Dealing with leaves


Last updated September 2014

Why clear up leaves?
What to do with the leaves?
Rotary mowers for clearing up leaves
Hand tools for clearing up leaves
Mechanical sweepers for clearing leaves
Blowers for clearing leaves
Garden vacuum cleaners for leaf clearing

Why clear up leaves?

Although heaps of crispy leaves are lovely to scuffle through when out for a walk, they are less welcome in the garden, especially on the lawn. Why? Because the grass suffers and may even die if the layers of leaves are not removed. A dense smothering blanket of leaves blocks the light and air, especially once the leaves become sodden with rain.

Leaves elsewhere, on paths and patios, can also be a nuisance on windy days if they blow onto the lawn, or into your conservatory, garage or house every time you open the door. Once the leaves have become wet and soggy, they then make it as slippery underfoot as ice, so do need clearing up before they reach this stage.

Leaves on borders will eventually stop blowing about and rot down to provide a valuable mulch, but you might have to clear them up at the just-fallen stage if they are likely to blow onto paths and lawns.

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What to do with the leaves?

Fortunately, the chore of leaf collection is well worth the effort for the resultant leaf mould.

Just bag up the leaves (there are special bags for this eg from Sarah Raven or Waitrose Garden), or pile them up within a wire netting enclosure (jump up and down on them to make more space), and one or two years later you’ll have dark crumbly leaf mould for mulching around plants and improving the soil – all for free.

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Tools for clearing up leaves – rotary mowers

If your mower is a rotary with a grassbag, then you can easily use this to vacuum up leaves from the lawn. They’ll be chopped up by the blades too, to aid composting. However, if the ground is soft, you can end up making quite a mess. Just don’t be tempted to use a mower on paving as the blade could pick up grit or stones and fling them out sideways with the risk of injuring someone or damaging something, including the mower itself.

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Tools for clearing up leaves – hand tools

If you only have a small garden, then a sweeping brush for the hard surfaces and a rake for the lawn should be sufficient.

Choose your rake carefully. The ideal leaf rake shouldn’t dig into the lawn like a scarifying rake, but instead glide over the surface, containing the leaves within its curved shape so that you can gradually accumulate a heap. Most hand tool companies include these in their range – choose tough wire (spring tine) or rubbery tines for longevity.

Then comes the problem of transferring the leaves to barrow or bag. The traditional two boards are fine for moving wodges of leaves, or the modern plastic equivalent (eg the leaf collection hands or leaf scoopleaf scoop) but if you don’t like bending, a long-handled leaf grab may suit you better.

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Tools for clearing up leaves – mechanical sweepers

A mechanical lawn sweeper collects leaves and other debris, so is a good choice for large lawns. As you push the sweeper along, its wide brush whirls the leaves off the lawn and into the collector. The working height is adjustable for use on paving or lawns, but don’t be tempted to use one on gravel, because the brush picks this up and throws it facewards. For this reason, goggles are a sensible precaution if there’s any chance of grit, stones or other small projectiles (eg acorns) lying on the lawn.

Sweepers are usually around 60cm or more wide and are either push types, or towable versions to go behind your garden tractor or ride-on.

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Tools for clearing up leaves – a blower

A much noisier but easier method of clearing lawns is to use a powered blower, garden vac, or combination machine.

Battery, mains electric or petrol-engined hand-held blowers and 4-wheeled blowers are useful for clearing large lawns and paving in broad sweeps, driving the leaves into a heap. This would be quite time consuming to move with a leaf grab.

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Tools for clearing up leaves – a garden vac

Hand-held leaf vacs
It’s speedier to suck up the leaf pile with a garden vacuum. The vacuuming process shreds the leaves to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the design, so the leaves take up less space and rot down faster than whole ones. Most machines have a shoulder strap to take the weight; some have wheels on the nozzle so you can rest it on the ground.

Some leaf blowers convert to vacuums, saving you the expense of buying two machines, but find out how easy it is to convert from one mode to another. Some have to have to be partly dismantled and reassembled, but Flymo’s Gardenvac, for example, is simple to switch modes with a lever.

Wheeled leaf vacs
If contemplating clearing very large areas of lawn and other flat surfaces, then a wheeled leaf and litter vac is much easier to use than a hand-held one. You might track down a mains electric version, but 4-wheeled blowers petrol engined types are more common and widely available from groundsman’s suppliers. Most models have an optional extra wander hose to use on beds. borders and nooks and crannies that are inaccessible to the machine.

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