Along with cool, crisp weather and preparations for Halloween, fall brings the additional chore of leaf clean-up. Some people love getting out there and raking up a yard full of leaves. Others would rather do just about anything else. No matter which end of the spectrum you're on, the right tools can make the job a lot easier and more enjoyable.
A rake is an inexpensive, quiet way to clean up your leaves (and you get plenty of exercise to boot!) There are a wide variety of rakes out there, and each type has its advantages and disadvantages.
Plastic Rake: These are inexpensive, fairly durable, and come in a wide range of sizes. The larger the head of the rake, the more leaves they can move, so that you get done faster. The only disadvantage to that is that, especially if the leaves are wet, the piles can get rather heavy to move, and you end up nursing sore arms and shoulders! I have two plastic rakes in my shed; a large one for raking up lots of dry leaves quickly, and a smaller rake that is perfect for moving wet leaves without leaving me aching. Look for a rake with a fiberglass handle, because it's the most lightweight option. If it has padding along the handle, even better. Who hasn't gotten blisters after a day of raking?
Metal Rake: These are perfect for homeowners who don't have many leaves to rake up. They are a little heavier than plastic ones, so the less time it takes to rake your yard, the better (you'll get tired faster, because the rake is heavier.) They are very durable, and a little more expensive than plastic rakes.
Bamboo Rake: These are wonderful, lightweight options for homeowners who don't have a ton of leaves to clean up. In addition, they are great for raking leaves out of groundcovers or flower beds, because the lightweight, flexible tines are less likely to damage plants. However, they are a little pricey, and not very durable, especially if you tend to be a bit rough on your tools, or, if, like me, you leave them out in the weather a lot.
Leaf Blowers and Leaf Vacs
If you don't mind the noise, a leaf blower or vac can definitely make quick work of leaf clean-up. They come in a wide range of prices, with more powerful models at the higher end of the price range.
The Most Overlooked Leaf Clean-Up Tool: The Lawnmower
We know that one of the best things you can do for a healthy lawn is to use a mulching mower and let your grass clippings stay in the grass. It's the same with fallen leaves. By making one or two passes with a mulching mower over a leaf-strewn lawn, you can chop them into tiny pieces, and they'll fall into the lawn, where they'll provide nutrients for the grass and help prevent weed seeds from germinating next spring. In fact, a recent study from Michigan State University claims that lawns mulched with large amounts of maple leaves had fewer dandelions.
What to DO With All of Those Leaves
Sure, you can just bag them up and tote them to the curb after you rake them, but you'd be tossing a valuable resource for your garden. Here are three ideas for putting those leaves to work for you.
Make Leaf Mold: Leaf mold is nothing more than decomposed leaves. Put your leaves in a pile, and let them rot. By next fall, you'll have a great soil amendment. Topdress garden beds with it, add some to planting holes when transplanting perennials or shrubs, or add it to the veggie garden to provide nutrients and lightness to the soil.
Compost!: Leaves are perfect for the compost bin. Compost can be as involved or as simple as you want it to be.
Mulch: Dry leaves can be raked into perennial gardens or shrub borders, where it will serve as a great organic mulch. Leaves add nutrients to the soil as they break down, keep the soil moist and shaded (which reduces weeds and watering needs) and provide a welcoming environment for all of those earthworms and soil organisms that are necessary in any healthy organic garden.
I hope these tips will make leaf clean-up more enjoyable for you, and I hope I've convinced you to hold onto your leaves. Your garden will thank you!