Field of Science

Lawn care - Don't rake your leaves?

This article or another just like it provoked quite a bit of comment in the gardening blogging community recently. The idea is ecologically sound; leaves represent biomass and resources trees removed from the soil, so don't remove them, mulch them to retrieve the nutrients.  So far so good, but if TPP followed this advice for just two years he would have a young forest. If you only have one or two trees and a whole big lawn, well OK, mulch away. Do remember that if too much organic material accumulates grasses get shallow rooted and become easily damaged. Your lawn will be more easily damaged. The organic material may attract more root feeding grubs. Our 1.3 acres has about a dozen very large trees and the leaf accumulation is significant and heavy enough to quite bury lawn even if the leaves are mulched with a lawn mower.  In places leaf accumulation can reach 12", and when TPP tried mulching and bagging them he had to stop every few feet to empty the bag. Our city does pick up leaves and mulch them enmass allowing people to pick up organic mulch to return to  gardens for free so they are not going to a landfill (one argument used by don't rakers). Some local farmers also take the leaves for their soil improvement.  Our personal leaves are moved to more heavily wooded areas or mulched and used in garden beds.  Even here the battle with woody weeds is unrelenting, and if the seedlings are not removed annually, well, a dense thicket of saplings will quickly appear.  In particular the do-not-rake-leaves advice is suspect especially if you have sugar maples. Because they make both sun and shade leaves, their crowns are dense (they can intersect up to 95% of the incoming light that hits their crown).  Growing grass under these trees is nearly impossible, although ferns and low-light ground covers work fine, and they can often handle a considerable mulch of leaves. But again the point is, you don't have lawn by the ordinary definition. Such a mass of leaves landing in our pond would begin turning it into a bog, and netting the pond and leaf removal is a bit of a problem that must be dealt with to have a big water feature. So do give this advice some thought before yelling yahoo and selling your rake. It doesn't work everywhere or for everybody.

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