3 Time-Saving Tips for Fall Leaf Removal

A little thought and planning can save a huge amount of time

By Paul Hope

At Consumer Reports, we spend a lot of time thinking about leaves. In fact, we actually save the leaves that pile up on the property at our Yonkers, N.Y., headquarters every fall, so we can collect enough to perform our leaf-blower testing during the year. After all, putting the new leaf blowers through their paces can require as much as 2,500 pounds of fallen foliage, says Misha Kollontai, CR’s test engineer who evaluates leaf blowers.

It figures, then, that the protocol has given our experts more than a few insights on winning strategies for leaf removal. With that in mind, we’ve asked our testers for some of their favorite leaf-pickup tips. Whether you rake your leaves or use a leaf blower, these simple steps will not only clear your lawn but also improve the look of your yard come spring, too.

1. Avoid Breezy Days

This advice seems almost too obvious to be a tip. And yet we tend to check out only the rain and temperature forecast before we do our yard work. But leaves are light! So also look at the wind-gust reading. When the air is still (or close to it), it will help keep your leaves in one big pile—saving you a lot of energy and frustration.

2. Lay Out a Tarp

If you need to move your leaf pile from one place to another, use a large (9x12-foot) polyethylene tarp. An old shower curtain will work in a pinch. Spread it out and rake the leaves directly onto it, blow them on with a leaf blower, or use a mower in side-discharge mode. It’ll be easier to haul if you thread a rope through the grommets and knot the ends. You can also tie it up into a makeshift bag and transport the leaves to wherever they need to go.

3. Shred the Leaves

Shredded leaves will take up less space in a bag—which means fewer bags to haul. The tip also allows us to accomplish a couple of other yard jobs at the same time. First, if you have a gas mower, running it over leaves helps to empty the tank before you store it for the winter—something that we always recommend. Second, when you shred leaves with a mower, they turn into a nutrient-rich compost for your lawn (which means even fewer leaves to bag, or none at all, depending on your lawn’s needs). Mulched leaves also make for good bedding around shrubs, but clear whole leaves from beneath them first.

Keep in mind, if the leaves are piled too high or are wet, even the most powerful walk-behind mower can stall out. So if you hear the engine start to strain, switch from bagging or mulching mode to side discharge, or just slow down and cock the front end of the machine to let in more air and give the blade less bulk to process at a time. (When you’re finished and ready to store your mower for the season, have the blade sharpened. Trust us, it’ll need it.)

Best Leaf Blowers From CR's Tests

Leaf blowers considerably cut the time and effort needed to collect leaves. They’re also helpful for blowing leaves out from under shrubs, bushes, decks, and gutters. To find the best leaf blowers, CR’s test engineers test how well they “sweep” a leaf-filled area and how well they loosen embedded leaves from tall grass. They also score each model for ease of use and handling, as well as for noise. CR members can read on for a list of our top-scoring blowers. For additional models, see our comprehensive leaf blower ratings and to learn more about whether a leaf blower can help with your own yard’s particular needs, check out our leaf-blower buying guide.

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