Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.
With the arrival of autumn comes the perennial chores of clearing out the annual plants, removing fallen leaves and dead branches, and giving the grass one last trim before bedtime.
Putting in a little extra work now will ensure that your lawn and plants are healthy in the spring. And clever use of your mower, blower, and other gear can speed up the process.
If you’re due to update your tools, our buying guides for lawn mowers and tractors, leaf blowers, string trimmers, chainsaws, and cordless drills are a good place to start. Then read on for our expert advice on getting your yard and property ready for the next season, recommendations for the CR-tested tools you'll need to perform each task, and insights into how we test tools and outdoor power equipment.
Mow your lawn every week or so until the grass has stopped growing. For lawns under or near deciduous trees losing their leaves in the fall, your mower’s mulching mode—in which discharge chutes are closed off so that the grass and leaves get chopped more finely—also allows leaves to decompose on your lawn without smothering what lies beneath. Leaving clippings behind returns useful nutrients to the soil.
To test the walk-behind mowers and tractors currently in our ratings, we’ve cut 991,800 square feet of grass at our remote testing site in Florida. Our ratings include gas and electric models from Black+Decker, Cub Cadet, Craftsman, John Deere, Ego, Honda, Husqvarna, Ryobi, Toro, and Troy-Bilt.
CR members can see ratings and reviews below on three great mowers that ace our mulching test.
Don't Let the Leaves Pile Up
Leaves block sunlight that your grass needs. Wet leaves mat it down and promote disease. Which is to say, raking once or twice each fall really isn’t enough. If your mower doesn’t have a mulching mode, use a leaf blower or rake to clear the leaves for bagging or composting. Dry leaves are much easier to clear, so try to remove as many as you can when a storm is forecast. On a crisp fall day, you can easily move mountains of leaves with a reliable blower.
We test leaf blowers in batches for their ability to move dry leaves and loosen leaves embedded in high grass. Some years, that means blowing 2,500 pounds of fallen foliage that we collect throughout the year. Our ratings include models from Black+Decker, Echo, Ego, Husqvarna, Little Wonder, Remington, Ryobi, and Stihl.
CR members can see ratings and reviews below on six great leaf blowers, all of which earn top marks in our sweeping test.
Make One Last Deck Check
While you’re putting away your outdoor furniture and your grill, take a careful look at your deck. Make sure the railings and banisters aren’t loose. Push on them; they shouldn’t wiggle. Check that all of the steps are securely anchored to the risers by resting your weight all along their full width. Inspect all nails, screws, and bolts. Hammer down nails, and tighten screws and bolts as needed with a cordless drill. And to protect the wood from moisture, make sure you clear away all leaves from the structure.
We perform the bulk of our cordless drill tests on a benchtop instrument called a dynamometer. It measures torque under different loads in order to derive scores for power, speed, and run time. To give you a sense of what’s involved in our drill reviews, CR engineers could drive 53,219 wood screws into pine boards for the total work they measured during testing.
CR members can see ratings and reviews below on two exceptionally powerful cordless drills.
Remove Dead Branches
Dead tree limbs can be a menace during a strong storm and pose a risk of damage to your home, car, and property. To be safe, remove the branches well ahead of nasty weather. If your trees are small and the branches are no more than 4 inches in diameter, consider using an electric lopper, which some homeowners find less scary than a chainsaw.
In our test facility, it’s not enough for a chainsaw to be capable of tackling 10-inch-square oak beams—we think the best models should cut through them in a timely fashion, handle easily, and have enough built-in safety features to protect the user. That’s why we look for all of those things when we assess models, and our ratings include picks from Echo, Ego, Husqvarna, Remington, Ryobi, and Stihl.
CR members can view scores and reviews for three of the fastest-cutting chainsaws we've tested, below.