Do You Actually Have to Rake Your Leaves This Fall? Here’s What an Expert Has to Say

published Oct 27, 2022
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There’s nothing quite like the sight of bright foliage to remind you that it’s fall. But when you own a home in prime leaf-peeping territory — instead of just planning a trip to see it — this sign of the season can remind you of this annoying cleaning chore instead: raking those falling leaves.

Despite how nice they are to look at, these leaves can become troublesome, especially when they pile high and litter your yard. But wait and put that rake down. I’m here to tell you that you don’t actually have to spend all your time raking leaves this year. In fact, it can be really beneficial if you don’t.

According to Diana Alfuth, the horticulture outreach specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension, Horticulture Program, leaves offer many benefits to your lawn — so raking them away means you’re not reaping the rewards.

“It’s nature’s way of recycling nutrients if they are allowed to decompose in place,” says Alfuth. “They also provide hiding places for many beneficial insects over winter.” 

Alfuth shares that you’ll want to rake your leaves if it meets any of these three main criteria: if you want to use them for other purposes, such as mulch or compost, they are diseased, or they are thick and will smother what’s underneath them, whether that’s a lawn or perennial flowers.

“If you can see some grass (30-40 percent of the surface) under or between the leaves, you don’t need to rake,” says Alfuth. “The best approach, in that case, is to run the lawn mower over them so they are chopped into smaller pieces. They will then filter into the grass, decompose, and recycle the nutrients.”

If you do end up having a tree with bad diseases on the leaves, you’ll want to act fast and rake them up before it spreads, says Alfuth.

“There are a few diseases that we would be concerned about, such as apple scab from apple trees,” adds Alfuth. “A few spots on tree leaves are nothing to worry about, but if you have a disease year after year, you should get it identified and know how it overwinters.”