Leave the Leaves. To rake or not to rake?

Photo wit a tree in autumn leave color

By: Diana Alfuth, Extension Educator

Fall is a beautiful time of year in Wisconsin, but it comes with a list of chores to be done before the snow flies. Is raking leaves one of those chores? Maybe, maybe not. If you have trees dropping leaves on your lawn grass, in many cases there is no need to incur blisters by raking them up. Leaves have nutrients, which can be recycled into your lawn. The concern is if your leaf layer is very thick and will smother the grass.

If you have just a few leaves, such as 20 percent of the lawn covered, you can just ignore them. They will blow around, settle in, and break down on their own. If you have a moderate amount of leaves, such as 50 percent coverage, you still don’t need to rake. Simply run your lawn mower over them to chop them into smaller pieces so they can settle between the grass blades where they will decompose over time and release nutrients for your lawn to use next year.

If you have a thick layer of leaves, where you can barely see any signs of grass beneath them, then it’s best if you remove some of the leaves to prevent matting and smothering of the grass. Rake or otherwise remove at least half of them. You don’t need to get every last leaf, but if you remove a significant amount of them, then you can mow the rest up and leave them on the lawn. Those raked up leaves can be a valuable resource, and used in composting, winter mulching, or saved until spring for mulching in vegetable or flower gardens.

The one caveat to leaving tree leaves where they fall is if your trees have had serious foliar fungal diseases. While most leaf spots on leaves are cosmetic and harmless to the overall health of the tree, fallen diseased leaves do serve as a source for spores that can infect next year’s emerging leaves. Significantly diseased leaves should be raked and removed from the area and disposed of properly, such as by burying, burning where allowed, or hot composting.

Of course, one good reason to rake up leaves is to have a pile to jump and play in! But if you only have a moderate amount of leaves on your lawn, quickly mow them up and spend your time doing the other things on your pre-winter chore list.

Curious about fall color, check this out. How about general lawn care?

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