Leaves and Lawns
Few things in nature are as striking as brilliant red and gold foliage in autumn. But even the most beautiful deciduous leaves eventually fall, and when too many of them accumulate in your yard, those untidy piles can smother the lawn, impede the growth of cool-season grasses, and attract pests.
To stave off these problems, homeowners with many trees on their property can wind up spending hours raking and bagging fallen leaves. But it doesn't have to be this way! While you may not be able to completely escape this seasonal chore, we've got some leaf-raking lessons that will make it faster and more efficient. The following tips can give you more time to enjoy the brisk, clear fall days.
Wait for Leaves to Finish Falling
You can’t rush Mother Nature! It's pointless to start raking when the trees are still full of leaves. Save yourself valuable time by waiting until the trees are practically bare before tackling the job.
Consider Your Comfort
Raking is dusty business, so homeowners should don a hat, long-sleeved shirt, and long pants before beginning. It’s also smart to wear heavy-duty gloves to prevent blisters from forming on your hands. Remember to stand up straight as you rake and switch your leading hand on the rake frequently to prevent arm and shoulder fatigue.
Use the Right Rake
Rakes with narrow spreads gather fewer leaves and add unnecessary time to the chore, so homeowners should choose varieties with a wider tine spread—aim for about 30 inches. Also, look for rakes labeled “no-clog.” These have angled tines that won’t pierce the leaves and create blockages.
Rake with the Wind
Take advantage of breezy autumn weather by raking in the same direction that a gentle breeze is blowing. The gusts will help move the dry leaves along. If you make the mistake of raking against the wind, every stroke of the rake will lift some leaves, which can then be blown backward.
The exception to this rule is when the wind is blowing strongly. When that happens, don't rake at all. By the time you finish raking, leaves from the neighbor's yard will likely cover your yard.
Rake in Rows
If you rake all the leaves into the center of your lawn, you’ll be constantly running back and forth, wasting a lot of time and energy. Instead, separate your lawn into quadrants, then rake all the leaves in each quadrant into rows, working from one end to the other. By raking the leaves in a grid pattern, you’ll save time and end up with a cleaner lawn.
Save Time and Trouble with Tarps
Bagging large piles of leaves is a time-consuming task. Reduce your workload by raking the leaves onto a large tarp. You can then tie the ends of the tarp together and transport the whole "bag” to your community collection center. Alternatively, roll the tarp into a cylinder and use it as a funnel to fill individual lawn bags. A high-quality, lightweight tarp can be reused many times and will last for years.
Bag Smaller Piles
Invest in a Yard Vacuum
To streamline the leaf removal process, consider investing in a yard vacuum with a built-in shredder. The vacuum sucks up the leaves, and the shredder minces them into small bits, so you can collect more leaves in fewer bags. Yard vacuums also make it easier to pick up leaves under shrubs, between bushes, on top of stone mulch, and in other places where raking can be tricky.
Mow and Mulch at the Same Time
Do you have only a few fallen leaves on your property? You can get rid of them while simultaneously adding organic mulch to your lawn. Simply mow over them with a lawn mower, ideally one with a mulching setting. The blades will chop the dry leaves into small flakes, which will decompose quickly and add nutrients to your lawn.
Rake Before Rain
After a rainstorm, fallen leaves become soggy and dense, clumping together and clogging rakes, vacuums, and leaf blowers. If the forecast predicts wet weather and raking is on your to-do list, get moving and clean up the lawn ASAP.
If time allows, it's also a good idea to clean leaves out of house gutters before a rain. When they're dry, they're so much easier to rinse away using an extendable rod that attaches to a pressure washer, such as the AgiiMan Gutter Cleaning Rods (available from Amazon).
Use a Leaf Blower
Leaf blowers can greatly reduce cleanup time after raking, but only if they’re used correctly. Start by sectioning out the yard and establishing a grid pattern, then work the leaf blower back and forth in rows. Remember that practice makes perfect with leaf blowers. At first, many people have a tendency to stand too close to the leaves, which can blow them wildly in all directions.
Be Easy About It
Unlike the raking done to prepare a garden bed for planting, leaf raking requires only gentle motions. The flexible tines on a leaf rake should not dig into the lawn nor remove thatch. Leaf-raking is all about surface raking. You don't even have to put any downward pressure on the rake head; doing so will just make the job more difficult.
Lift the rake head up and out, and let it fall softly on the surface of the leaves. Then, just pull it toward you. The bent shape of the tines is sufficient for grabbing and pulling the leaves. Using an efficient leaf-raking method will help get the job done quickly and effortlessly.
Use Leaf Scoops
Once the leaves are all in a pile, picking them up and filling bags or boxes is often more work—and more stress on the back—than it has to be. A much simpler way to lift and load the dry leaves is with leaf scoops that look like a giant claw for each hand. When worn on both hands, the scoops make it easy to lift large amounts of leaves at a time.
Leaf scoops, such as the Garden HOME Leaf Scoops (available from Amazon), will help you gather piles of leaves and bag them in quick order or add them to a burn barrel if you intend to burn the leaves.
Most would never think of using a shovel to gather dry leaves from the lawn, but that may be because they're not familiar with rake shovels. A rake shovel is different from other types of rakes. It looks a little like a snow shovel, and it's designed to push along the surface of a lawn. Unlike a standard snow shovel blade, it has tines that glide across the lawn, picking up leaves and small twigs.
A rake shovel, such as the MLTOOLS Gardening Rake Shovel (available from Amazon) offers an alternative way of cleaning up leaves. Rake shovels are best suited for small yards and they can help reduce arm and back fatigue.
Stomp Before Breaks
Life happens, and sometimes you’ll have to take a break from raking even if you're not done. You may need to answer a phone call, pick up the kids from soccer practice, or feed the dog.
If you’ve already raked those lightweight leaves into a pile, they could be blown across the lawn by the time you get back. However, there’s a little leaf-raking tip that can help: Stomp on the pile. Stomping on the leaves compacts them and helps keep them from blowing away before you can return to raking.
Whether you're a lawn care novice or a master gardener, everyone can use a little help around the yard. Subscribe to The Dirt newsletter for tips, recommendations, and problem-solving tools that can help you tame your great outdoors.