How to Rake Leaves

Now that autumn has arrived, changing leaves will soon follow. Beautiful autumn leaves in hues of red and gold ultimately fall to the ground and pile up in the yard, where they can prevent the growth of other plants, attract pests and detract from your home’s curb appeal.

Despite being a tedious task, raking leaves is fairly simple. Here are a few tips on how to rake and remove leaves from your lawn.

— Is raking leaves necessary?

— How to choose a rake.

— Leaf disposal.

— Strategies for raking leaves.

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Is Raking Leaves Necessary?

“Leaving fallen leaves can benefit your yard, local wildlife and the environment — not to mention cut down on garden maintenance,” explains Annie Thornton, senior associate editor for Houzz. “In some instances, however, it makes sense to rake up some of those fallen leaves.”

Thornton advises raking thick layers of leaves, which can smother the grass, and discarding diseased foliage to prevent the spread of disease to other plants. “While raking leaves and adding them to a garden bed or compost pile is one option, you might also consider mowing the fallen leaves directly with the grass, creating a natural fertilizer that will enrich your lawn,” Thornton says.

Lindsay Miller, horticultural writer for Gardener’s Supply Company, a gardening information and product company, encourages homeowners to consider mindful leaf removal. “Leaves have a ton of really important nutrients that help replenish the soil,” Miller says. “When we bag up our leaves and truck them offsite, we are essentially chucking out all the good stuff our gardens need (and filling up landfills).”

Miller explains that leaves, stems, seeds, brush and other parts of plants that fall to the ground are vital for overwintering wildlife. Bees, moths and other pollinators rely heavily on brush piles and leaves to insulate them during the colder months.

How to Choose a Rake

With a landscape full of deciduous trees comes a variety of tools that can either simplify or complicate raking leaves.

There are steel, polypropylene and bamboo leaf rakes, which are designed for different types of leaf removal, so it’s important to choose the right one for your needs.

Unlike steel, polypropylene and bamboo don’t rust — unless the wire holding the tines together isn’t properly stored or oiled — and they weigh much less. Steel rakes are more durable for moving large mounds of leaves or thatch, particularly if they are still wet and heavy, whereas plastic and bamboo rakes break down much more quickly.

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Leaf Disposal

You’ve finally gotten the hang of raking, but now what? How do you proceed, and what methods are there for leaf disposal? To finally put an end to the leaf problem, at least for this season, consider the following strategies:

Mow and mulch. Mulching leaves fertilizes your grass, shrubs, trees, flowers and garden areas. Miller recommends placing mulch around young trees and shrubs, or if you have veggie garden beds that have been cleaned out for the season, cover them with mulch to prevent early weeds from taking over in the spring.

Compost. If you don’t already have one, start a dedicated compost pile and incorporate leaves into its contents. In the spring, utilize the compost to fertilize your yard and flower beds.

Shred. Shredding them also speeds up the decomposition process. “An electric leaf shredder can be a godsend for taking a dozen bags of leaves and chewing them down in volume to just 1 bag. Then you can mulch beds with the shredded leaves or just toss them in the compost bin,” Miller says.

Bag. Compost bags or garbage cans can be used for disposal. “If you do choose to rake and remove your leaves, check with your city or county’s sanitation department to see if they collect and compost green waste, which includes leaves,” Thornton says. “Some municipalities may even offer compost that you can use to enrich your garden’s soil.” To see whether there is a leaf collection service in your area, visit the city or county’s website.

Blast leaves with a blower. When you have a lot of ground to cover, you can save time and effort by just blowing them in one direction with a leaf blower. Avoid blowing them out into the street, since their decomposition releases phosphorus that may clog drains and waterways.

Use a tarp. Transport and remove large piles of leaves with a tarp.

Burn. Burning leaves is usually the last resort and not every county allows it, as it can be dangerous and pollute the air. However, if you’re allowed to burn leaves, burn them in smaller piles away from anything that could catch fire.

If you aren’t disposing of the leaves, Miller suggests “tactical raking,” which is relocating leaves around your property where they will do the most good. “Definitely rake (or scoop) up leaves from walkways and patios so they don’t become a slippery hazard,” Miller says. “Stormwater drains and drainage swales — those ditches by the road and driveway — should also be kept leaf-free in order to function properly. A super thick layer of wet leaves on the lawn will smother and kills turf grass. Aim to rake your leaves before the first snow.”

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Strategies for Raking Leaves

Before going out and raking leaves, make sure to dress for the weather and wear heavy-duty gloves to prevent blisters. Comfortable shoes are also a must. Follow these strategies to make your raking time efficient and relatively painless.

Wait for Leaves to Finish Falling

Mother Nature will do what she does best, and you can’t make her go any faster. If you start raking leaves before all the leaves have fallen, you’ll have to do the job more than once, which is inconvenient and wastes time.

Use the Right Rake

Having the right kind of rake is more crucial than many think. Choose a rake with a comfortable length so you don’t have to crouch, a larger tine spread — about 30 inches is ideal — and a no-clog design so you won’t pierce any leaves.

Rake in the Same Direction as the Wind

Many people see the wind as an additional obstacle while raking leaves, but if you rake in the same direction that the wind is blowing, you can speed the process along. If you’re not fighting the wind, you can move the dry leaves more quickly and with less effort.

However, if the wind is too strong, you shouldn’t bother raking since the leaves will either be in your neighbor’s yard or right back where they started.

Don’t Rake After it Rains

Wet leaves stick together, making it difficult to collect them with your rake, yard vacuum or leaf blower. Leaves are much easier to rake and dispose of when they are dry.

Use a Leaf Blower or a Yard Vacuum

When operated properly, a leaf blower can help cut down on the time spent raking leaves. Divide your yard into sections, creating a grid layout, and then work backward from the house.

Mow and Mulch

You can mow over leaves with a lawn mower, preferably one with a mulching mode, to add mulch to your lawn. This also speeds up leaf decomposition and provides more nutrients to the grass.

Rake Leaves in a Grid Pattern

You can save some time by separating your lawn into quadrants and raking in a grid pattern, rather than a linear one. This allows you to go quickly from one end to the other, rather than raking leaves into the middle and then going back and forth.

Bag Leaves Right Away

If you want to save time and avoid having your hard work undone by a crisp fall wind, you should immediately bag up the leaves. Don’t have time to bag them right away? Try stomping on the pile to compress the leaves and prevent them from blowing away.

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