By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
I grew up in a town on Long Island where leaves left on a lawn by Thanksgiving was tantamount to placing a rusting Camaro on blocks in front of the house.
This community is called Greenlawn – really – and I grew up believing fallen leaves only existed to be raked by myself and my five equally unwilling siblings.
But here, in New England, I realize that not everyone rakes their leaves. And contrary to my mother's warning, their lawns are not all dead.
|To rake or not, that is the question (Globe photo)|
So, today, as I gaze out at the deep carpet of maple leaves on my backyard lawn, I am turning to some experts to help me decide if my Saturday will be spent bent over and blistered.
Bruce Butterfield, research director for the National Gardening Association says many people rake because they believe a heavy covering of leaves could kill their lawn in the fall if it is still growing. But he said most lawns are going dormant in the fall anyway as temperatures drop and daylight fades, so that is not a big issue. He said he many leaves also tend to decompose by the spring.
Still, to avoid a too-heavy, wet coat of leaves he doesn’t rake: He mows. At the very time the leaves are super crunchy he runs the mower until they become about the size of a quarter. That way, Butterfield says, the leaves can stay on the ground and decompose more quickly to allow nutrients to seep into the soil.
Butterfield says he sees suburbanites rake often – and thinks it’s good for them to get the exercise,
but “I like to mimic what I see happens in forest and nature. The landfills don’t want the leaves, you can’t burn them anymore and you create so much work for yourself when you can deal with them in place.”
Yet others say raking leaves really depends on your goals. Some people like the look of only grass on their lawn. Some say it’s their experience a heavy mat of leaves will create bare patches if sunlight can’t get through by spring. And others, are well, just lazy: These are the people who say they are going to let Mother Nature take care of the lawn.
“If you are trying to maintain a lawn, the leaves can mat up and basically cover it and could (kill off portions)” said John O’Keefe, Fisher Museum museum coordinator for Harvard Forest in Petersham. “On the other hand, if you are not trying to maintain a lawn but a yard, the leaves provide nutrients.”
It also can depend on the type of leaves. Oak and beech tree leaves take far longer to decompose than maples, ash and birch leaves. And if it’s not grass you are worried about but a garden, leaves may provide a perfect warm blanket until spring.
Hmm, I don’t have an answer yet. But I’m leaning toward O’Keefe’s idea about redefining my lawn as a yard.
Mother Nature put the leaves there.
And maybe I’ll just wait until she takes them away.