Is it Better to Rake or Mulch Your Leaves?

By TruGreen November 4, 2020
Raked leaves in bags

Is it Better to Rake or Mulch Your Leaves?

Can you smell that crisp autumn air? As breezes of pumpkin spice fill our nostrils, the magic of fall transforms our green trees into colorful masterpieces. But after the colors fade, the leaves fall, and you’re left with a mess of leaves on your lawn. What to do now? Tradition tells us to rake our leaves, jump in the pile, then bag them up and get them out. Many homeowners prefer bagging grass and leaf clippings after mowing for a cleaner end result. However, there are many benefits to using these leaves for mulch instead. Mulch is simply adding a layer of materials to areas where you have soil. You often see mulch in garden beds or embedded into lawns. This can be wood chips, grass clippings, or in the autumn, your raked-up leaves. To help you get started, we’re answering your most common questions about mulching. 

Beautiful green lawn and landscaping

Will Mulching Cause Thatch Build-Up?

No, mulching with grass clippings and leaves do not cause thatch build-up. Thatch is the layer of loose organic matter between the grass and the soil. This can be a combination of dead, overgrown or exposed roots and grass blades. Thatch is something that naturally builds up over time, especially from underneath the lawn’s surface. Mulch, on the other hand, is added to the top of the lawn. Using grass clippings or raked leaves is the perfect way to mulch and avoid thatch build-up. Because these clippings are mostly water, they decompose relatively quickly, delivering nutrients, rather than building up thatch.

Pro Tip: Wait until the leaves are dry before raking them up. Wet leaves can be difficult to manage.

Hand spreading mulch in garden

Does Mulching Nourish Your Lawn?

In short, yes, mulching nourishes your lawn. It is extremely valuable to your lawn care regimen and provides numerous nutrients to the soil. Essentially, mulching returns about 25% of your lawn’s yearly nutritional needs. Since your lawn obtains very similar nutrients from mulching as it does from fertilizer treatments, mulching can help you cut back on fertilizing throughout the year.

In addition to nourishing your lawn, mulching is also extremely time-saving and cost-effective. Dealing with lawn clippings can often be a pain and a very extensive process. Mowing, sorting lawn clippings into bags, having to dispose and tending to the grass collection bag over and over again takes a lot of time out of your day[CJ1] . Returning clippings to the lawn also saves valuable landfill space. Cutting that process in half and providing your lawn with added nutrients sounds like a win-win to us! Let us be your guide on how to become an expert mulcher.

How Do I Mulch My Lawn?

In just a few steps, you can save both time and money by learning how to correctly mulch your lawn. It is important to not get rid of healthy grass, but rather target the dead areas to bring them back to life. All you will need to find success is a mulching mower or a mulching kit for your mower and a rake.

  1. Mow - Before taking the initial pass at your lawn, setting your mower to the correct height is crucial. You should aim for a mower height that removes roughly one-third off the top of the grass.
  2. Refine - Once you have cut your grass down once, head back to where you started and grind the clippings a second time to refine their size even further.
  3. Hydrate - If possible, water your lawn immediately after covering with mulch to add weight to the clippings and to help them settle more quickly. Getting grass clippings as small as possible will ensure that the pieces break down into the lawn faster.

Your grass clippings could also be used as mulch in flower beds or added to compost. Regardless of how you decide to use them, it is never a bad idea to keep your lawn clippings around!

When Should I Rake My Grass?

After an intense winter, your lawn is probably looking less than ideal. In order to get it back up to par, raking your grass is definitely something to consider in order. This both encourages healthy growth and prevents new dead areas from forming. Knowing the correct time to rake any brown or matted spots can ensure that you have a full, green lawn for the warmer months ahead. For the healthiest lawn, the best time to rake is typically in mid-February, or when you notice your lawn turning green again. This exact timeframe may vary by your location and the climate you are in. By doing it around this general time, you can clearly see and target the areas that are unhealthy. If you choose to rake earlier in the year, it is difficult to know what areas are actually dead, since it’s likely that all grass, both healthy and unhealthy, is still brown.

Whether you’ve decided to mulch your lawn or take the old-school approach and rake it, TruGreen PhD-certified specialists can provide guidance and services backed by our Healthy Lawn Guarantee®.


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