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Why Rake Leaves? Why Mow Lawns?

  1. So it looks neat & tidy
  2. So your lawn can get the sunlight it needs to grow more
  3. Because everybody else is doing it

Brett Watts hit the nail on the head when he said “raking leaves is dumb, and you are even dumber for doing it”. He went on to give several reasons it’s dumb, which I’ll paraphrase here: Reasons Not To Rake Leaves:1. You need to buy rakes (which probably won’t biodegrade) 2. You need to buy bags (which may or may not biodegrade) 3. The “leaf pickup” trucks pollute the environment 4. Leaves left on the ground naturally decompose & fertilize your lawn & flower beds, so you don’t need to buy & spread chemical fertilizers and compost (which is partially made from decomposed leaves). 5. Trees drop their leaves in the expectation that they’ll be re-absorbed by the soil near their roots, so that the tree can re-absorb those nutrients again in the sprint. By removing your leaves, you are stopping the cycle, and robbing your soil of the nutrients it gave the tree. 6. If you were really raking to give your lawn more sun, shouldn’t you also shovel the snow off your lawn to give it more sun?

[caption id=”attachment_898” align=”aligncenter” width=”350” caption=”Cuyahogan Leaves”]Cuyahogan Leaves[/caption] The only functional reason to rake leaves appears to be providing your lawn with the sunlight it needs to grow, which brings me to my next question: Why do people mow their lawns?After googling, I found the answer is twofold: 1. So it looks neat & tidy 2. Because everybody else is doing it

Richard Goerwitz says “Jesus doesn’t care if you don’t mow. In fact, quite the opposite: He’d rather you gave up materialistic attachments and ornaments like your lawn (Matthew 19:21, Luke 16:13; see also Ecclesiastes 2:4-11, 1 Peter 3:3)”. He went on to give several reasons not to mow, which I’ll paraphrase here: Reasons Not To Mow Lawns:1. Mowers are loud and can damage hearing 2. Mowers are dangerous 3. Mowers put out lots of emissions (far more per gallon than your catalytic-converter-outfitted car) 4. Unmowed lawns give kids more padding to fall on when they play 5. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some people prefer non-uniformity, or random shagginess. 6. The mowed lawn only “looks good” because it sends a culturally relative signal about the owner, not because it’s actually better that way. It shows that the owner is getting the job done; that he or she is a responsible suburban citizen; that he or she has enough extra time or money to take care of business and keep the place “neat”. Conversely, an un-mowed lawn is seen as a sign of unfitness, unability to cope, or as a cry for help.

Wow. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Michael Pollan of the New York Times had a few more interesting tidbits about lawn mowing. These are from his article “Why Mow? The Case Against Lawns”. It can be expensive. The Lawn Institute of America (i’m not kidding) says “lawn cultivation is a $30 billion a year industry”. It can be socially coercive. Perhaps you only mow out of a sense of civic duty. Perhaps you don’t want to be shunned by your community. He says the traditional stance is that “you should want your lawn NOT to stand out.” Frank J Scott, one of the original proponents of the great American lawn, said “With our open-faced front lawns we declare our like-mindedness to our neighbors”. But isn’t that just being a conformist? Isn’t that what we teach our children NOT to do? Don’t we preach “thinking for yourself”? I don’t want to be part of that. I like how nature looks when it’s left to its own devices. I enjoy “wildness” and the purity. I don’t want to dominate nature, I want to be part of it. Michael Pollan was on the same page as me when he said “Lawns, I am convinced, are a symptom of, and a metaphor for, our skewed relationship to the land. They teach us that, with the help of petrochemicals and technology, we can bend nature to our will. Lawns stoke our hubris with regard to the land. What is the alternative? To turn them into gardens. Whereas lawn care depends on overcoming local conditions, gardening depends on taking advantage of them.” So, if you really must have a socially acceptable “aesthetic”, then I suggest building a backyard habitat, or landscaping yourself out of a lawn by filling the yard with wild grasses, mulch, trees, bushes, trellisses, and a garden. Adopt a permacultural philosophy! Permaculture is an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more. It’s all about being part of the environment, and using its strengths instead of trying to dominate it. If you really do like raking & mowing, and how it makes your yard look, be my guest, but I’ve got better things to do, like reading, sleeping, and going poo.

Comments from my old blog:

Carl said: If I don’t mow my yard I get millions of mosquitoes that live and breed in the tall grass. I don’t care to contract West Nile Virus or any other disease related to mosquito bites.

My town does not have an ordinance about tall grass. When I let mine grow or when my neighbors let theirs grow we get snakes hiding in the grass. I don’t mind snakes but I do mind Copperheads and Rattlesnakes. They have a way of getting inside my house and I have killed them inside my home. They were there because I let my grass grow too high. They also like hiding under leaves.

