Raking leaves is one of the Great Annual Annoyances. Sure, kids and puppies jumping in big fluffy piles of leaves are a mainstay of heartwarming ads and after school specials, but that’s pure TV fantasy … just ask anyone with a property full of trees that shed nonstop from Labor Day till Thanksgiving. In my opinion leaf raking ranks right up there on the Universal Household Pain In The Ass Scale, falling somewhere between having the septic tank pumped and cleaning mini-blinds. Ewwww.
But tedious as it is, there are some good reasons to get those leaves up off the grass and disposed of somehow. If you don’t get the leaves out of your garden beds they’ll make any kind of fall cleanup pretty close to impossible. If you let them form drifts against your house or outbuildings, it encourages small rodents to take up residence. And if you don’t get those leaves up now they’ll form an amazingly dense mat that will effectively smother the grass and in the spring you’ll find your lawn is full of dead spots.
And here’s the kicker: since dead leaves seem to be utterly impervious to decomposition you’ll STILL have to get them up and dispose of them, except now they’ll be wet, moldy, and stinky. Double ewwww. You really can’t escape the fall leaf situation, but there are ways to make it easier. Here are a few.
Mow instead of raking. This really only works with light leaf cover so it isn’t a practical option for everyone; if you have a whole lot of trees it’s not going to be an ultimate solution, but it can at least make it feasible to put off the whole serious raking lark for a while. Running a mulching mower over a light dusting of leaves turns them into barely-visible bits that can actually be good for the grass. This won’t work if you wait too long, though – I’ve choked many a mower trying to mulch through a wet, heavy mat of leaves. Do this one early in the season, while you’re trying to get yourself geared up to tackle it seriously.
Figure out what you’re going to do with the leaves before you start raking. This is a biggie. Back in the dark ages when I was a kid, the standard method of leaf disposal was to make a pile and burn ‘em. Then for decades we just bunged ‘em into plastic big lawn’n’leaf bags and put them out with the garbage. But now there are lots of restrictions on leaf disposal, so it’s a good idea to call your local authority and find out what you’re actually supposed to do with them. In my area you can take leaves to a township compost pile or you can bag them in big biodegradable sacks and put them out for collection once a week, starting in October. Save yourself a lot of potential work and headaches – find out what you can legally do with your leaves before you start doing anything.
Pick the right day. There’s something exquisitely frustrating about having the wind whip through and re-scatter the lovely pile of leaves you spent the last hour painstaking piling up. Raking in a light rain is easier than raking in a stiff breeze.
Use the right rake. And wear gloves. Lightweight rakes with broad, flat plastic or rubber tines are the ticket. Metal rakes will dig into the grass and they weigh a ton. Wearing gloves will really reduce the chances of blisters and will minimize the yuk factor if you happen to dislodge crawly critters hiding under the leaves.
Rake onto tarps. If you have your own personal compost heap (or if leaf burning is still OK in your area) rake the piles on tarps to make your leaves easy to transport.
How to get leaves out of mulch or gravel: Raking works pretty well on gravel, but try to use a light touch or you’ll find yourself with gravel all over your grass. Don’t use a leaf-blower on small gravel because even at a low setting you could wind up shooting a stream of gravel missles at everything in the area. When it comes to mulch, brace yerself – it’s largely a manual job. If the leaves are thick on the ground, start by raking lightly over the mulch and gathering as many of the leaves as possible. But unless you’re OK with losing most of the mulch, eventually it’s going to come down to hunkering down and picking the leaves out.
How to get leaves out of gutters: Arrrghhh. This one is a real bitch. If your house isn’t particularly tall, you might be able to get the job done from ground level with the help of extension poles, etc., but chances are it’s going to be a ladder job. Some people have luck vacuuming gutters with a shop vac (there are even gutter cleaning extensions available for some brands),blowing them out with a leaf blower, or even blasting the leaves out with a garden hose, but most of the time it’s a matter of manually scooping out the leaves and then possibly flushing with a hose. There are lots of gutter cleaning tools out there – just do a simple search and you’ll find a dozen or more – but it’s a big job no matter how you cut it.