Raking. Why do we perform this detestable seasonal chore year after year?
It’s why we mow the lawn. Try not mowing it for a few weeks and see what happens. Anonymous notes appear in your mailbox. Neighbors bash you on the listserv. Your HOA fines you for being a neglectful degenerate.
And for what? Allowing your microcosm free rein?
Why does man feel he has to harness nature, to conquer it? Why should our shrubbery unceremoniously suffer the degradation of being assaulted with automatic hedge clippers until it fits our impression of what shrubbery should look like?
Because our neighbors do it, and we don’t want to rock the boat. We want to go along to get along. This isn’t Takoma Park. This is D.C. Wing tips. Pumps. Dark suits. Haircuts.
So you’ve gotta do it. You’ve gotta get rid of those leaves. What’s the easiest way? Pay a kid to do it? Good luck. Finding a young person to do manual labor in exchange for money these days is rare. They’re all selling their old shoes on eBay, making a killing and laughing at us for going to work every day.
Leaves Aren’t the Enemy
The thing is, leaves can be good for your yard. They can provide a toasty warm covering for tulip and daffodil bulbs. They can hold down weed growth in dormant flower and vegetable garden beds. They can help start a bonfire to gather around and toast marshmallows. Add a mug of cider or mulled wine, and you have the makings of a new show on PBS.
Speaking of PBS, Bob Vila (who was unceremoniously fired from his PBS show “This Old House” after he refused to give up his side job as pitchman for a number of home-repair products), says you shouldn’t rake your lawn.
Of course he doesn’t want you to just allow all the leaves to pile up like a ’70s shag carpet, either. Once it rains on a pile of neglected leaves, you can pretty much kiss your grass goodbye. The heavy, wet castoffs crush the life out of your delicate blades of grass, and the moisture grows mold and spreads fungus.
So if you don’t rake and you don’t leave them there, what do you do?
Simple: You mulch them.
Mulch is the Elixir of Leaves
Mulching is great for the grass for a number of reasons. First, it saves you, the homeowner, a ton of time and money not raking up leaves and stuffing them into special bags that you have to pay for instead of using ones you already have.
Second, the mulched leaves act as a fertilizer for your grass. Instead of standing in the gardening aisle at Home Depot, puzzling over all the bags with infinite varying ratios of chemicals (Should I get 15-0-15? 34-0-4? 12-4-8? Hike!), you can use 0-0-0 — your own personal supply of fertilizer, delivered straight to your door by Mother Nature.
The bits of leaves your lawnmower grinds up do more than fertilize though. They fall between the blades of grass and help keep down weeds like dandelions and crabgrass. They’re also good for worms. As anyone who composts knows (or anyone who is taking the SAT this year, over and over), leaves are to worms like Oreos are to people. This means worms love leaves. But we are not just out here to please the worms.
The benefit the gardener gets is that the leaves pass through the worms, and what comes out the other end is a nutrient-rich substance that’s great for your soil. (Sorry, this doesn’t work with the Oreos. Anything that comes out of a homeowner’s other end should not go on the lawn.)
So save yourself time, money and energy, and give your lawn some regular passes with your mower instead of raking your leaves. The grass (and the worms) will thank you.