Tip of the day: Make faster work of leaf removal

Consumer Reports News: October 16, 2007 03:13 PM

Raking leaves can be fun . . . for about 10 minutes, perhaps a bit longer for kids whose sole job is to jump into the piles their parents are making.

But you can make quicker, easier work of leaf cleanup. Our tips won't eliminate the chore altogether, but they might get you back in front of your new HDTV, snacks and cold drink in hand, in time for the second-half kickoff.

Before you start working, familiarize yourself with the guidelines your town has in place for fall cleanup by checking out the municipal Web site or calling the public-works department. You don't want to build giant leaf mounds only to find out that the town won't collect the leaves for two more weeks (trust me, Murphy's Law ensures the leaves will blow back onto your yard) or end up with a fine because you used the wrong disposal bag.

A coworker of mine who lives in northern New Jersey reports that his town has a very rigid schedule for when he can move leaves into the street for collection (with the piles 10 inches from the curb so water can flow unimpeded into sewers during a rainstorm) and also mandates what type of bags he can be use.

Keep the job manageable. Don't tackle an entire season's worth of leaf cleanup in one day—unless you're a glutton for a blister-and-ache-inducing marathon. Leaves will drop throughout autumn, so schedule clearing duty a few days during the season. Avoid working in windy weather (see Murphy's Law above), and dress in layers to help control body temperature and avoid breaking out in a sweat. If the sun is out, apply sunscreen. If you live in an area with lots of ticks and a prolonged frost has not yet occurred, apply an appropriate insect repellent (available to subscribers).

Choose the right rake. In our testing we found that extrawide rakes (36 inches) require more downward pressure to drag leaves across the lawn. That's why we recommend a standard-width (24 inches) rake, ideally a model equipped with a soft grip. Before you purchase a rake with an ergonomically curved handle, see how comfortable it is to use by simulating raking in the store. Ergonomic rakes are designed to reduce bending and stooping, but they're not a good fit for everyone.

Roll out a tarp. No need to rake the leaves all the way across the lawn to the curb or the spot where you'll bag or dump them. You'll expend less energy raking leaves onto a tarp. Choose a medium-size tarp, about 8x8 feet, with rope handles for easy hauling. A hefty material, whether canvas or heavyweight plastic, won't flap in the breeze and will resist tearing.   

Enlist the mower. If you have a large yard with lots of trees, put the lawn mower or tractor to work mulching or bagging leaves. Mulching will leave a visible layer of leaves, though they will enrich soil once they decompose.

Whether you choose to mulch or bag, raise the mower deck to the second-highest setting (suction is not as strong at the top setting) and then mow your lawn.

If leaves are wet, make the first pass with the mower in the side-discharging mode to lift and loosen them. Then switch to the mulching or bagging mode and go over the leaves again.

Break out the blower. Leaf blowers are especially effective if your property is bordered by woods—just  shoot the leaves back into the wild. For best results, use the flattened attachment to lift and blow leaves and the round nozzle to handle dirt and debris.

If your power blower has vacuum capability, use it to suck up leaves from bushes and around the foundation. Doing so will eliminate an inviting winter refuge for rodents.

If you're in the market for a blower, read our latest report on this equipment and refer to the Ratings (available to subscribers) to compare the pros and cons of gas and electric models.

Hire a big gun. If you're pressed for time or have let the leaves accumulate on you, try the pros' solution: a wheeled blower. Most landscape contractors rely heavily on these powerful machines, which cost $650 to $1,300. While a wheeled machine likely isn't worth the investment for you, renting one (about $50 per day) can help make faster work of leaf wrangling, Consider splitting the cost with a couple of neighbors.—Daniel DiClerico

Essential information: Read "How to tackle fall cleanup" for more advice on seasonal chores.

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