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To rake or not to rake?

Fallen leaves are making a dense mat on my lawn and I don’t know what to do.

Should I rake them up? Or go over them with the lawnmower, leaving the clippings as a mulch?

For me, the effort involved for either option is about the same. Here’s why.

Once upon a time, I ignored everyone’s advice and bought the cheapest rake in the shop, which doesn’t pick up many more leaves than using my bare hands.

And as I only have a small lawn (about 20 square metres), I have an old-school push mower – zero maintenance, zero cost to run, maximum exercise potential.

So it’s a case of hand-picking leaves versus heaving the push mower around.

It’s not about me

But which option is best for the lawn and soil?

Luckily, a US horticulture and landscape architecture researcher has looked into the evidence to save me looking it up myself.

Dr Linda Chalker-Scott, an associate professor at Washington State University, is one of four academics who call themselves The Garden Professors and whose mission it is to dish out evidence-based gardening advice.

She reveals all in an archived online webinar available here (from about the 34 minute mark).

In case you don’t get to it, here’s a summary of her search for evidence from peer-reviewed studies, carried out across different geographical sites, across several years.

Chalker-Smith found no evidence that mowing leaves into the lawn would cause any harm, even if those leaves formed a thick layer.

What surprised her, though, were the positives. According to the studies she thought robust enough to analyse, mowing the leaves in:

  • increased the soil’s organic matter
  • improved weed control
  • preserved the colour of the grass in freezing conditions.

So, thumbs up for mowing.

Why rake?

While on face value, it looks like raking might be a waste of time, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. Doesn’t it depend on what you do with the leaves?

What if you put them in the compost bin? You’d be redistributing that carbon and eventually building soil around the whole garden, not just replenishing the soil in your lawn.

So, I guess the answer to what you should do with your fallen leaves is “it depends”.

If you don’t compost, then mowing the leaves into the lawn is the best option. But if you do and you’re happy to sacrifice the benefits of mowing leaves in, rake them up and compost.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I only rake when it gets so bad it chokes the lawn mower.

    June 14, 2013
  2. Aha, so many attitudes to leaves and lawns. There’s the ‘neat police’ crowd that likes to rake and remove every last leaf from the lawn. Then there’s the ‘let leaves pile up until they can’t bare it any longer crowd’. And there’s the ‘return to the soil’ crowd that mows in the leaves or puts them in the compost, feeling slightly virtuous afterwards. I must admit, I do all three, depending on my mood. How about you?

    June 14, 2013

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