Why We Rake
And do we really need to?
Growing up, my father would wake me from a fall Sunday afternoon nap with a rake in hand. There was no arguing. We had two acres of beautiful Black Walnut, Hickory, and Oak trees shading a lush green lawn. In the summer there was the cool darkness of their branches. In the spring, the green busted through and refreshed the landscape. In the winter, they were dark arms reaching to a grey sky. But in the fall, it all came tumbling down. The leaves, the walnuts, the branches, and if we were lucky, the frisbee that had been stuck up there since June.
It took hours of work to clear that yard. When we had first moved in, we found our neighbor had left a tractor attachment that collected leaves. Unfortunately, it didn’t do a very good job, and it broke after a season or two. We were in northeast Ohio at the time. The wind could bite through my thickest jacket. Gloves would get wet from the fall rains and the damp leaves, then my hands would blister and freeze as I held the wooden rake handle. At this point, it’s needless to say, but raking leaves was a punishment I found fit for a felon, and I was an innocent kid.
As I got older, I learned the art of doing the bare minimum. It wasn’t my yard, it was my parents’. I didn’t care enough if leaves rotted against the base of the trees of if the black walnuts pockmarked the yard. I would always wait, hoping my dad would hire a landscaping or yard waste removal company, but in late November as I napped during a football game, my dad would gently nudge me, rake in hand.
When I left the house my parents moved to Arizona. The first thing my dad said about the place? “No leaves and no lawn!”
I swore I would do it differently. To me, raking leaves was like making the bed. If you didn’t mind the frumpy look, no harm was done, right? Wrong. Like most twenty-somethings, I knew what was best and how to do things, and I knew that everyone else was crazy and wasting their time. I laughed at the poor suckers watering their lawns to keep them green. Let it burn, I thought, and it will come back. I was right about that. I laughed again when they spend their autumn weekends firing up leaf blowers and piling up damp leaves. Let them sit, I thought, and they will fertilize the lawn. I was very wrong about that.
When you don’t rake, the leaves destroy your lawn. They mold and push allergens into the air. Critters like moles come in droves to feast on the slimy grubs that thrive in the mushy, leafy lawn. And if you don’t pick up all the wet leaves when the spring arrives, you will forever ruin your yard.
As it turns out, and much to my dismay, everyone is not crazy. In order to have a decent looking lawn, in order to avoid moldy wet messes all over your yard, and in order to keep moles from turning your lawn into an etch a sketch of trails and holes, you have to put in the work in the fall. You have to remove your yard waste.
You do NOT have to rake! My parents are now back in Ohio. But my dad doesn’t have me to do the raking with him, so he hires pros. They get it done in one day late in the fall as he watches football and naps under his large green wool blanket.
Leaf blowers have come a long way from the ineffective and underpowered models of a couple decades ago. If you live in a climate where the leaves are dry at some point in the fall, then blowing them instead of raking is real pleasure. You do have to focus extra on being polite and not blowing leaves into the street or a neighbor’s yard, tempting as that may be.
I like the new electric models. They are battery powered, so I don’t have to fuss with gas, and they are much quieter. They get the job done fine in our Portland, Oregon home, so they should work just about anywhere.
Don’t do it twice. People are a little crazy. They get out there and rake in September, October, November. If you have a heavy load of leaves and yard debris, then you might need to do an early and a late fall clearing. But don’t go crazy. I get it done by doing it just once, after the leaves have all fallen. I rake, and then I remove all the yard waste like branches and brush.
I don’t do it on a weekend! I have enough days where I need to get some exercise and outside time after work, so I wait until the perfect weekday evening and I spend an hour or two before I lose the light, raking and clearing.
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