Resist the urge to rake and bag the leaves falling on your lawn

One thing about the crappy weather we have had is the dandelions don’t look like they are going to present a second flush this year; at least ours don’t seem to be developing flowers. Fewer flowers means fewer new plants. Even better (because we are all learning to live with dandelions, right?), the lawn hasn’t really needed mowing in weeks. Hallelujah. And it is green.

Hopefully, we can go a couple of more weeks without having to mow, not that I wish for any more rain. The lower temperatures, and I suppose shortening days, slow down grass growth all on their own.

This is when the leaves are yellowing and start to fall. They can come down really fast, though it is anyone’s guess when it will all be over. The key thing is to have them off the trees least we get one of those wet, heavy snowfalls like we had last September.

I am going to hold off mowing the lawn now because I like to make one pass through our leaves and print in a nice pattern. The leaves make the lawn a better canvas and the pattern will appear whenever the lawn is bare or lightly covered with snow.

The key thing is this year no one should be bagging up any of their leaves to leave curbside. The Law of Return, which I realize I have been harping about a lot lately, mandates that what falls from those trees should remain to decay and feed the roots of those trees.

I am not talking about letting leaves accumulate just under the tree, either. All the leaves on the lawns should remain as well. OK, they don’t need to accumulate on decks, driveways and walks.

Worried your leaves are going to get too thick? Mulching them up with the mower is fine (except for the pollution if you have a gas engine), but it really isn’t necessary to mow them at all. Many a year I have been unable to do so with no problems come spring whatsoever.


What doesn’t decay this winter can be mulched up next spring. And, there is worm activity until we have hard frosts. They come up and pull down leaves into the soil in astonishing numbers. The results are fewer leaves and worm castings which happen to be a great thing for lawns.

I know many are worried leaves will smother your lawn if you don’t remove them (how we have been brainwashed and trained to rake). Yes, there is decay during the winter, but your lawn won’t die because there is plenty of air (and microbial activity) in and under those leaves. The top part of your lawn will die anyhow so it is the root and crown of the plant that you care about and they are covered by soil and not getting suffocated. A few leaves won’t do the job either.

OK, enough on leaves. Can you still plant a lawn? It is pushing it as it takes 21 days to fully germinate a seeded lawn, perhaps a bit shorter if hydroseeded. The seed you put down probably won’t fully germinate, but should finish up next spring.

Of course, now is the time to repeat the rule: Don’t fertilize your lawn. Chemicals are out because they are bad for the environment, but they might speed up some growth which you don’t want right now. Organic foods can be put down, but again, why waste your time if you deal properly with your leaves and have been mulching up grass clippings.

And, should you aerate your lawn now? Why not, especially if you have a compacted one. The microbes decaying all the tree leaves you don’t rake up will have an easier time moving into your soil.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar:

Alaska Botanical Garden: All manner of activity at The Garden. Go visit while you can and emulate the things they are doing to prepare for winter.

ABG Garlic Sale date change: Friday, Sept. 23, at 10 a.m. Online only. Order pickup begins Saturday, Sept. 24 at 10 a.m., and will continue through regular business hours. Shipping options will be available. Seed garlic is expected to sell out within that same day.

Harvest, harvest, harvest: Come on, people. If you don’t want the produce, there is surely someone who needs it. The moose can feed themselves. There are too many hungry folks to leave what you grew. Food bank? Neighbors? Place of worship. Find someone to eat your food!

House plants: Do yours need repotting? It is easier outside and that means now or never until warm spring weather.

Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti: Move to a cool location that gets only natural light.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.