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Tools you need for fall cleanup.

The Lawn Gear You Need for Fall Cleanup

Top-rated mowers, blowers, and chain saws from CR's tests that get the job done

With the arrival of fall comes the perennial chores of clearing out the annuals, removing fallen leaves and dead branches, and giving the lawn one last trim. 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 that the grass and leaves get 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.

Don't Let the Leaves Pile Up

Leaves block sunlight that your grass needs. Wet leaves mat it down and promote disease. Which is to say, raking once or twice each fall really isn’t enough. 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. 

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 full 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 away all of the leaves from the structure. 

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. 

How We Test Outdoor Power Equipment

To test the walk-behind mowers and tractors currently in our ratings, we’ve cut 991,800 square feet of grass at our remote testing site in Florida. And our ratings include gas and electric models from Black+Decker, Cub Cadet, Craftsman, John Deere, Ego, Honda, Husqvarna, Ryobi, Toro, and Troy-Bilt. 

Leaf Blowers
We test leaf blowers in batches for their ability to move dry leaves and loosen leaves embedded in high grass. Some years, that means blowing 2,500 pounds of fallen foliage that we collect throughout the year. And our ratings include models from Black+Decker, Echo, Ego, Husqvarna, Little Wonder, Remington, Ryobi, and Stihl.  

Cordless Drills
We perform the bulk of our cordless drill tests on a benchtop instrument called a dynamometer. It measures torque under different loads in order to derive scores for power, speed, and run time. To give you a sense of what’s involved in our drill reviews, CR engineers could drive 53,219 wood screws into pine boards for the total work they measured during testing. (Our engineers use 1½-inch-long #8 screws.) And our ratings include models from Black+Decker, DeWalt, Hitachi, Kobalt, Makita, Milwaukee, Porter Cable, Ridgid, and Ryobi.

Chain Saws
It’s not enough for a chainsaw to tackle 10-inch-square oak beams in our test facility—we think the best models should cut through them in a timely fashion, handle easily, and have enough built-in safety features to protect the user. That’s why we look for all of those things when we assess models, and our ratings include picks from Echo, Ego, Husqvarna, Remington, Ryobi, and Stihl. 

The Best Outdoor Power Equipment subscribers can read on for our top picks for mulching mowers, efficient leaf blowers, powerful chain saws, and cordless drills. These tools will help you make quick work of fall cleanup.

The Best Mulching Mowers

Honda HRX2175VLA
Overall score: 86
Ranking: 1 of 50 self-propelled lawn mowers
CR’s take: Our top-rated walk-behind lawn mower allows you to switch to mulching mode by simply adjusting a lever on the deck. That keeps clippings or leaves, in the case of a fall cleanup, circulating longer under the deck, churning them into fine shreds that will break down and nourish the soil below. 

Toro 20381
Overall score: 77
Ranking: 5 (tied)
CR’s take: This Toro offers stellar cuts, including in mulch mode, and has an optional bagging kit—perfect if you want to collect cut leaves for disposal or a compost pile. 

Toro Recycler Smart Stow 20340
Overall score: 73
Ranking: 6 (tied)
CR’s take: At a price more in line with a push mower, this top-rated Toro can mulch or bag clippings and offers a collapsible handle. Special gaskets in the engine allow the mower to be stored vertically without leaking, which is nice if you have limited storage space in the garage. 

Leaf blowers in Our Ratings.
Current Leaf blower Ratings