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Environment

To rake, or to mulch? That is the question

WATCH ABOVE: Many people procrastinate on the their yard work this time of year, and studies show the lazy way of dealing with those leaves may just be the best. Margeaux Morin reports.

EDMONTON – Large trees with massive canopies line the streets of Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods. Raking all those leaves takes time, bags and determination to finish the task.

“You start off raking, everything is looking good and either the wind picks up, or the kids are out playing in the leaves,” said Nathan VanDriel, from his west Edmonton yard, “and all of a sudden your pile that was nice and contained is all of a sudden covering three quarters of your lawn and you have to start from scratch.”

Lindon vanDriel plays in the piles of leaves in her backyard.
Lindon vanDriel plays in the piles of leaves in her backyard.

He admits that while it’s not impossible, with a 16-month-old daughter and other jobs around the house, his raking was left half done.

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“It’s not the most glamorous task that’s for sure.”

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The sound of a lawn mower evokes memories of warm summer days – but at the end of October, it can also evoke visions of a lusher, weed-free lawn.

Researchers at Michigan State University think that mulching your leaves and leaving them on your lawn could do just that.

Instead of raking and bagging, they suggest running your lawn mower without the grass trap over a moderately leaf-covered lawn. Then, apply a nitrogen-based fertilizer to that area before the snow falls.

Instead of raking, you can try running the lawn mower (without the grass trap) over fallen leaves to mulch them up.
Instead of raking, you can try running the lawn mower (without the grass trap) over fallen leaves to mulch them up.

In their research, the MSU experts found that after one year, all of the patchy areas on their lawns had filled in. After three years, there was a 100 per cent reduction in weeds.

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Jim Hole at Hole’s Greenhouses in St. Albert is a proponent of traditional composting, and fall time leaf mulching.

“Think about every piece of organic material in your yard as a resource.”

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After mulching, “what you’re left with is a fairly nutrient rich leaf material that will offset the amount of fertilizer that you need to apply in the spring and summer,” he explained.

Though he does admit that not everyone likes the way it looks.

“It’s not as neat and clean as it is when you rake up all the leaves.”

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“So you have to shift your thinking on that,” Hole continued. “You don’t want to put down too thick of a layer, but a nice thin layer, maybe a couple centimetres or so, of that chopped up material is the way to go.”

Back at the VanDriel residence, they’re not too concerned with the aesthetics, so they’re giving it a try.

“I wouldn’t judge somebody if they had just mulched their leaves and left them in place.”

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The only opponent is little Lindon, who had a fit of tears and screamed “no piles!” upon hearing there would be no more mounds of leaves.

“Yeah, a little less fun for the kids, there’s no big pile of leaves any more,” laughed VanDriel.

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