The chore of raking has plagued homeowners for centuries, becoming a dreaded task for adults and children alike. For many Americans, the autumns of their childhood were not only filled with trips to the apple orchard and Sunday stews but with weekends spent raking up the recently fallen leaves. Unless you were among the 27% of Americans who rent their homes and grew up free from the worry of property maintenance, raking is as much a part of your fall as any other autumnal tradition. Although your raking technique may have been ingrained since you were old enough to hold a rake, it’s never too late to question if you’re doing it correctly and if it’s even necessary.
Before the leaves start falling in full force, read up on the best ways to tackle your raking duties this year. By changing your ways, you could have a healthier lawn and you may even be able to do less work.
Why is raking important?
To understand why there are right and wrong ways of raking leaves, you have to understand why it’s necessary in the first place. It may seem like your neighbors are raking their leaves to hold their place in the seemingly never-ending competition of whose lawn looks best. While looks play some part in why homeowners rake leaves — after all, curb appeal is one of the five most important factors in selling a home — the ritual of raking is actually more important for maintaining the health of your lawn.
The majority of lawns in the northern United States are composed of one or more cool-season grasses. As the name suggests, these grasses are most active during times of the year with moderately cool weather. As fall is one of those times, lawns with cool-season grasses revitalize themselves and strengthen their root systems during autumn.
A thick layer of fallen leaves can disturb this period of growth for these grasses. The leaves will cast too much shade on the grass beneath them, blocking out the sunlight it needs to grow. A leaf layer may also prevent water, nutrients, and a healthy airflow from getting to the grass. If your grass faces these obstacles during the fall, you risk having a lackluster or downright unhealthy lawn come spring.
When you let thick layers of leaves stay on your lawn, you’re also creating a home for pests and molds. These can affect the health of your grass as well as your family, as mold that grows under leaves is a common fall allergy. Whether you are among the one in five Americans who own a home that’s part of an HOA that requires you to keep your lawn free of leaves for appearance’s sake or you are truly concerned for the health of your lawn, it’s important to keep up with raking throughout the season.
When should you start raking?
There are a few factors that you need to consider when deciding when to break out the rake. In general, you don’t want to leave a layer of leaves on the grass for more than three or four days. You may want to rake even sooner if the leaf layer is very thick or if the leaves are wet. You’ll also want to rake more frequently if you have a larger yard so that the work doesn’t become unmanageable.
If you don’t have many trees that drop leaves in your yard and it hasn’t rained recently, you may be able to put off raking until the majority of your trees’ leaves have dropped. This will allow you to spend less of your free time raking while still maintaining the health of your lawn. Until the mass leaf drop, you can use a mulching mower to shred the leaves that fall earlier.
What’s the right way to rake?
You’ll first want to make sure that the length of your rake is suited to your height and that it has sharp tines to remove thatch as well as leaves. Thatch is the layer of dead turfgrass tissue that lives in between your lawn’s soil surface and green vegetation. Removing it can give your lawn’s health a boost. While many people use leaf blowers instead of raking, this won’t do any good in removing thatch. To remove thatch and leaves at the same time, rake deeply and vigorously and don’t miss any spots.
Raking may not seem like a form of exercise, but if you’re raking correctly your body can easily get tired. You’ll be using muscles in your arms, shoulders, and back to bear down on the rake and gather the leaves into one spot. About half of working Americans say that they have back pain symptoms every year. These symptoms can easily flare up after a day spent bent over a rake. Remember to maintain good posture by keeping your knees bent and back straight and to let your legs do some of the work.
You’ll also be walking all around your yard. You might find that you walk well over a mile as you trek leaves around your yard. As just one mile of hiking can burn over 500 calories, you’ll need to remember to take care of your body like you do when you exercise at a gym. While you burn calories and work up a sweat, remember to hydrate, stretch, and take breaks to give your muscles a rest.
When it comes time to bag up the leaves, you might want to think twice. Leaves can make a wonderful mulch or compost. Rake your leaves onto a tarp and then drag that tarp to your compost bin or mulch container. Next spring, you can use the mulch for landscaping purposes and the compost to organically fertilize your plants. This will save you from buying mulch and compost from the store while giving your lawn some good nutrients.
When the leaves start changing, think about how you want to tackle the responsibility of raking this year. Now that you have learned the method behind the madness of annual raking, you can treat it as an important part of lawn maintenance rather than an annoying chore.