Should you Really Rake Leaves in the Fall?

A close-up of autumn leaves.
  • 1-2 hours
  • Beginner

I rake my leaves every fall like a good homeowner should. I live in a small town, in a nice neighborhood, where everyone takes care of their homes and lawns, so in the pursuit of not being a pariah of the community, I tend to my yard as is expected. Society tells us that raking leaves in fall is what we are supposed do. It is said that raking is good for grass and that it prevents your home from looking messy this time of year. However, some experts are now giving credence to a new trend on the rise: the notion of simply letting autumn leaves fall where they may. There are a few intriguing reasons why not picking up that rake may be okay.

What Happens to Leaves?

A trash bag filled with leaves.

I live in Niagara Falls, New York, and in my town it's perfectly acceptable to rake leaves into the street to be picked up by local workers in trucks. Yet it’s not like that everywhere. Some ordinances still require citizens to bag leaves by hand and leave them curbside as if they were garbage. If that’s the case where you live, do you know what happens to the leaves once they're picked up?

According to the National Wildlife Federation, leaves and seasonal yard debris account for 13% of all of our nation’s solid waste—that’s an enormous 33 million tons per year. Without the necessary oxygen needed to properly decompose, bagged leaves simply fester and create the greenhouse gas methane. As our landfills are one of the largest creators of methane gas, experts claim leaving leaves in their fallen places can aid in the elimination of environmental stressors and, in turn, global warming.

Hidden Nutrients

For those who are unfamiliar, the ancient concept of composting is when one forms an area to place table scraps and natural home waste to biodegrade for nutrient rich soil. Those in favor of not raking autumn leaves commonly cite this process with creating yard-wide, natural, nutrient-rich soil, ideal for gardening and eventual plant growth. As a naturalist, the notion of letting the earth do as it intended is an intriguing thought, as for the thousands of years before humans, leaves fell with the seasons and the ground was rich enough to support plant life in spring. Therefore, if homemade mulch to grow your crops is on your mind, joining to “no rake” movement may just be for you.

Create an Animal Haven

A small animal laying in leaves.

Just as we do, bugs and animals must work to prepare for winter’s coldest times. Depending on where you live and what creatures are native to your landscape, many animals can benefit from leaves left on the ground. Known as a "leaf litter," this layer of decomposing leaves bands together to support an ecosystem beneath it. When peeled back, earthworms, millipedes, and even frogs can be found, which attract larger creatures such as birds, raccoons, snakes, and hawks. All those critters living, playing, and eating in the leaf litter leave their waste behind, which in addition to the leaves themselves aids the surrounding ecosystem.

When Leaving Leaves Is Not for You

Because of the natural side effects that can take place, not raking isn’t for everyone. For instance, though added nutrients in the soil are great, there is the potential for the band of leaves to kill the grass that thrives beneath it. True fertile land makes for easy growing, but for some, the thought of re-growing grass is an unwanted and easily avoidable task.

Next, though it is great to increase a wildlife presence, there is no way to control exactly which wildlife arrives. Ticks love to live in forgotten leaves, which can be potentially harmful if children or pets are playing outside. Though this example won't apply to everyone, it is best to consider the outcome before letting nature take control this autumn, rather then letting nature show what toll it can take.