Gardening

As the raking debate rages on, here are the reasons to leave the leaves on your lawn this winter

leaves, september, fall, sun, sunshine, south addition

Wow! Reactions to last week’s column about leaving leaves on the ground ran the spectrum. Most were pleased with the concept of not raking, but a few readers had fits. They insisted I was going to be responsible for killing off all of Alaska’s lawns … all of them. One disgruntled reader insisted I was an ignorant fool and another demanded I do some Google research before showing off my ignorance.

I never expect such reactions. Readers are certainly encouraged to disagree with me, especially if they have reason to think I am misleading yardeners. But do any of you think I am out to do harm? Wow.

Let me be clear on this. First and perhaps foremost, when it comes to leaves, I have 73 years of experience. I grew up on 8 acres filled with huge trees. Friends in my youth thought I lived on an 8-acre leaf farm. Our family had dozens of rakes, an unbelievable mulching mower attachment and a father who insisted on clearing the yard of all fall leaves, each and every single one of them.

Our fall cleanup involved all of the neighborhood’s kids we could sucker into helping us. It took several weekends and resulted in the biggest pile of jump into-able leaves — that turned into the best compost replete with fantastic numbers of bait worms. Being able to jump into that huge pile was the reward for helping.

Then Dad discovered the orchard did much better when he let us skip cleaning that area of the yard. Not only did we have dozens and dozens of apple trees, but the grass was left high under them. What a relief not to have to rake up leaves with yellow jacket-filled, rotting apples. He wasn’t ready to experiment on his 4-acre lawn, but I once I got my own, I was.

Next, I’ve been writing this column for a long, long time. I make it my job to check out yards all over town and all the time. I have to tell you that over 45 years I cannot remember seeing a dead lawn here. Even the lawns which suffer through ice-rink winters come though the experience. Even the yard with the huge, female Great Danes survived. Trust me: your leaves can’t even come close to competing with them in harming the grass.

One reader suggested I spend a bit of time Googling leaving leaves on the lawn. I do spend a lot of time researching the internet for these columns. As a matter of fact, one of the things I am spending time studying right now is how to get rid of an entire lawn. This is because lawnless yards are the newest yardening trend and I am trying to figure out how to adopt the idea to our well-established lawn-filled yards. I just want to point out that smoothing lawns with leaves is not ever mentioned — nor is flooding lawns for ice rinks or having a few Great Danes.

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And last, but not least, please believe me: I don’t tell you to try things I have not tried myself. I am not that kind of guy. As noted last week, there has been many a fall season when I couldn’t get to the chore of raking all the yard’s leaves and I noticed there was no detriment to my precious lawns come the following spring. Yes, I am still amazed when spring finally arrives and the leaves are gone. However, I am even more amazed at how much of my life was spent raking leaves when I not only didn’t have to, I actually shouldn’t have. And now I have people complaining when I tell them they don’t have to continue the practice.

The bottom line is I am trying to save Alaskans from a lot of unnecessary and possibly damaging work here. If you are still worried you have too many leaves to disappear over the winter, then mulch them up over the course of our short fall so they will decay faster which should lessen your fears of smothering the grass. Or you could rake them up and make a giant compost pile like my Dad’s.

So, of course, you can rake your leaves if you want. There is no law about needlessly filling the landfill with compostable leaves that really should be feeding the microbes in your yard. Maybe, however, there should be.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar:

Alaska Botanical Garden: Learn how to make a haunted fairy garden display for a fall dinner table decoration: 5:30-7 p.m., Oct. 10. How to grow a mushroom kit 5-7 p.m. on Oct. 12. You need to register for both. Other events at www.alaskabg.org.

Houseplants: Keep an eye on yours. Look for aphids that hitchhiked inside. Neem oil products will control the problem.

Frost: Keep an eye on the weather, folks. Hopefully we can go a lot longer without one, but you never know when it will hit.

Jeff Lowenfels | Alaska gardening and growing

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’s authored several books on organic gardening, and his latest book, "Teaming With Bacteria," is available on Amazon. Reach him at jefflowenfels@gmail.com.

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