To Rake or Not to Rake, That Is the Question


We live in a town that has a leaf pickup program that is in full swing right now. The schedule actually calls for two pickups for each street, and in anticipation of those pickup dates, people are busy raking their leaves into the street.

The result is huge piles of leaves in the street, and nice green, clean looking lawns.

Except for ours.

I vaguely recall reading an article a couple of years ago that claimed it is actually better for your lawn not to rake the leaves, but instead to mulch the leaves with a lawnmower.

Last year was the first time I mulched instead of raked, and while I can’t say with any authority if my lawn was any healthier as a result, I do know that mulching the leaves went much more quickly than raking them.

This morning was my second annual mulch it/don’t rake it day. I will admit that upon completion our yard did not look as nice as our neighbors’ yards who had raked their leaves. So after I finished, and knowing fully that I was subjecting myself to confirmation bias, I quickly opened my Chrome browser and started looking for articles that would support my decision to mulch and not rake.

As usually happens, there were far too many articles that came up in my Google search. I read a few of them that supported my beliefs, and I thought I would share some of the ideas from what I thought was one of the better articles.

The title of the article is “The Science of Fall Leaves: Better to Rake or Leave?“, and appeared on the Discovery web site. The following paragraph summarizes the gist of the article quite nicely:

Our basic position is that a tremendous amount of energy is used to rake and remove leaves from the landscape,” said Joe Rimelspach, program specialist in turf grass pathology at Ohio State University. “The best thing is to use a mulching lawnmower. You recycle the nutrients. You aren’t having a loss of nutrients from the trees. Also you are recycling the organic matter and aren’t removing it from the ecosystem of the landscape.

Rimelspach notes that curbside leaf pickup programs use a lot of carbon; leaf blowers cause pollution plus there’s the cost of the fuel to haul everything around, and more gas to haul around the compost.

For example, one city’s leaf program requires a combination of 100 street sweepers, front-end bucket loaders, packers, semis, and dump trucks, all of which produce diesel fumes as well as carbon dioxide.

James Crum, professor of plant and microbial science at Michigan State University, also agrees that a mulching lawnmower is the way to go.

“There’s no reason to fill landfills with leaves,” Crum said. “They should go back on the lawn.” In fact, a recent study at Michigan State found that lawns do better with mulched leaves on top, up to six inches. “Healthier grass and fewer weeds,” Crum said.

So I’ll go with the advice of these two guys, they seem to know more about it than I do. I’ll also have to thank them for making my life a little bit easier.

And if nothing else, it’s just one more thing my neighbors can say about the weird vegan guy that lives on their street..

2 thoughts on “To Rake or Not to Rake, That Is the Question

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