Do You Really Need to Clear Your Lawn of Twigs, Leaves, and Other Debris Every Spring and Fall?

Giving your turf a once-over twice annually will help it thrive over time.

raking backyard leaves spring time
Photo: gkrphoto / Getty Images

If you have ever woken up on a cool spring or fall morning, ventured outside, and wondered whether or not you really needed to tackle the leaves, twigs, and other debris before you, we have news for you: You absolutely do. Both spring and fall lawn cleanups are essential to keeping your lawn and garden (and the critters that visit it) healthy. Fortunately, you can probably get away with a little less work than you're used to. Here's everything you need to know about wrangling your lawn on both sides of summer, according to an expert.

Spring Lawn Cleanup

Once the weather starts to warm up, it's time to tackle a few spring lawn tasks. "Wait as long as you can to do your spring garden cleanup," advises Phillips. "Ideally, you should wait until daytime temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees Fahrenheit for at least seven consecutive days." While Phillips notes that spring cleanups are less intense than fall iterations (after all, you aren't working against falling leaves!), all of that changes when the days start getting longer and warmer. "Fall is a time for rest and hibernation preparation, while spring is all about waking and tidying up," she says.

As for how to approach this tidying up process? Once spring is in full swing, take a walk around your yard to see how it fared over the fall and winter months. "Tidy up the lawn and garden by picking up leaves, sticks, and other debris," Phillips says, adding that you'll also want to overseed any brown patches that have developed in your grass. And speaking of grass—once the temperatures start climbing, so will the green stuff. "Cut grass when it's actively growing, which can vary depending on where you are in the country," she says. "Research has shown that the first two weeks in April are the most popular time to dig the lawnmower out for the first grass cutting of the year."

Fall Lawn Cleanup

When fall arrives, so does cooler weather, falling leaves, and migrating wildlife. These are just a few reasons why Mary Phillips, the head of garden for wildlife at the National Wildlife Federation, says homeowners should be careful about just how much cleaning up they do at the end of the season. "Raking up fallen leaves and sending them to a landfill in bags is the norm for most people in the fall," she says. "However, these actions not only harm the environment and wildlife habitat, but also rob your garden of precious nutrients." Instead, she suggests leaving some (though, not all) leaves where they fall—literally. When they break down, they create a natural mulch that will suppress future weed growth and they fertilize the soil. Leaving some foliage behind doesn't mean you'll make it through fall without doing any yard work. Phillips suggests raking remaining leaves off your lawn and adding them to your garden bed; removing any damaged or diseased bits from your plants before they overwinter is also essential.

The Consequences of Skipping a Biannual Lawn Cleanup

It may be tempting to leave everything to nature—after all, pollinators and migrating animals do love a more natural environment—but there are several downsides to neglecting your yard during both of these changing seasons. If you fail to clean up your garden in the fall you leave a bigger job for yourself in those early days of spring. And when you neglect to take care of those spring tasks, they end up becoming a more pressing issue right when the full heat of summer begins.

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