Well, it’s November, and if your yard looks anything like mine, the leaves are starting to pile up. So, do you rake them, do you let them be, does a landscaping crew come with their leaf-blowers and haul them away? This year, I’ve seen several articles suggesting that gardeners not rake. Leaves make excellent mulch and they attract and protect all kinds of beneficial wildlife. And they’re free! Personally, as I live under two giant white oak trees, I feel the need to rake some (in fact, in Ellen Sousa’s recent blog post “Leave those leaves!” in which she advocates for not raking, she makes an exception for oak leaves). Carole Brown of Ecosystem Gardening and co-founder of Beautiful Wildlife Garden posted a good “to rake or not to rake” discussion that touches on many reasons why people do and don’t (and even should and shouldn’t) rake: “I am the Lorax, I Speak for the Leaves.”
A recent article in Fine Gardening (“Improve Your Soil by Raking Less“) provides lots of ideas about how to turn your leaves into gold. For leaves on the lawn, you can run them over with a mulching mower. Rather than smothering it, the organic matter and nutrients in the leaves will improve turf quality. You can rake leaves into garden beds to create mulch that both protects and feeds. You can even build planting beds with leaves. I highly recommend all three of the above-mentioned online articles for information and inspiration.
If you do choose to rake, think of it as an exercise opportunity rather than a burdensome chore. Who needs the gym when you’ve got leaves! Raking is one of many gardening activities that, if done for 30 minutes a day, can increase metabolic rate, reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, tone muscles, improve flexibility, and even improve cardiovascular fitness – enough to reduce the risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Raking burns approximately 375 calories per hour (for comparison, jogging burns about 430 calories per hour).
Many horticultural therapy programs include raking, both for the physical and psychological benefits. It’s something most of us have done at some point in our lives, and it often brings back fond memories (mine are a lot like these pictures, jumping into and playing in big piles of leaves).
So if you’ve got leaves, the decision is yours what to do with them. But whether you rake them up, leave them be (sorry, couldn’t resist) or something in between, try to think of them as yet another gift from the garden.
Many thanks to Allison Vallin and her lovely blog, A Tasteful Garden, for the photos.