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MASTER GARDENER: To rake or not to rake, that is the question

As summer wraps up, you may think your lawn care duties are done until after winter, however, fall is actually the ideal season to prepare your lawn for the months ahead. Taking the time to clean up your yard this fall will reward you with a greener lawn come springtime. Fall yard work is all about helping your lawn finish strong so that it can withstand the bitter temperatures ahead.

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Did you know that in the United States, 40 million acres of land are devoted to lawns and that we spend $30 billion each year on lawn care? Lawns are the single largest irrigated crop we grow. Ninety million pounds of fertilizer and 78 million pounds of pesticides are put on our lawns each year.

As summer wraps up, you may think your lawn care duties are done until after winter, however, fall is actually the ideal season to prepare your lawn for the months ahead.

Taking the time to clean up your yard this fall will reward you with a greener lawn come springtime. Fall yard work is all about helping your lawn finish strong so that it can withstand the bitter temperatures ahead.

Fall’s cooler temperatures and morning dew provide the perfect setting to fertilize your lawn and let grass regain its strength after the summer heat.

Once the season draws to a close and the temperature begins to drop, you should set your mower’s blades to their lowest setting for the last two cuts of the season. This will allow more sunlight to reach the crown of the grass and help the soil dry out faster in the spring.

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To rake or not to rake in the fall may depend upon your personal outlook. The benefits of raking are it will eliminate thatch build-up, you will get plenty of exercise and fresh air, and it will give your lawn that nice, neat look.

The benefits of not raking are that it helps the environment more than your muscles. By allowing some of the leaves to remain on the lawn, nutrients are naturally added to the soil and weed growth is suppressed.

The leaves provide shelter for many bugs and insects that are pollinators or that provide food for many birds returning in the spring.

You can easily mulch leaves with your lawn mower, making them break down faster which will benefit the soil more readily. If you have just a few leaves, such as 20% of the lawn covered, you can just ignore them.

They will blow around, settle in and break down on their own. If you have a moderate amount of leaves, such as 50% coverage, simply run your lawn mower over them to chop them into smaller pieces so they can settle between the grass blades to decompose over time and release nutrients to your lawn.

If you have a thick layer of leaves, where you can barely see any signs of grass beneath them, then it’s best if you remove some of the leaves to prevent matting and smothering of the grass.

Remove at least half of them and mow the rest up and leave them on the lawn. A downside of not doing any raking is that excessive leaf matter on your lawn can smother the grass and promote snow mold diseases in the spring.

It can also create a haven for pests like mice and voles. If you decide to rake and bag leaves for disposal, use compostable bags. Or you can compost the leaves for adding organic matter to your garden.

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Whichever way you decide to deal with your fall leaves, don’t forget to rake up a big pile to jump and play in.

This is the last column of the season, but gardening information can be found year-round by clicking on "Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website, www.extension.umn.edu, or by visiting our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Beltramicountymastergardeners.

Local Master Gardeners will respond to questions via voicemail. Call (218) 444-7916 and leave your name, number and question.

Related Topics: GARDENINGHOME AND GARDEN
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