To Rake Leaves or Not?

 In Landscaping and Hardscaping

To Rake Leaves or Not?

The Definitive Guide to Leaf Cleanup in the Fall

In the fall, should you rake leaves or not? What used to be a simple question with a simple answer (yes) has become strangely controversial in the Cincinnati area. Paramount Lawn + Landscape has the facts on raking and leaf disposal.

To Rake Leaves or Not to Rake:
The Controversy

Every autumn, journalists and social media warriors float the idea that raking leaves is bad for the environment. Here’s an example:

To Rake Leaves or Not?

It’s become a popular talking point, and people can get quite heated about it. Claims include:

  • It’s better for your lawn to “leave the leaves,” as a fertilizer
  • Insects spend the winter under fallen leaf cover
  • Leaves are dumped at landfills, creating more waste

Here’s an example of conversations happening all across social platforms:

To Rake Leaves or Not?

The arguments against raking sound pretty convincing. Plus, getting out of raking seems like a great bonus. Unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as it seems.

To Rake Leaves or Not to Rake:
When the Answer is Rake

The truth is we have a lot of trees in Cincinnati. In the city limits alone, we enjoy a 43% tree canopy cover (compared to 38% a few years ago). That’s over 1.6 million urban trees, which doesn’t count all of greater Cincinnati, like Loveland or Northern Kentucky.

Jennifer Hafner Spieser, the executive director for Cincinnati Parks Foundation, explains why trees are so wonderful– as if we need someone to tell us why to love trees!

“These trees are literally cooling down and making temperatures better throughout all 52 neighborhoods, it’s removing pollution from the air and carbon dioxide, so it’s critical to the health and wellness of our citizens.”

Not to mention that trees are beautiful and provide habitats to birds and wildlife. Our river valley geography makes an ideal environment for trees to thrive.

So, you probably have a lot of tree cover in your front and back yards. And after a fall windstorm, your lawn looks like this:

To Rake Leaves or Not?

While fallen leaves are an iconic part of the fall landscape, once they start to decay and lose their color, they also lose their appeal. A thick coating of leaves on the ground won’t fertilize your lawn, they will kill it. These leaves don’t magically turn into beneficial fertilizer over winter. Decomposition in our climate typically requires a full year:

“Leaves typically take anywhere from 6 to 12 months to decompose naturally. Where your leaves fall in this range depends on the size of your leaves, the type of leaf, and your climate. Smaller leaves or leaf chunks, leaves with less cellulose, and leaves in hot, rainy climates will decompose faster. Leaves that are larger, leaves with more cellulose, and leaves in cold, dry climates will decompose slower.”

If you have significant tree canopy cover over your yard and want to preserve the health of your grass, you will need to rake your leaves. Check out our 10 reasons to get a fall cleanup and leaf removal.

To Rake Leaves or Not to Rake:
When the Answer is Don’t

If you have just one tree or a couple small trees, you may not have to rake. However, we highly recommend mulching your leaves. Distributing leaf particles evenly around your lawn really will benefit your turf and help it grow better. The mulched leaves decompose much more quickly, and when spring brings warmer weather, your leaves will be history.

Another reason not to rake is in a forest environment. With heavy tree cover, there’s no grass to protect. This is the natural environment for leaves to collect and decay over time. You may not want to encourage insects and other creatures to populate the yard around your home, but they certainly belong in a forest. So, there’s definitely no need to rake in any forested parts of your property.

To Rake Leaves or Not?

To Rake Leaves or Not to Rake:
How to Dispose of Leaves

Our friendly Internet poster above is right about one thing: don’t bag leaves in plastic. For one thing, it’s sending otherwise biodegradable matter to a landfill. For another, your yard waste probably won’t be picked up in Southeast Ohio communities. Most areas around Cincinnati have leaf recycling programs, and most communities gather leaves in one of two ways:

  1. Residents rake leaves to the curb, and they are collected loose
  2. Residents collect leaves in brown paper yard waste bags or trash cans designated for yard waste

Making your own leaf compost gives you a soil amendment that is mostly free (along with your labor). See this guide on leaf compost for the steps to follow.

Still have questions about when to rake leaves (or not)? Reach out to us, and we can help answer this burning question (Seriously, though, don’t burn your leaves, even if you do rake them. Ohio burn laws are complicated, and your neighbors will hate you).

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