The Art and Science of Raking Leaves

What's your technique for raking leaves in the fall?

I was on the phone with a co-worker today who was working from home. She started out by saying, "I'm watching my husband working out in the yard, and I'm worried that he is nuts."

I had to ask.

She thought he was nuts because of how he was cleaning up leaves in their yard. First he vacuumed up all the leaves. Then he mowed the lawn. Then he vacuumed up the leaves again. I asked what he did with all the leaves he had vacuumed up. "He takes them across the street and dumps them in the vacant lot".

Turns out, by the way, that they have no trees in their yard (yet) and all the leaves he vacuumed up came from the trees in that vacant lot across the street.

Wonder what is going to happen to the leaves he dumped over there? I'm guessing they are going to blow right back into their yard.

He must like to vacuum up leaves.

So that's one technique for cleaning up leaves in the fall, vacuum them up and dump them across the street in a vacant lot. Repeat.

When I was growing up, it seemed like every weekend in the fall we were forced to rake leaves. When my parents moved in to our house, there were no trees, but my Dad planted a lot of sugar maples and other trees and then watered and fertilized them all the time so they grew big fast. Thus it seemed that right at the time when we were old enough to be able to rake leaves and old enough not to want to do it, we had a lot of leaves to rake.

We learned to rake the leaves on to big sheets of plastic and then drag them back to the vegetable garden where my Dad did one of three things with them, depending on his mood.

In the early days, before the practice was banned, he burned the leaves. All the neighbors did. The fall air on the weekends was thick with the smoke of burning leaves.

Some years he dug trenches in the garden, or had us help dig trenches, and then we dumped the leaves in the trenches and buried them.

Other years, we spread the leaves out over the surface of the garden and he roto-tilled them into the soil.

That's still mighty rich soil where he had that garden and where my sister now has her vegetable garden.

Every year, of course, we also jumped into the piles of leaves at least once. The temptation was just too great!

In my current yard, I don't yet have enough leaves to worry too much about. But I do have two leaf rakes already, one metal, one plastic, so I'll be ready when I do have a lot of leaves.

(Yes, I do seem to acquire a lot of garden tools, not just hoes, but apparently now rakes, too.)

My current technique for leaf removal is just to mow over any leaves when I mow the lawn so they are chopped up a bit and will enrich the soil right where they are. But it is going to be a few more weeks before I have any leaves to mow over.

See, my Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is just barely starting to turn.

So what's your technique for raking leaves? Is leaf raking an art or a science? Do you prefer plastic or metal leaf rakes? Do you vacuum the leaves up or just mow over them? Or do you just leave them right where they fall?


  1. Carol, back when the Dubious Gardener was ruling the roost, we were out there every fall weekend raking leaves. I never saw the point since there were still so many on the trees! Nowadays I wait for them to ALL come down and then I get to work.

    Depending on how my back feels, I use a combination of raking and/or the leaf blower. Using the blower on leaves is rather like herding cats, but I do it anyway. The mulched ones go on the flower beds and the rest are going to enrich my DDIL's soon-to-be vegetable garden.

    Sometimes I still jump into a pile of leaves just for the heck of it.

  2. Back when we had a front and back lawn, we used a mulching mower to grind up the leaves. The bits were left in place to enrich the soil. Less work and better for the garden to boot. Why truck off all that great organic material?

    That said, I do have fond memories of burning leaves with my dad when I was a kid.

  3. As the receipiant of all those sugar maples and the beloved scarlet oak, we have many, many leaves to rake. When they first start to fall, they are mowed over with a mulching lawnmower. When there are too many for the lawnmower, the front yard leaves are raked to the street where the city comes and sucks them up with a big vacuum and takes them who knows where. (I know, Carol, Dad is rolling over in his grave).

    The back yard ones are raked into a pile in the corner of the yard where they slowly, slowly turn into compost (last year's pile is still there - it's probably a bit too shady to be a good compost spot). This year? Maybe now that we have those wonderful raised beds, the back yard leaves will go into those.

    Type of rake - whichever one is available - LOL!!

    Interesting side note--the tree arborist who lovingly worked on the scarlet oak and the sugar maple, took all the small debris, sent it through a mulcher, then raked it into a large pile around the base of the tree. He said it was a crime not to because as it breaks down it provides nutrients to the tree. Best mulch there is (according to him!).

    If you feel this strong desire to re-experience those childhood memories, feel free to come on by and help with this falls clean up. LOL!!

  4. We have very few deciduous trees, our comparable task is spring raking of the pine needles, which go on our garden paths. We collect other people's bags of leaves for the compost pile.

  5. Thankfully I am no longer required to help rake leaves. I just watch. That's one of the benefits of old age.(lol)

  6. The men in my household are not so good at yard work. So my favorite technique for raking leaves is to invite my parents to visit for the weekend and get my dad to help. He is awesome.

    Unfortunately, my parents seem to have active senior lives these days, so it's not always possible to employ this time-proven technique. So for now, I'm also mowing the leaves. Pretty soon, however, I'll have to come up with another solution.

    --Robin (Bumblebee)

  7. I have metal and plastic and bamboo leaf rakes. But we just mow over the leaves until there's too many to ignore. Then I generally rake them into piles and pick them up with the vacuum/shredder thing; from there I either spread them around in the woodland plantings in back or put them on the compost pile.

    But I kind of miss jumping in the piles of leaves and then burning them. We always got to toast marshmallows when the pile had burned down a bit.

