Good to Grow: To rake or not to rake-that is the question

I think most of us have a love-hate relationship with autumn leaves.

We take long drives and plan weekend get-aways to see the treetops turn green mountain views to a pallet of reds and yellows. We invite friends to visit our state and see it ablaze in fall colors. For me, West Virginia is at its best in the fall.

Then, the leaves drop. The lawn is covered, the car is covered, and the pup is covered in leaves if she stays put too long. What now? To rake or not to rake is the question.

I’m on the side of raking. Trees surround the little house on the big hill. With my trees and the neighbors’ trees, leaves are abundant, and of course, they do not care where they fall. The biggest tree and last to drop leaves is quite polite and shares its leaves with every yard within a three or four house reach.  

I rake to protect my lawn. If a heavy layer of leaves is left all winter, the grass underneath may smother and die, or at the very least come back weak and unhealthy in the spring. 

There is even a thing called snow mold that can happen with prolonged snow on the ground; having a layer of leaves trapping even more moisture against the grass is not good. And really, who wants to shovel snow and find a layer of leaves underneath? It is messy and is just one more thing to add weight to your shovel.

The lawnmower can be your friend when it comes to managing the fall leaf drop. If done routinely throughout the fall, the mower will mulch the leaves into small pieces that will find their way through the grass blades and slowly break down, adding organic matter to the soil. This can be tricky; a little goes a long way, and the mulch must be fine.

Leaf blowers are popular and quick, but there are reasons to use a rake. The obvious is exercise. Raking the yard can be a workout and a way to spend time outdoors. Plus, you can almost always get “help” from kids and pups. Who doesn’t love a kick around in a pile of leaves?

Raking the leaves is good for the soil. As you rake the leaves, you are scratching the earth and loosening dried grass or thatch lying on top of the ground. Removing the leaves also reduces the chance of disease spreading to other plants and trees.

A tidy yard will not only look better but aid in security by showing that someone is around and paying attention to the property. If the yard and walkways are covered in leaves, the house can look empty and invite burglars.  

Not all trees lose their green in the fall. Evergreens – think pines – and Christmas trees stay green all year long. Maple and oak trees are deciduous trees, meaning they shed their leaves each season. The tree actually releases the leaves and then closes the attachment spot to prevent disease from entering the tree and keep moisture from escaping. 

Nature never fails to amaze me.

Of course, there are ways to use leaves in the fall. I cover perennial flowerbeds with a light coat of leave for winter protection. I am quick to rake them off in early spring; I don’t want my spring bulbs to have to fight their way through leaves as they break through the soil.  

Let’s not forget about using the leaves for arts and crafts. Kids love collecting and tracing leaves, and what an easy way to sneak in a lesson about tree identification and the cycles of nature.

My advice is to take a leaf walk, drive the back roads, and soak the color of fall on a sunny day. Soon the trees will be bare, and you will have to decide how to handle a yard full of fallen leaves. 

Move the leaves off your lawn, whether you use a rake, blower, mower, or hire the leaf man (a sign I saw posted on the road). You will be one step closer to a healthy springtime garden.