Trees and shrubs in all their brilliant fall finery are an amazing sight to behold. Those color-drenched leaves eventually make their way to the ground, where you may find them much less welcome. Raking leaves is at the top of most fall garden to-do lists, and it can be a rather labor-intensive and time-consuming chore. But dealing with fallen leaves doesn't have to be a pain (sometimes literally). When you know how to rake properly, or even how to avoid raking altogether, you'll have more time to enjoy a final bonfire of the season or one last backyard football game before the snow flies. Use these leaf-raking tips to make quick work of your fall cleanup.
1. Do you really need to rake?
Leaves have nutrients, which can be recycled into your soil. The problem arises when they're piled too thick, which can smother your lawn and smaller garden plants. But how many is too many? University researchers developed guidelines to make it easy to know if you need to rake or not. If less than 50% of your lawn is blanketed with leaves, you don't need to rake, but it's recommended that you run your lawn mower over the leaves to shred them. More than 50% leaf coverage? Time to get out the rake!
2. Run your lawn mower.
For lawns with 50% leaf coverage or less, use your lawn mower to help break down the leaves and return nutrients and organic matter to the lawn. Simply run your mower over the leaves. A couple of passes might be necessary to get a fine chop, especially if you have larger leaves like those of maples, oaks, and sycamores. Small leaf pieces will settle between grass blades, where they'll decompose over time. If your mower has a bagging attachment, you can use it to easily collect the leaves instead. Then add them to a compost pile, use them as garden mulch around plants that need winter protection, or dispose of them through your area's yard waste channel.
3. Wait for all the leaves to fall.
It might be tempting to get a jump start on raking and begin as soon as leaves start to drop. But remember, a few leaves on the lawn aren't going to hurt anything. Instead, save yourself some time by waiting until most leaves from your trees and shrubs are on the ground. Then break up the work into segments by raking one section of the lawn at a time.
4. Pick the right raking tools.
Comfort and ease of use is top of the list when choosing a leaf rake. The handle should be long enough for you to stand upright while raking. Rakes with durable steel tines are often preferred over rakes with plastic tines. Look for leaf rakes labeled "no clog" to avoid the chore of having to remove leaves stuck in the tines every few strokes. And a pair of gloves will help protect your hands from blisters as you work.
5. Stretch first.
While raking may seem simple, it can be physically stressful, even for healthy people. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends stretching to warm up your muscles for 10 minutes before moderately strenuous activities such as raking. Take time to stretch your shoulders, arms, and neck; do a few squats; and take a brisk walk. Stretching before raking can help stave off aches and pains after the chore is complete.
6. Make small movements and take breaks.
Raking can be a good way to get a little exercise, but it will feel a whole lot more pleasant if you don't overdo it. Taking big, sweeping swipes with your rake will tire you out fast. Instead, use short strokes, making sure to keep your back straight. Switch the rake from the left and right sides of your body every few minutes to give your dominant arm and shoulder a rest. And every once in a while, put down your rake and take a break. Catch your breath, get a drink of water, and enjoy the brisk autumn weather.
7. Use wind power to your advantage.
Wrangling leaves when there's a strong breeze can be comedic and maddening. Of course, calm weather is best for raking, but Mother Nature might not always cooperate with your weekend plans. When you can't avoid raking on a blustery day, instead of fighting the wind, try harnessing it. If the wind is pushing leaves to the south, you and your rake do the same. Shorter rake strokes and small piles are most efficient on windy days.