This year I have mowed my yard more than I ever have. I enjoy mowing it even though I am disabled with arthritis. I enjoy stepping out in the yard in the evening without fear of stepping on a snake or being ran back inside by a cloud of mosquitoes. at 2009-11-13 22:42:25

Vlad said: oh, another annoying thing is the evergreen grass in North America and that you can buy grass just like a Persian carpet.

in fact… the “Canada Green” brand is extremely popular in Russia now where people are also jumping on the bandwagon of having perfect green lawns that never fade throughout the year. at 2009-10-28 13:14:29

UC said: But Derek, where do you play Cricket if you dont mow the lawn.

(great post) at 2009-10-28 06:44:23

rebecca said: If you read my comment you will see that in a way you can fight city hall, just do it when absolutely necessary, like i said about 3 times a year. you would be amazed at the wildlife i get when it grows. wild turkeys, deer, ducks etc. when it is cut i get the swallows and other birds that go after the bugs while cutting. at 2009-10-30 04:01:15

jeff smith said: I cut the grass because local ordinance requires it. The government says cut it or we will cut it for you and then ticket you and charge you for the service; put a lien on your house if need be. You can’t fight city hall. at 2009-10-29 15:10:35

Aaron said: I must say, I live in a suburb, and both agree and disagree with your position. My reasons follow.

  1. I cut my lawn once every two weeks or so. My reasons for cutting the lawn are threefold. I can drink beer whilst I trim my property; when I cut the lawn, I also chop up all the dog poop, so I dont have to pick it up; I do like the way it looks.
  2. I only rake leaves in the front yard so as to make the neighbors happy, and Iuse the rakings to mulch my garden in the backyard…the latter reason being the dominant one. I really don’t care if my neighbors have to look at fallen leaves.
  3. I must say that your rationalizations resonate with more apathy than conviction. I will be the first in line to say that people who want a perfectly green expanse of lawn are silly. My dogs have taken care of any desire I may harbor to have a perfect lawn. But, to say that a yard needs no attention leads me to think that you need to get off your computer, or turn off your t.v. and go outside for a few hours. The simple act of being outside and teding to a garden or lawn is extremely theraputic. Every citizen of this country should be REQUIRED to spend an hour outside every day. We spend way too much time looking at computer screens and texting to ever notice anything that happens outside our windows.
  4. Good point on Chemical fertilizers……ridiculous. Plants have survived for billions of years without the aid of chemials, why are they necessary now?

In conclusion…..

If you need to rake your lawn, use the leaves to your advantage. If you need to cut your lawn, drink a beer. If you need to find reasons not to adhere to society’s accepability standards, get a condo or a plcae in the woods. Whatever you do….turn off your electronics and go outside, it’s nice out there! I’m headed out to mulch my garden right now…..and I will drink a beer too:) at 2009-11-11 15:46:38

rebecca said: as your mom, i may have had some influence here. I don’t actually mind cutting the lawn, but i hate the time it takes. i would prefer to be at the beach, so…..i cut it very very short, bald actually, then i let it get very very long. i like it long, but the neighbours don’t, so……i only cut it when you can’t get through it anymore, just before i get complaints. this way i please myself the most. i have managed to get it down to 3 cuts a summer. works for me ! but then i still live in the country where we still talk in acres not feet. at 2009-10-28 03:28:26

Vlad said: Make sure that you poo on your lawn, thus fertilizing it and contributing towards the permaculture that you’re trying to establish. at 2009-10-28 02:15:48

Frank said: I am mowing my leaves and leaving the smaller shredded remnants behind. I think this allows them to break down faster and get the nutrients into the soil while at the same time allowing the sun and the neighbors to see the lawn….. at 2009-11-09 19:08:32

Anna said: Great insight. I don’t know how many times we’ve had this discussion at our house. We’re thinking of moving, but when we do, we’re going to explore the vegetable/fruit garden idea. Either that, or a rock garden.

Btw, Michael Pollan is a prof at Berkeley: who sometimes writes for the NYT. at 2009-10-28 00:37:04

(David Arnold)[http://none] said: I have a house out of the city in a small town… where everbody is watching all the time. If I leave the grass and let it grow it fills up with frogs, I like this, it’s fun, it’s like being in a cartoon, just as I’m about to step down the frog jumps and moves away. OMG it’s so funny. And provides the cat with hours of entertainment. But like another person reminded you if you don’t cut the grass then where do you play cricket. So I’ve been slowly removing my lawn and replacing it with preannual flower and shrub garden, which I love, everyday is different and something to watch. It is a large yard and it will take ten years to complete I think. I keep a much smaller area around the septic bed for the cricket game. The cat can go out in the marsh for frogs, and he loves that too. We are all happy, except perhapes the neighbours. at 2011-05-09 07:02:00

Jane Hyde said: This blog made my day. I like long natural grass and the millions of maple leaves all over my yard looks absolutely glorious to me. The only reason I would mow and rake would be for the fresh air and exercise, but I actually prefer it au naturale. Was going to mow them, but I’d feel like I would be destroying a Picasso. Wish you all could see my garden of maple leaves. So, I’m debating about leaving the leaves and observing the consequences in the spring. My neighbors will think I’m lazy. I think they’re obsessive. Dandelions are beautiful, leaves are pretty. at 2012-11-11 13:51:50