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Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

12 Rules of Raking

1. Always rake with the wind, and rake downhill whenever possible.

2. Share the wealth with your lawn. When the first leaves alight on a still-green lawn, mulch-mow to return the leaves and grass clippings to the soil. In addition to helping your lawn, it's easier to rake turf areas that have been smoothed over by a good mowing.

3. Use your mower to shred leaves to use as mulch or in compost. Set aside whole leaves in a separate pile, and deal with them later when you have more time.

4. Mix leaf species. Leaf-eating microorganisms that get started on thin maple or dogwood leaves will move on to thicker oak leaves as the mixture decomposes.

5. Don’t pick up leaves unless you must. Instead, collect leaves in a tarp or an old sheet, pick up the corners, and carry or drag the bundle to your piles.

6. Match your rake to your leaves, and to your body. At stores, try rakes on for size before you buy. Rakes with metal tines last longer than plastic ones, but plastic tines may be lighter.

7. Minimize how far you move your leaves. Rake them directly onto nearby beds that won’t be worked until spring. Use shredded leaves as mulch beneath foundation shrubs. Maintain leaf piles in different parts of your yard to reduce how far you must drag or carry tarps full of leaves.

8. Once you have your leaves in piles, stomp through them to keep the leaves from blowing away. If you are using a pen or other enclosure, leave it open on one side until you’re through collecting leaves. That way, you can rake or dump right into the pile without lifting your loads over the sides of the bin, and your pile will be accessible for walk-in stomping.

9. Wear gloves to prevent blisters. Cloth gloves are comfy, but any glove that protects your skin from rubbing on the rake handle will suffice.

10. Wear a dust mask when shredding leaves with your mower, especially if you have allergies or are easily irritated by dust.

11. Watch the noise. When you’re not in the mood to mess with your mower, blower, or other noisemaker, give in to the quiet. Rake. 

12. Work a little at a time, and stop when you’ve had enough. Leaf season will last for several weeks, so you have plenty of time to let yourself enjoy the work.

Do you have other tips to help fellow Mother Earth readers this leaf season? Please post them in the Comments section below.

Adapted from The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, by Barbara Pleasant and Deb Martin. Photo by Barbara Pleasant

Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on .

j.p. becker
11/14/2008 8:28:54 PM

I prefer to rake leaves instead of mechanical means. A fine fall day spent raking is true therupy for a weary mind and good wholsome, low impact exercise. For raking on lawn, a good quality split cane rake is my choice,(beware when buying one, I've seen some that wouldn't last one season),when working on hard surfaces such as paved or gravel, metal tines are best. If you have shrubs,a small rake designed for tight spaces comes in handy. If you enjoy growing your own food , as we do , then raking leaves becomes another form of harvest. The harvest of future organic matter to richin the soil in your food plots and gardens. J P Becker, Swiss House Farm , Riverton CT

bettina sparrowe_1
11/7/2008 10:09:49 AM

To make raking easier be sure to mow the grass first.

lori s
10/29/2008 6:52:06 PM

We used to live on a property with massive amounts of leaves to pick up in the fall. The whole family would rake leaves onto tarps and slide them into the chicken run. The chickens would scratch and break down the leaves, add a little fertilizer of their own, and by the next spring I had wonderful mulch and compost. Kinda miss those trees now...

james sharber
10/29/2008 1:24:30 PM

I've tried all of the leaf raking/elliminating tricks and still find the job a downer in the fall. I do have almost a closed canopy of big oaks, hickories and tulip trees which get bigger every year and hence drop more leaves. One strategy that is running slowy out is to let parts of the landscape revert back to natural cover. I can do that where I am but understand it's probably not an option for everyone. There is this problem too, in high mast production years you have a yard covered with acorns and nuts far too plentiful to be gleaned by wildlife. Next job, mowing down all the seedlings in 2009.

10/29/2008 12:42:26 PM

I keep a totally organic lawn and when I mow over the leaves and grass I take a few of the bags to my chicken run and dump them there. They love to scratch and play in the leaves and eat any bugs or seeds hidding there. They can devour 2-3 bags of greens in less than a week. It keeps them busy and cuts down of feed cost, I ony have 5 hens, the rest I just toss where needed.