To rake or not to rake, that is today's question

Garden Q&A

November 02, 1997

Raking and disposing of leaves is the one simple garden chore most likely to start an argument in our house. Can't I just mow the leaves without bothering to pick them up? My wife thinks the leaves look terrible on the lawn and will kill the grass.

This is a classic yardwork marriage-buster. The answer depends on the number of leaves that fall on your lawn. If after mowing the grass you can still see most of your grass, then it would be OK to leave them. If the leaves completely cover the grass blades after they're mowed, however, your turf could be damaged. Grass in our area doesn't become dormant until well into December. If the grass is covered with leaves for a two-month period, it may not get enough light, air and water.

I remember as a boy seeing young peach, plum and cherry trees with split trunks caused by harsh winter weather. We used to paint the trunks with white paint to prevent splitting bark. Would you recommend applying white paint to protect my new ornamental plum and cherry trees?

Yes. White paint will reflect the sunlight and minimize the temperature fluctuations the tree is exposed to. The cracks are caused by the alternate swelling and freezing of exposed, South-facing trunks during the winter months. Another helpful option widely available today is the tree wrap, which can be wrapped around the exposed trunks and then covered with a white latex paint. Remove the wraps when buds begin to swell in the spring and re-use them next winter.

Checklist

* Protect fig trees from extreme cold weather with an insulating cover of leaves or straw surrounded by wire fencing. Any exposed wood may be killed by sub-freezing temperatures.

* Hasten the composting process by shredding or chopping leaves, spent plants, newspaper, etc., and keeping brush, twigs and other woody materials out of the pile.

Pub Date: 11/02/97

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