Do I Have to Rake My Leaves in the Yard?

A rake leaning against a bench by a leaf pile.

The weather has cooled off, the leaves are changing, and you’ve got pumpkins on your mind. In short, fall is here! As the trees begin to lose their foliage, you may be wondering—what should I do with all these leaves? Since we’ve raked and bagged our share of leaves over the years, we have valuable insight and advice to help you answer that question. So, before that pile of leaves gets covered by snow, let’s dive into the question; do I have to rake my leaves?

Table of Contents:

Pros of Raking Leaves

Rake clearing leaves on a lawn.

To rake leaves or not: that is the question. But seriously, why do we rake leaves? After all, some leaves look pretty on the lawn. Well, there are plenty of good reasons to rake the leaves and remove them from your lawn and from around bushes and shrubs.

Here are some of the reasons why raking leaves is a good thing:

  • A thick layer of leaves on your grass deprives it of sunlight, so raking and removing them will help your lawn grow.
  • As leaves decompose, they create a thick layer of thatch that can smother your lawn. Raking also helps remove any excess lawn thatch.
  • Raking and bagging leaves is good exercise, and you get to spend time outdoors.
  • Some leaves harbour diseases. Removing them minimizes the risks of disease for your trees and other plants.
  • Removing leaves keeps your lawn and property looking neat.

Cons of Raking Leaves

Leaves scattered on grass.

Despite the many benefits of removing leaves from your property, there are some advantages to leaving them right where they fall.

Here are some of the reasons why you shouldn't rake the leaves from your lawn:

  • When leaves decompose, they provide essential nutrients to your lawn and soil.
  • Leaf coverage can help preserve soil moisture.
  • Leaves can help suppress weeds.
  • Fallen leaves are beneficial to birds, butterflies, and other insects.

While these are certainly good reasons to leave those leaves in place, they come with a disclaimer—too much of one thing is not a good thing. Too many decomposing leaves on your lawn creates a thatch that can prevent air from reaching grass roots, which can smother your lawn. And while leaves will help retain soil moisture, too much moisture may encourage fungus growth, which can damage your lawn. So, while some leaves scattered across your lawn is not a problem, piles or layers of leaves can do more harm than good.

When You Should Rake Your Leaves

Rake and leaf pile.

When it comes to leaves on your lawn, there are a few situations that leave you no choice, for example:

  • Local ordinances may apply: Some cities and neighbourhood HOAs have rules about removing leaves to maintain a neat appearance. Not doing so could result in warnings and/or fines.
  • Your lawn could sustain damage: As mentioned, too many leaves could suffocate the grass, invite pests and disease, block water and nutrients, and prevent new grass blades from emerging next spring. Many of these problems occur under a thick layer of leaf litter, so don’t worry about removing every single leaf to protect your lawn.
  • Leaves cause other problems: In addition to threatening the health of your grass, leaves can also clog downspouts and storm drains, stain wood decks, and make sidewalks slippery.

How to Decide Whether or Not to Rake Your Leaves

Leaves on top of grass.

So, do you have to rake leaves? And if so, when? The amount of leaf coverage on your lawn is a good indicator. If a small amount (such as a quarter) of your yard is covered with scattered leaves, you don’t need to rake them. Fall winds will likely blow them around anyway, or they’ll settle on your lawn and decompose on their own.

So, do you have to rake leaves? And if so, when? The amount of leaf coverage on your lawn is a good indicator. If a small amount (such as a quarter) of your yard is covered with scattered leaves, you don’t need to rake them. Fall winds will likely blow them around anyway, or they’ll settle on your lawn and decompose on their own.

Tips for Raking Leaves

Bin full of leaves next to a rake.

If you’re feeling energetic and have some extra sets of hands to help, here are some tips to make raking leaves less of a chore.

  • Use the right rake: look for rakes with angled tines or a "no-clog" label. Rake the leaves in the same direction the wind is blowing.
  • Wear comfortable clothing, including heavy-duty gloves. Rake the leaves in a grid pattern.
  • Use a large, lightweight tarp to gather the leaves.
  • Bag the leaves immediately unless you want to leave them for the kids to jump in!
  • Don't put too much downward pressure on the rake.
  • Use leaf scoops to lift and load the fallen leaves.
  • Use a leaf blower to direct leaves into specific areas before raking and removing them.

Alternatives to Raking Leaves

Mowing over leaves.

If you want your leaves gone but don’t want to rake or use a leaf blower, here are some alternative options:

  • Mow over the leaves: Wait until the fallen leaves are nice and crunchy. Then, run the lawnmower over them. (If the leaf litter is more than a few inches deep, rake some up before mowing.) Mowing the leaves creates a leaf thatch that can help protect and feed the grass for weeks. Be sure to mow without the bag attachment on your mower.
  • Turn the leaves into mulch: It’s perfectly fine to leave a thin layer of mowed leaves on the lawn, but leaf litter also makes the perfect mulch material. Relocating chopped leaves is as easy as bagging them while mowing or using the vacuum kit that came with your leaf blower. Once bagged, dump the leaves around your trees and in your garden beds to add nutrients to the soil. Just be sure that leaf mulch is not too thick, 2 to 5 centimetres is ideal.
  • Compost the leaves: Whether you blow, rake, or mow the leaves, consider bagging them up and adding them to your compost pile. Just be aware that leaves won’t compost themselves. They require regular turning, the right amount of moisture, and other organic material.
  • Leave the leaves: What if you don’t really have a lawn? Or your city doesn’t require you to remove leaves from your property? In these cases, you may decide to leave the leaves behind, assuming you don’t mind the way they look.

Get Help with Fall Cleanup

Pile of leaves on grass.

Raking leaves (especially large amounts) can be a hassle, but leaving them could have negative consequences. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it all yourself. The Grounds Guys® will take care of the leaves and other fall cleanup services, freeing you up to spend this fall doing more of the things you love.

Discover the Best Approach for Your Yard

Raking leaves and preparing your lawn and landscape for winter are just some of the seasonal maintenance required to keep your property looking its best. If you need help getting it all done, contact your local lawn and landscape experts at The Grounds Guys. We offer a range of services that will keep your property looking great and give you more time to enjoy what you love. And as part of the Neighbourly family of home service brands, all our work is backed by the Neighbourly Done Right Promise™, which ensures your satisfaction.

Need help keeping your home or business accessible this winter? Ask about our snow and ice management services.