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To Rake or Not Rake

24 Oct 2021 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak
Fall Clean Up Day

To rake or not to rake?

Each fall, people ask whether it’s a good idea to rake up the fallen leaves or leave them in place as a “winter blanket” to protect the lawn during the cold months. The answer is: rake up thick layers of leaves and shred small amounts with a mulching mower.

Lawn grasses in Iowa are cold-weather grasses and they don’t need a “blanket” to keep them warm. In fact, they’ll resent it.

According to Richard Jauron, retired ISU horticulturalist, “Turfgrass plants utilize light, water and nutrients to manufacture food. In fall, lawn areas beneath large trees are often completely covered with leaves. The leaf debris prevents the turfgrass plants from manufacturing and storing food prior to winter. Additionally, the leaves of some tree species mat down readily and may smother the grass.”

Moreover, thick layers of leaves under snow can encourage mold, which can kill or seriously weaken the grass.

What to do with the leaves you rake up? Invest in a leaf shredder! Shredded leaves make some of the best mulch and compost around—and it’s free, right in your yard! Spread the shredded leaves over your planting beds (a couple of inches) and your plants will love you. If you’d rather not bother, you can bag the leaves and put them by the curb for the Compost-It folks.

Whichever you do, though, chop up the remaining leaves on your lawn. Make sure they’re fine enough to fall through the grass.

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