RE: Pine Needles - They're acidic and will kill the grass, most likely at some point down the road. Pine trees 'see' grass, or almost any other type of 'plant' as competition. By dropping acidic pine needles on them, eventually, they eliminate the competition. (Of course, that exclused those plants that can tolerate high levels of acid.) Also, these trees create a LOT of shade. In fact, when I was in college, tenants before us in a house we rented had cut off enough lower branches of a Blue Spruce where they parked their Jeep under it! We didn't park our car under it, but on Super Bowl Sunday in 1982, my roommate and I brought out our lounge chairs, sleeping bags, beers, (a TV of course on a long extension cord), and some munchies and watched the game outside under that tree AAAALL during a light snow storm. (This was in Ft. Collins, CO.) ANd we didn't get wet or anything! That's how well these trees keep the ground under them dry and free of the 'competition'. Their roots are shallow and they're at the 'fringes' of the tree line. The water will run down and off the needles to the outer-edge of the tree, and drop onto the ground where it feeds the young roots. (Enough of Pine Tree Class.) So, where does that leave you???
Keep raking or the tree will win. Either that, or remove it and buy a tree that's more 'grass-friendly'.
As far as caring for grass or preparing if for Winter (or any other time of year), it depends on where you live. GENERALLY speaking, the grass if fed in Spring and Fall. NEW grass is usually seeded in early Fall, and isn't cut until it's at least 3" high. Fall is better than Spring for planting grass via seed. It only needs to 'take root' and then old man Winter can set in.
Just to be sure about caring for your grass, talk around w/folks in your area. FIRST, find out what kind of grass you have (from your builder if it's a new house, or ask for the landscaper's name so you can ctc them.) If the home is an 'existing home', then look to see who else in the area has the same grass and ask them how they care for it. I happen to live in SE PA. Just this past weekend, I cut my grass hopefully for the last time. If it still grows a little, that's OK. It's OK to have 'high grass' (so to speak) over Winter. One of the reasons you don't want it TOO high is because your fertilizer may 'sit' on top of the grass AND water may not get very deep, and either run off or evaporate before it has a chance to get to the 'ground/dirt', if you know what I mean.
My best to ya and hope this helps.
Jay J -Moderator
PS: Oh, not all needles are 'damaging' to grass. If the acid isn't killing the grass, it's usually the lack of water and sun that kill it as I mentioned earlier. It's VERY dry and shady under the pine tree ...
PPS: God Bless America!