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To Rake, Or Not, This Spring?

Those leaves from last fall need to come off the lawn, but be careful not to rake too vigorously.

Those leaves from last fall need to come off the lawn, but be careful not to rake too vigorously.

In the northern half of the nation, the urge to get outside and work in the yard in March is primal. We’ve been caged inside for several months already and the thought of sweeping, digging, pulling and raking actually seems fun, right?

I’m here to tell you to relax just a bit, at least when it comes to raking the lawn to be rid of any of that seemingly brown (maybe, or maybe not, dead) grass that passes for a lawn.

Too much raking right now can actually stir up the weed seeds, especially the crabgrass, and create ideal conditions for excess weed germination. Rather your goal should be to get the grass as tall as possible as fast as possible so that the grass shades out those weed seeds that need light to germinate.

So if you do rake:

1) Rake lightly, just to remove surface leaves, snow mould and other debris. Try not to scarify the soil. Hand pick any twigs, branches or other larger debris.
2) If you do scarify the soil, or you have discernibly bare areas on the lawn, be sure to spread grass seed immediately after raking and then cover the newly seeded area with a thin layer of compost. The grass seed will germinate in the compost, but the crabgrass will not — as long as the layer is thick enough to block all light from hitting the crabgrass seeds.
3) Use a plastic leaf rake rather than a bamboo or thin metal rake. The plastic rake is less likely to scarify the soil.

In summary:
A lot of this is a judgement call. If the lawn emerges from the winter a total mess, with a lot of obviously ugly areas of thatch or dead grass, then go ahead and rake vigorously. Just be sure to overseed the area. And if you have a lot of leaves left over from last fall, you do need to get those off the lawn sooner than later. Just learn to “skim” the top of the soil with a nice, light plastic rake.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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