Experts Say It’s Better To Not Rake You Yard—Here’s Why

Among the highlights of the year, autumn certainly has its golden hour with the beauty of fall foliage. Nevertheless, once the leaves fall and end up all over the lawn, that charm quickly fades.

As leaves blanket the yard, our weekend to-do list once again includes raking, but experts are saying it may be time to say goodbye to this dreaded task. In fact, raking leaves might actually be harmful to your yard and the environment.

Leaves Can Actually Improve Your Lawn’s Health 

While this was news to us, experts have actually been touting the benefits of fallen leaves to our yards and the environment for years.

To start, leaves contain vital nutrients like phosphorous and potassium that together act as a natural fertilizer for your lawn. Leaves can also support the soil below, aiding in its structure and water absorbency.

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David Mizejewski, a naturalist at the National Wildlife Federation, explained to USA TODAY that where leaves fall naturally is also important.

“The leaves fall around the root zone of these plants, where they do things like suppress weeds or other plants from growing that would otherwise compete with the trees and the shrubs,” he explained. “They slowly break down and compost right there at the base of the tree [or] the shrub … where they return nutrients that the plant can then recycle and reuse next spring.”

Not Raking Is Also Good For The Environment

Fallen leaves offer more benefits than just natural fertilizer; they also serve as shelters for creatures vital to local ecosystems.

“There are probably thousands of different species that actually live in that leaf layer,” Mizejewski noted. “Most of them are invertebrates, so think of everything from earthworms and little pillbugs and all sorts of little critters that live in that leaf layer.”

These invertebrates are a vital food source for birds and other critters in your area. Raking up the leaves can disrupt this vital process. But the potential impacts don’t stop there.

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Maxim Schlossberg, an associate professor of turfgrass nutrition and soil fertility, told USA TODAY how blowing leaves into streets and sidewalks also presents problems like disrupting drains and local waters. It is also possible for foreign debris to clog grates and prevent water from draining properly.

Drains that lead to streams and rivers can also carry leaves into the water. Schlossberg says that can affect water quality and sensitive species adapted to those waterways.

What’s more, by not raking and bagging your leaves, you can help minimize landfill emissions. Mizejewski noted that leaves sent to landfills are a major contributor to climate change. As leaves decompose, they emit greenhouse gases, so it is important to keep them out of landfills as much as possible.

What To Do Instead

This fall, skip leaf raking, according to experts. But, in the event that leaves form a mat over your grass, they suggest removing them as the weather cools. In this case, Mizejewski suggests placing leaves in garden beds or raking them into a big pile for natural decomposition. 

Schlossberg urges the use of a lawnmower, as it breaks up the leaves and brings nutrients to your grass. “Since they’re smaller, they’re more rapidly dismantled and decomposed by microorganisms. And the whole recycling process of those nutrients being returned to the soil occurs more rapidly” he explained. 

Overall, when you’re taking care of your lawn this fall in preparation for next spring, remember how beneficial leaves are to wildlife and the environment.

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