are a significant number of arguments against leaving the leaves where they fall. Although many people claim that leaving some leaves can be beneficial, especially as a mulch (more on that later), they also support the smothering theory. The reigning recommendation is to take some care and at least thin the layer of leaves.

If you are in an area with a homeowner’s association or other municipal requirements for leaf clean up, there are recommendations for getting the most benefit from fallen leaves.

  • Move leaves to flower beds
  • Use leaves as a mulch around trees
  • Cover wintering garden beds
  • Use a mulching mower to pulverize leaves
  • Use as a fill layer in between food scraps in a compost pile

If you don’t have a mulching mower or leaf shredder, you can always put the leaves into a galvanized metal can and run your weed trimmer inside the can. (The manufacturer does NOT recommend this and please wear safety goggles and gloves)

The take-away from this argument is that, if you must rake, do not just dispose of the collected leaves. With so many viable and beneficial uses for them, recycling, reusing, mulching, or composting should be a part of your fall yard cleaning routine.

Recommended Read: Does Grass Seed Go Bad? Factors Explaining Why

Mulching Might Be a Great Compromise

Mulching is a type of mowing that pulverizes leaves and grass and returns the tiny pieces to the soil. Alternately, they can be bagged and saved for use later, in a compost pile or your garden.

Mulching is a great way to add fertilizer to your lawn without an extra expense. It is also a great way to avoid raking those pesky leaves that fall off your neighbor’s tree and land in your yard. If you plan a fall planting of cool weather grass seed or fescue, mulching is a great way to ensure healthier growth.

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Is a Leaf Blower as Good as Raking?

Orange Leaves

Every neighborhood has that one person. You know them. They have a huge, gas-powered, backpack-style weed blower that they seem to run from sunup to sundown in the fall. It’s loud, and you can hear it from three blocks away as they chase that last leaf of the season off their lawn.

As you roll over and pull the pillow up to cover your ears, you wonder why on earth they can’t rake like ordinary people. Aside from the annoyance of noise and the exhaust fumes’ evident environmental impact, are leaf blowers beneficial to a lawn?

The experts say, “No.” Their reasoning is sound. If you must remove leaves for aesthetics or local ordinances, it is healthier for your lawn to rake. Explain that to your neighbor.

As you manually remove that layer of leaves, your rake is disturbing the top layer of soil. This aerates the ground somewhat, allowing for better oxygenation for your grass. Although it is not as effective as actually aerating your lawn, it is more beneficial than using a leaf blower.

To Rake or Not to Rake?

There you have it — whether or not your rake your fall leaves is an individual choice that involves several factors. The bottom line is that if you opt to clear the leaves from your lawn, use them elsewhere.

Remember that it is much easier to rake dry leaves than wet, so wait out that rainstorm and give things time to dry out. Using the correct equipment is also the best option for optimal results. Or you can pay the kid down the street because they probably want to buy the latest version of their video game.

We hope you enjoyed this discussion about the pros and cons of raking fall leaves. Let us know how you perform this arduous task in the comments section.

Last update on 2021-01-17 at 22:11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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