A Definitive Guide to Getting the Leaves Off Your Lawn

by Michael Franco
girl raking leaves with rake and hands

Ahh, autumn! Pulling out the cozy sweaters, cooking up a pot of chili and leaf peeping: Fall brings warm moments indoors and pops of color outdoors. Unfortunately for homeowners, those colorful leaves will eventually be faithful to the season’s name and, well, fall.

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Leaf raking and removal is an autumn chore that can’t be avoided if you want to take proper care of your lawn. Here's a streamlined guide to leaf cleanup that should take some dread out of the activity.

Why Rake Anyway?

Letting nature take care of your fallen leaf issue may be tempting. Don’t give in to temptation! At least, not entirely. Leaving a heavy layer of dead leaves on your lawn may encourage snow mold. This is a winter fungal disease that can damage your grass. However, if you don’t have many trees and there’s only a scattering of leaves on your lawn, you can leave them. Leaves left to break down through the fall and into winter can provide your grass with nitrogen and other nutrients.

Know When to Rake

Choose a calm day. Trying to remove leaves on a windy day is a recipe for frustration. Also, choose a day when it hasn’t rained for a couple of days prior. Dry leaves are easier to rake or mow and lighter to remove. If you have many large trees dropping a lot of leaves, think about raking your leaves a couple of times throughout the season. It’ll be faster and easier than attempting the whole yard at once.

Choose Your Leaf Pick-Up Tool

You can clean up leaves with a rake, leaf blower or lawn mower. Keep reading to learn the pros and cons of each one.

Think About Leaf Disposal

Are you going to bag the leaves and take them somewhere to be disposed of? Or do you plan to mulch your leaves for use in a compost pile or to leave them on the lawn as fertilizer? If you plan to bag your leaves, use special lawn-and-leaf bags made from biodegradable materials. Putting organic material into a typical plastic garbage bag will create methane gas as the leaves break down.

Leaf Removal Tools

The Rake

This is by far the cheapest and the most difficult way to get leaves off your lawn. If you go this route, make sure you use a leaf rake. The tines of a leaf rake are spread out; they have a wide end and a sturdy, long handle. Make sure it's comfortable for you to use for extended periods of time.

The Blower

This is a faster, noisier and more expensive method of leaf removal. A leaf blower is probably your best bet if you have a large yard with many trees. Be careful: Some cities have rules about gas-powered lawn equipment as well as noise ordinances. Check before you blow!

The Mower

If you don’t have an overabundance of leaves and know you want to mulch them, consider utilizing your lawn mower. If you go this route, ensure your leaf cover isn’t too thick, and the leaves are dry. There is no need to pick up the chopped leaves; let them break down naturally to feed your lawn.

Additional Equipment

Wear a comfortable pair of gloves to prevent blisters (if raking), as well as long pants and a long-sleeve shirt to protect from scratches.

It’s Leaf Removal Time!

If You’re Raking

Be sure to mind your body. Stand upright, use your core and avoid exaggerated twisting motions. Make each pull of the rake even and take shorter pulls to avoid stretching out your body. Switch hands to prevent blisters and strain on one side of your body.

Rake in rows and pull the leaves toward you. Work in a line across your yard so the leaf piles are in a condensed area for bagging. Stomping on the leaf piles will help prevent them from blowing away.

If You’re Using the Blower

It’s a good idea to blow your leaves onto a tarp. This will make collecting and removing a breeze.

If You’re Mowing

Make sure the mower finely chops the leaves if you plan to leave them on the lawn. You may also consider raking your leaves and mowing up what you missed. This will ensure you don’t leave too heavy a layer on the grass. A maximum 1-inch-thick layer of finely chopped leaves left behind is a good rule of thumb.

Some mowers have a “mulching” option. If yours doesn’t, mow your lawn in stripes and then go back over it again to ensure the leaves are as finely chopped as possible.

Leaf Cleanup

Great job! Your leaves are now in manageable piles! Now, what to do with them? You can bag your leaves if you raked or used a leaf blower. Find out if your city collects yard waste. If so, you can leave the bagged leaves out on the curb for pick up. If not, find out if you can bring them to the local landfill or have them picked up with the garbage. The best way to get rid of leaves, though, is to keep the leaves and use them as mulch or compost. Leaves chopped small can be thinly spread on your lawn or added to your compost pile.

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