Everything You Need to Take Care of Leaves

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As glorious as the colors of fall foliage are, all of the leaves will soon cover your entire yard. Leave them there, and rain and snow will mat them down and ruin your lawn. There is no way to stop this from happening unless you're going to chop down your trees. But with the right plan and gear, you can avoid surrendering an entire Saturday to collecting and bagging.

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The first step is asking if you should pick them up in the first place. "We like to blow the leaves from the flower beds onto the lawn first, then run the mower over them repeatedly," says Bruce Allentuck, owner of Allentuck Landscaping Co. in Clarksburg, Maryland. A Michigan State University study backs this up, noting that when the leaves are chopped up into dime-sized pieces, they break down, becoming a fertilizer that gives lawns a shot of nutrition heading into winter. "Mulching is something we encourage all of our homeowners to do. It saves them money, and it's better for the lawn," says Zack Kline, owner of A.I.R. Lawn Care, a landscaping company that uses rechargeable battery-powered equipment outside the Washington, D.C. area. But if you're going to clean them up, here's what you'll need and what you'll want to know.

Leaf Blower
Echo PB-255LN
The backbone of leaf collection is the gas handheld blower. Echo's high-end version reaches 191 mph with a 25.4 cc engine. But don't get hung up on mph. The blower's 354 cubic-feet-per-minute (cfm) air flow is the number to focus on here. It's a better representation of how much work it can accomplish. The blower tube's wide, flared end creates a broom-like pattern that moves a pile when you swing it side to side. The engine is designed to push away from right-handed uses slightly so you're not fighting to keep the intake from sucking in your pant leg. Use it to clean out beds onto the lawn, where a bigger pack won't fit, or tackle a smaller lawn with it. [$200; amazon.com]

Husqvarna 356BT
While we love the sleek design of this Husqvarna blower, it's not just for looks. The engine is insulated by the snap-on back cover, which keeps the blower quieter than your vacuum cleaner. The 51.7 cc engine reaches 177 mph with a massive 473 cfm. Pros like Allentuck blow leaves into a straight line advancing it across the lawn. When the pile is too big to move, attack the leaf snake from the other side to tighten up the leaf tube before moving them to the tarp. If clearing leaves means using a blower for more than a half hour, you'll want to step up to a backpack like this 23-pounder. [$500; amazon.com]

Stihl BGA 85
"In towns with noise restrictions, the quietly battery-powered Stihl lets us get to work without bothering the residents," Kline says. Running on a rechargeable 36-volt lithium-ion battery, the Stihl reaches up to 100 mph with an incredible 385 cfm — which is about as powerful as the brand's mid-level gas blowers. The 64 dBA means you might be able to get to work before the 9 a.m. noise restriction most municipalities have, albeit for 23 minutes before a recharge. [$500; stihlusa.com]

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Rake
Ames Dual Tine Poly Leaf Rake with Hand Rake
If you're stopping often to clear stuck leaves from the rake, you're wasting time and energy. Ames' 26-inch wide design uses two rows of tines; 19 shorter tines between 20 longer ones which help gather leaves up to 45 percent faster than traditional designs. But a wide head isn't going to help around shrubs. That's when you pull out the smaller rake that clips into the head. To make it easier, wait for a dry day to rake; wet leaves are a pain to gather with a rake or blower. [$25; homedepot.com]

Tarp
Leaf Lugger
Pros who haul leaves to their trucks use massive poly tarps. You should do the same, but with an upgraded version which won't fly away in a breeze. Unfold the 8x8-foot Leaf Lugger tarp, and its ridged poles that line the perimeter will keep it flat. Once you've loaded it, pull on the drawstring, and the tarp bundles itself up so you can drag it away to the curb, a bagging station, or a compost pile. If you go with a traditional tarp, stick with Cordura nylon or denier fabric, which is less likely to blow around when in use. [$50; amazon.com

Leaf Bag
30-Gallon Paper Lawn/Leaf Bag
While the pros carry leaves in the back of pickup trucks, chances are your municipalities only picks up your bundled leaves when they're in paper bags. It's also good practice if you plan to pick up some of your town's compost, which is made using your leaves. If more homeowners use paper bags, less black plastic makes its way into the finished compost and your landscape. You can pick up dual-ply moisture-resistant paper bags, with 30 gallon capacity, at almost any hardware store for a couple of bucks per bag or get them in bulk online. [$43, 60/carton; uline.com]