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Landscaping in Northern Virginia: Rake or Mulch for a Better Lawn?

The beauty of fall brings with it all those colorful leaves. The downside is that thick layers of leaves deprive lawns of much-needed sunlight and foster disease on even the healthiest of lawns. Raking and/or mulching leaves throughout the fall season are an important part of good lawn maintenance. And you get to decide what’s best – raking, mulching or both – when it comes to the care of the landscaping at your Northern Virginia home.

Let’s begin:

Step 1: Decide what to rake and what to mulch. A thick layer of leaves around trees and beneath shrubs and bushes will protect their root systems over winter. (Remember to keep leaves a couple of inches away from the actual tree trunks.) Cover perennial flower beds with a layer of mulched leaves to enhance the nutrient level of the soil and help plants weather the frigid temperatures.

Step 2: Use a push mower to chop leaves into dime-size pieces. Mulched leaves can be gathered, composted or, more easily, left on the lawn as organic matter. Up to 18 inches of dry leaves can be mulched with any standard rotary mower, though it may take several passes to break the leaves down. Mow over the leaves multiple times until a good half-inch of grass is peeping up from beneath the mulched leaves. Please note that we don’t recommend waiting until the leaves are 18” or more to begin the mulching with your mower. Mowing to mulch is better done early and often.

Step 3: If mulching is not an option, traditional raking of leaves is far more effective for the average home owner than attempting the job with a blower or leaf vacuum. Move your feet, not your arms, when you rake. Pull the leaves along with you as you walk backward. Avoid back problems by not twisting the trunk of your body as you rake. Switch hand positions frequently to avoid uneven stress to arms and either side of your body. Wear gloves to avoid blisters and splinters.

Step 4: Rake excess leaves onto a tarp or old bed sheet to facilitate the bagging process. Use plastic leaf scoops and a large leaf funnel to help direct the leaves into paper leaf bags. If your town (like Vienna VA) allows it, sweep the leaves into large piles by the road for easy pick up by the town.

Step 5: Consider composting the leaves rather than bagging them. Pile leaves into 3-foot-square piles about 6 inches deep. Sprinkle the piles with dirt and a nitrogen-rich material, such as grass clippings, or other compost ingredients. Add a few more layers of leaves, soil and nitrogen until each pile is about 3 feet deep. Sprinkle with water and turn the piles a few times during the fall and mild days of winter. (We recommend turning the piles to keep small animals from setting up homes in your compost piles.) And voila! When spring comes you should have the perfect soil amendment for your garden.

For more landscaping tips, consult Northern Virginia's Lost Creek Landscapes, providing a full suite of landscaping services throughout the Northern Virginia region. Lost Creek Landscapes is fully licensed and insured throughout Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC and specializes in all aspects of landscape and masonry services, as well as native trees, shrubs, and plantings that thrive in the Northern Virginia area.