Do you really need to rake the leaves off your lawn? Find out...

To Rake or Not to Rake – The Truth About Leaves and Lawns

Raking leaves is as much a part of our collective idea of “fall” as drinking hot chocolate is part of our idea of what’s supposed to happen in winter. Stories have been popping up in my social media feeds proclaiming that experts say you no longer need to rake the leaves off your lawn! Is this heresy or some great new scientific breakthrough?


I’d say it’s a bit of marketing (did you click through to the article in hopes of getting out of the chore of raking?) and willful (or ignorant, if you’re feeling generous) mishandling of facts.


First, let’s look at the facts. Dead leaves make wonderful food for your garden. In fact, I’ve been known to pick up bags of leaves from my neighbours and dump them around all the plants in my garden beds, and onto my empty vegetable beds. Decomposed leaves are a wonderful way to add organic matter (compost) to your garden! One website goes so far as to call leaves “the fall season’s gift to the composter.”


Thickly piled leaves also act as an insulator for garden beds—helping to protect roots and less hardy perennials (don’t use them in your rose cones though, as that can create a very cozy spot for destructive and hungry mice {LINK}).


Fallen leaves make great mulch, meaning they form something of a protective barrier over the soil. One of the reasons we put mulch in our garden beds is to prevent weeds from growing. But mulch is not selective in what it supresses—any plant you cover with mulch will have a tough time growing up through it. With that in mind, you can figure out what leaving a thick layer of leaves on your lawn would do to it—the grass would be supressed. The soil would be very rich, as the leaves decompose over time, but you wouldn’t have any more lawn.


The Spin

So you can’t leave whole fallen leaves all over your lawn if you want to have good grass. But finely chopped up leaves are a different matter. Finely chopped leaves break down quickly and give you all the benefits of the nutrition found in the leaves without the smothering/mulch effect. The way to get finely chopped leaves? Run your lawn mower over them, right where they are. If you have a “mulch” setting on your lawnmower* this is the time to use it. You will likely need to go over them a couple times, and its best to do so when the leaves aren’t wet. Mow them down, leaving the chopped leaves on the lawn, just like you’d leave your grass clippings on the lawn  (this is considered best practice.)


One caveat, if you have a LOT of leaves, you will need to rake some of them off the lawn—even chopped up finely, a 4” layer of leaves is going to smother your lawn.


The Facts, No Spin

You don’t have to rake leaves off your lawn if you chop them up finely with your lawn mower. Unless you live in a heavily treed area, in which case, you still need to rake to get rid of the excess.


If you live in my neighbourhood, please bag them up and drop them off at my place!


*Disclosure: some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.


  1. Nathalie on November 5, 2018 at 9:38 am

    Hi Jennifer,
    This is the second year we are mowing over our leaves. Our community has been promoting mowing rather than raking. Many neighbors still have not caught on and are still raking. While we are mowing the lawn, we do get people slowing down while driving their cars looking at us with a puzzled look on their face. We do rake the leaves on our driveway which makes the kids happy. At least they still have a big pile of leaves they can jump in before we put them on our flower bed! Thanks for this post! Mowing has saved us hours of work and has saved us money from buying bags.

  2. Jennifer on November 11, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    This is great to hear, Nathalie! I love that your city is promoting leaving the leaves, and that you’ve found a way to still keep the best part of fall leaves–a pile for your kids to jump in!

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