Tricks and Equipment to Clean Up Leaves Fast

Autumn leaves are beautiful, but clearing them off the lawn is a major chore. Raking takes hours and causes sore muscles and strained backs. Worst of all, the leaves just keep coming, covering our lawns again almost as soon as we are done, and clogging our gutters.

Some home owners delay leaf removal until all the leaves are off the trees, but grass needs light and air to survive. Allowing a layer of leaves to sit for most of the season could smother your lawn. Clear leaves every week or two during the fall to keep your lawn healthy.

MULCHING MOWER

When leaf cover is light, a mulching lawn mower offers an acceptable alternative to leaf removal. Mulching is not appropriate when leaf cover is heavy, however, because too much mulch can smother the lawn. Mow a small section of your lawn with your mulching mower, then view the results. If the mowed area looks mostly green, continue. If you see more chopped leaves than green grass in the mowed area, the leaves must be removed. Best model: Toro SR4 Super Recycler. Price: $450 to $530, or more, depending on model.* 888-384-9939, www.toro.com.

*All prices are manufacturers’ suggested retail.

LEAF BLOWERS

A leaf blower can eliminate the physical strain of raking and dramatically reduce the time required to clear leaves. Home owners who own leaf blowers also tend to have healthier lawns — leaves are cleared more often when the job is quick. Leaf blower options…

  • Handheld electric blowers are inexpensive but also underpowered. They will not save you much time compared with raking and are not recommended.
  • Gas-powered backpack blowers are the best choice for home owners with lawns up to about 8,000 square feet. The following are powerful enough to clear a lawn of leaves, acorns and other debris…
  • Kawasaki model KRB750B. This 4.6-horsepower (hp) blower is among the best in its class. It retails for around $500. 800-467-8445 www.kawpowr.com.

    Stihl BR500. This 3.0-hp model is a bit less powerful than the Kawasaki but is considerably quieter. It retails for about $470. 800-467-8445, www.stihlusa.com.

  • Walk-behind gas-powered blowers are appropriate for lawns 8,000 square feet and bigger that receive significant leaf cover. They are more powerful than backpack blowers but harder to maneuver in tight areas. Best model…
  • Fradan model PB8.5KY push blower. This blower has an 8.5-hp Kohler engine that moves more leaves per minute than the backpack models. Price: $1,200. 914-632-3769, www.fradanpower.com.

    Caution: Some municipalities have passed noise ordinances limiting or banning the use of gas-powered lawn equipment, such as leaf blowers. Wear earplugs or noise-blocking earmuffs — and safety goggles — when you operate a leaf blower.

    RAKING

    Raking is appropriate for small lawns and for home owners with more time than money to spend on lawn care. Select the rake with the largest head you can find, preferably two or more feet across. Also, purchase a smaller rake to get into tight spots around flower beds or under shrubs. Plastic and bamboo rake heads are generally better than metal ones, which bend out of shape easily and weigh more.

    To make raking more comfortable, wear work gloves… keep your back relatively vertical while raking, rather than hunching over… and move your legs to adjust your position, rather than twisting or bending your spine.

    Before buying a rake, stand with the rake at a 45-degree angle to the floor. The handle should be long enough so that you can rake without hunching and should have a width that is comfortable in your grip — the wider, the better.

    COLLECTING AND DISPOSING

    If there are no fences or barriers between your lawn and your neighbors’ lawns, start at the edge of your yard and blow leaves toward the middle. If your lawn borders on woods, simply blow leaves in that direction. If you have a fence or a barrier, you can blow the leaves up against it. This should help collect the leaves into a pile.

    If you rake your lawn, minimize the distance leaves are raked. Create smaller piles, then use a tarp or wheelbarrow to carry the piles longer distances.

    Tarps also can come in handy with leaf blowers. Blow the leaves into a pile, then rake them onto the tarp. If you try to blow them onto a tarp, the tarp is likely to blow away unless it is staked down. Use a heavy-duty tarp, approximately 10 feet by 10 feet.

    How you dispose of your leaves depends on your municipality’s rules. Some allow residents to put leaves in garbage bags or special paper bags at the curb… others have special leaf pickup days or require residents to arrange for pick up with an independent company.

    GUTTERS

    Leaves that land on your roof will collect in the gutters, causing blockages that could result in water damage to your home. If there are trees near your home, you might have to clear leaves from your gutters several times each fall. Also, check gutters once in the spring, to remove branches and other debris left by winter storms and to inspect for damage. There are many gutter-cleaning gadgets on the market, but none work better than your hands. Wear heavy-duty dishwashing gloves, which, unlike most work gloves, are waterproof.

    Caution: To reduce the risks involved with using a ladder, reposition the ladder frequently, rather than reaching or leaning in either direction — and do not postpone this chore until winter, when ice and cold increase the danger.

  • “Gutter shield” systems can make it harder for leaves to cause clogs, but some are better than others. Here are your options from best to worst…
  • LeafFilter. This gutter shield system uses a stainless steel filter with holes less than 50 microns across — smaller than a grain of sand — to prevent even small debris from entering. It also has a self-cleaning filtration system, but it is not cheap. Expect to spend perhaps $3,500 to $6,000 or more, installed, depending on the size and complexity of your roof.  www.leaffilter.com.

    Amerimax Hinged Gutter Guard. This much more affordable gutter shield will keep most, though not all, of the leaves out. You still will need to clean your gutters but perhaps only once a year rather than several times. This product’s hinges make it easy to clear out the leaves that do get through, an important consideration. Available at The Home Depot in packages of five three-foot sections for $7.98 a pack. 50 guards (10 packs) are needed for an average-size home. You can easily install the sections yourself. 800-347-2586, www.amerimax.com.

    Gutter helmet systems (various manufacturers) are the worst option. This type of gutter guard completely covers the top of the gutter. Water clings to its curved surface and flows into the gutter from the side. Unfortunately, some small debris inevitably gets caught up in the rainwater and flows into the gutter. Most helmet systems are permanently fastened in place, so this debris can be nearly impossible to remove. In the long run, these products can do more harm than good.