Alaska News

Jeff Lowenfels: Let the 'no rake' movement begin!

Last week I noted those who simply mulch up this fall's leaves are on their way to never having to fertilize their lawns again. "Whoa!" some of you said. "No more lawn fertilizers? Come on, Jeff!"

I stand by the statement. Let the "no rake" movement begin!

I realize that these are shaky times to be writing about lawns (sorry, after a 6.2, I can't help myself). It might snow in between the time I submit this column and when it's published. (I've been there.) If it does snow, half of Southcentral and all of the Interior will blame me for it.

Anyhow, assuming it hasn't snowed, go out and look at your lawn right now. Do it!

Back? I am betting that yours is a green lawn. Not just a green lawn but a pretty, golf-course-quality green lawn, just like you want it to be when the snow melts in the spring. How did that happen?

Oh, sure, for many of you it is a result of actually spending a lot of money and time laying down fertilizers, but for a growing number of Alaskans, the green lawn happened because the lawn clippings were not collected and fall leaves were mulched up and left to decay. This is how it was done in the old days, before commercials.

I grew up on an eight-acre lawn and those of you who remember my earliest columns know that my father's obsession for a weed-free, deep green lawn was passed on to me. His lawn was the envy of a very, very lawn-centric East Coast bedroom community where lawns were a life-and-death thing. Sometimes, however, a lawn is too big to fertilize with MiracleGro. How did the green happen? When you have acres of lawn, picking up the clippings is not an option, even with three sons. And, lo and behold, the soil food web did its thing.


Our own front lawn in Anchorage has not had fertilizer since we moved in and we made the decision to let the soil food web work on our behalf. It's a couple of acres and grass clippings and leaves have been mulched in place every year for the past couple of decades. That is all we do for fertilizer.

Every rain, the worms come out and take down organic matter, leaving tiny hills of nutrient-rich castings in its place. These work their way into the root area, where the microbes and other soil animals are doing their things. It's a lawn that is so nice it has been featured in John Deere's lawn magazine, not because of me but because of the soil food web I let live there.

Heck, we don't even water the front lawn. And the back lawn (admittedly fed soybean meal a few years back and bit of molasses, too) only got a week's worth of nightly waterings during the early spring when it looked dead. It's as green as they come now.

You gotta love it. And you have to love the results: deep, healthy green lawns that don't grow "fertilizer-fast" as do those fed heavy doses of nitrogen.

All of this should make plenty of sense. After all, when was the last time you fertilized your trees or your bushes? Again, even though I am not a betting man, I wager you probably never have. It's their own leaves that provide the nutrient base for the soil food web around their roots that feeds them, not you.

We feed lawns because we have been led to believe that we have to and, worse, that it must be done every year and often several times. It's the all-American thing to do, next to playing football (don't get me started).

We are bombarded by the most sophisticated advertising campaigns ever, using more subliminal messages than a war propaganda movie: It is no wonder you might think me crazy when I proclaim mulching up this fall's leaves is the way to end expensive lawn fertilizer purchases. Trust me on this.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar for the week of Oct. 3

Classes at Alaska Botanical Garden: Saturday, Oct. 4 - "Worm Bins, Compost Bins and Has-Beens" with Ellen Vande Visse, 2-4 p.m. See

Winter: What are you waiting for? Get things done.

Spring-flowering bulbs: Still plenty around town. Most are on sale, too.

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.