  8. I love to rake leaves and wish I had more time, energy and time again to get it done! Better than a gym workout! I prefer a bamboo rake. I've tried those plastic rakes and they just feel, well, like plastic. They don't bend and give like a bamboo rake. This being said, the Equipment Manager can rake about twenty times faster than I can and then the leaves go into the compost heap. Will post on raking some time in the future.

  9. " It takes the poets to write about the glory of autumn and the rest of us to rake it, " a famous writer once said. Living in the city I rake as many as I can out to the curb and let the street cleaners vacuum and dispose of them. I also shred enough to add to the compost pile.

    My weapon of choice is the bamboo rake too. It has a very organic and natural feel to it.

    Our trees here are like your red maple - just starting to turn and haven't dropped many leaves yet.

    Can you believe this warm October weather ?

  10. I pretty much only rake leaves that are used for the gardens. This year that I have raised beds I will be pilling them into the beds.

    I may also be using my Mom in-law's Mantis tiller to work them in, and then pile some more on.

  11. We have an adjustable rake and a plastic rake, not that we've used them very much here. Like you, we don't have any mature trees in our yard. It is so windy here that the leaves we do have usually blow away before I can rake them up.

  12. Carol,

    Ontario Master Gardeners advise gardeners to do just what you do. ;-) Mow the leaves and leave them where they are to enrich the soil. No, I'm not an MG but I have a couple of friends who are.

    About the person ripping off blogs:
    I just googled “maxblog gardening” and this web page came up
    http://gardening "dot" maxblog "dot" eu/?p=3634

    Look under categories. It looks like someone is cataloging blogs.
    * Blogroll (536)
    * flowers (507)
    * gardening (520)
    * plants (493)
    * trees (549)
    * Uncategorized (1052)

    Check it out to see what you think!

    By the way, sorry. That last deleted post was mine because I suddenly realized I posted the URL with the "actual dot" and not the word "dot."

    Dirty Knees

  13. My method is to (gulp) avoid it at all possible costs. Honestly, most of our trees are live oaks so we get an onslaught in like February but very little right now.

  14. Well, we only raked leaves when our daughter was little so she could jump on a pile of them.

    Years back, my husband blew them into piles and used them in the vegetable garden, turning the soil each time.

    Now we mow them with the grass and net them out of the pond. We don't have a huge amount of leaves and never use a rake anymore.

  15. When I was young we lived in the mountains in Colorado, and we left the leaves to do what leaves do. There weren't that many of them, they were mostly aspen leaves. The ponderosa and lodgepole pines just had big beds of needles under them.

    When I lived in Bremerton, I raked up all the leaves I could with a nice metal rake, and composted them. I didn't have enough, but we were allowed to go to the City parks and rake all the leaves we wanted to for free. Thoughts of tom Sawyer getting his friends to whitewash the fence for him come to mind.

    Now, Jim goes around with the mower and mows UP the leaves into the grass catcher. We pile them in teh compost bins and sometimes we run them through the compost grinder and sometimes we don't.

    I have found that the best thing to do with them is to load them up into 33 gallon black plastic garbage bags. It is very good if there is some grass mixed in with the leaves, but not if the grass has a lot of seed heads.

    I pile these bags in a long line at the back of the property where they won't be too unsightly. Once the are in place, I poke the bags several times with my pitchfork. Then I water them well. Snow falls on them, water leaks into them. The sun heats up the contents since the bags are black. If I feel real energetic, I will turn them over a couple of times. In the spring they are all ready to use as mulch, usually about 3/4 composted.

  16. I don't like raking leaves. If it were up to me they wouldn't get raked until spring. My better half rakes them but leaves a pile of them for me to put on my beds. In the spring I rake off the top layer carefully and work in the rest with a short claw like instrument that I can't remember the name of.

    This year I'm mowing as much as possible before that happens because I'm digging up the front lawn next year to make beds.

    I love the bagging them idea, I'm going to save some for that. Thanks!

  17. We have LOTS of leaves and we rake some, then mow over them to chop them and use them for soil enrichment. This year, since we have a compost pile, that's where most of them will go. I think some will also go into the bare areas of the garden and be tilled up with the soil.

  18. This year I have hardly any leaves, but before I had 1 cottonwood cut down, I had to start picking up the cottonwood leaves in August, a little bit at a time, with the leaf vac, as the leaves are so thick & large. For the other leaves, I have a plastic rake with a cushion on the handle -the only way to avoid blisters!

  19. I mow. My husband vacuums (he has a vacuum that sucks them up and shreds them into a bag - it is awesome for mulching with.

  20. I attach the bag to my mulching mower and then empty the shredded leaves and lawn clippings directly on to my flower beds. It's a great mulch/compost combo.

  21. My DB usually deals with the bulk of the leaves. He usually mows and mows until they are mulch. They get raked or blown into beds to disappear into the ground.

    My neighbor cut down all her trees so she didn't have to deal with "those leaves". I cried.

  22. All... thanks for all the comments and more helpful information on the "art and science of raking leaves".

    Let the raking begin!
    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  23. Let's see ... my actual grass yard is so small that raking the leaves is not a huge deal. Basically the last 2 years we've raked the leaves right into the garden beds. Task done.

    This year, however, I am going to suck up the leaves into my new blower and mulch them and then throw them on the beds. That way I'm not lifting up carpets of congealed leaves in the spring. I'll just leave them there for infinity!

  24. I just leave the leaves where they fall.. I mow over them if the grass happens to get a bit long. But I do rake over my stepping stones, so as not to slip when the leaves turn wet and mushy.


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