With the arrival of fall comes the perennial chore of clearing out the annuals, removing fallen leaves and dead branches, and giving the lawn one last mow. Putting in a little extra work now will ensure that your lawn and plants are healthy in the spring. And clever use of your mower, blower, and other gear will speed up the process. Consumer Reports found the right tools for these tasks in our tests of outdoor power equipment.

Continue Mowing

Mow your lawn every week or so until the grass has stopped growing. For lawns under or near deciduous trees, using your mower's mulching mode—in which discharge chutes are closed off so the grass and leaves can be chopped more finely—also allows leaves to decompose on your lawn without smothering what lies beneath. Leaving clippings behind returns useful nutrients to the soil.

Mowers that mulch. With walk-behind mowers, self-propelled mowers are better at mulching than push mowers. Here are a few of our picks:

Don't Let the Leaves Pile Up

Raking only once or twice each fall just isn't enough. It's important to clear leaves off the grass frequently. Leaves block sunlight. Wet leaves are heavy and promote disease. If your mower doesn’t have a mulching mode, use a leaf blower or rake to clear the leaves for bagging or composting. Dry leaves are much easier to clear, so try to remove as many as you can when a storm is forecast. On a crisp fall day, you can easily move mountains of leaves with a reliable blower. Here are the top picks of each type we test:

Make One Last Deck Check

While you’re putting away your outdoor furniture and your grill, take a careful look at your deck. Make sure the railings and banisters aren't loose. Push on them; they shouldn't wiggle. Check that all of the steps are securely anchored to the risers by resting your weight all along their width. Inspect all nails, screws, and bolts. Hammer down nails, and tighten screws and bolts as needed with a cordless drill. And to protect the wood from moisture, make sure you clear all the leaves away from the structure. Here are some top drills from our tests:

Remove Dead Branches

Dead tree limbs can be a menace during a strong storm and pose the risk of damage to your home, car, and property. To be safe, remove the branches well ahead of nasty weather. If your trees are small and the branches are no more than 4 inches in diameter, consider using an electric lopper, which some homeowners find less scary than a chain saw. But if you're game for a chain saw, here are some good choices.

5 Essential Garden Tools

Of course, you don’t need a power tool for all your yard work. Equipping your garden shed with the following tools will help you with pruning and other cleanup jobs.

  • Gloves. Look for durable yet pliable materials, such as nylon or leather, that protect hands while still letting you maneuver. Silicon dots or fingertips enhance grip. Water resistance is a plus.
  • Loppers. Look for sharp blades and longer handles, which provide more leverage when cutting branches that are too thick for a pruner.
  • Pruner. Look for sharp bypass blades with a scissorlike action for clean cuts when removing small or thin branches from shrubs and trees.
  • Shovel. Look for a round head with a pointed tip, which is good for scooping earth and cutting through thick roots.
  • Trowel. Look for a sharp blade for digging, weeding, and dividing plants, and a fully welded, not spot-welded, joint between the handle and blade. Stainless steel resists rust.