To Rake or Not to Rake?

September 19, 2019

Jumping into a colorful pile of freshly raked leaves is the essence of autumn in New England—but all that raking (or leaf-blowing) of your lawn might not actually be the best idea. In fact, we’d venture to say that your entire fall gardening tradition should probably entail a lot less leaf cleanup.

Shocked? It’s not blasphemy… it’s eco-friendly.

The Problem with Raking Leaves

We’ve been conditioned to consider fallen leaves a source of litter that clutters our otherwise beautiful gardens and lawns—but they are far from it. In fact, your yard’s leaf fall is hugely valuable to your local ecosystem (regardless of popular outdated gardening practices).

Soil Health. If you leaf them where they are (excuse the pun), all those leaves will decompose over the winter and provide rich nourishment to your soil. Think of your leaves as free organic mulch. Lawns can benefit immensely from a thin layer of leaves, or even a thicker layer if the leaves have been shredded to encourage decomposition. Either way, if you play your cards right, those autumn leaves will be decomposed come springtime (and your soil will be healthier for it)—no backbreaking effort necessary!

Valuable Habitat. Fallen leaves provide important cold-season habitat for pollinators like bees and butterflies, along with other small critters. These critters will either nest within the leaves themselves, or burrow shallowly into the ground where they can benefit from that additional roof of insulation. Since the health of our pollinators and small invertebrates is undeniably crucial to our environment, creating more safe winter habitat for them is a no-brainer.

Garden Insulation. Fallen plant material serves as an excellent source of winter insulation for your perennials, too. For plants with delicate roots, a dense leaf layer can provide protection from the elements without impeding springtime regrowth.

Leaves Aren’t Trash

Even if you do choose to get rid of your leaves, please don’t bring them to the dump—compost them! Tossing big garbage bags of leaves into a landfill like common litter is a big mistake. When leaves are bagged and tossed into an oxygen-deficient environment, such as a landfill, they aren’t able to properly decompose. When they can’t decompose properly, they actually begin to release methane, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gases—yikes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a shocking 13% of our nation’s waste is comprised of leaves and other yard debris—that’s 33 million tons of raked/blown leaves a year! That’s crazy!

What’s the Best Option?

You could keep your yard tidy this autumn by raking occasionally, but definitely try to leave some leaves on your garden to help it thrive next spring. We also recommend mowing your leaves into your lawn so as to encourage their breakdown without destroying their valuable benefits. Or, if you really do have too many leaves, consider donating them to a local compost pile—or creating your own compost pile so you can nourish your garden with the good stuff next year!


At Nature Works Organic Land Care, we specialize in consciously preparing your lawns and gardens for winter. If you have any questions about how to take care of your yard, feel free to contact us anytime!

– Jordyn Cormier

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