Every fall, the daunting task of raking leaves rolls around again. The process of waiting for the yard to fill with piles of leaves and raking and collecting all the lawn litter can seem endless. Some form of leaf raking is inevitable for anyone with trees on or near their property, so it’s no wonder figuring out how to make it easier or faster is a hot topic.
Dry leaves are easier to move than wet leaves, and shredded leaves take up far less space than full-sized loose leaves. Cleaning your lawn or areas of your lawn of leaf piles and then bagging the leaves can be made even easier with tools like leaf blowers or lawn mowers. No matter how you go about it, collecting leaves can be made simpler if you follow the tips below.
Ways to Rake Leaves into a Bag
Some experiences I have had collecting leaves when cleaning up my large childhood lawn and when landscaping professionally have shown me a few processes that can make this laborious task a little easier. Moving large amounts of leaves can be very difficult without the right leaf removal tools and techniques. These combinations of leaf collection tips have proven most successful for me year after year.
Group the Leaves
Autumn leaves fall sporadically and unpredictably, but in most places, a heavy night wind will signal the true end of fall and drop the remaining deciduous leaves to the ground. These dead leaves blow around the yard and get wedged everywhere imaginable. The first task is to group the leaves by getting the hard-to-reach pile of leaves over to the rest of them.
House gutters, tight gaps between fences and structures, garden beds, and the flower bed are common places to find a blanket of leaves. Makes sure to rake, scoop, or blow the leaves out of these areas so all leaf litter can be collected at once. Leaves in these areas may also receive less sunlight and become damp and rot, making them harder to bag, so move them to the lawn as soon as the last leaves fall.
It is hard to move wet leaves. Snow and frost can come early, making a leaf collection program nearly impossible. If wet weather is expected, then it may be a good idea to clean up the majority of leaves that have fallen before they get wet. Excess leaves that fall later can be cleaned up if the weather clears up, or they can be left to mulch the lawn naturally.
Large leaves take up a lot of space in bags and compost bins and may need more trips than necessary to move. Anything you can do to reduce the amount of work raking leaves is a huge help, and one strategy is to mow over and mulch the leaves before you collect them. This can be combined with a collection method or be the first step to raking.
If you will be collecting the leaves as you mow them, then attach a lawn bag or use a leaf vacuum/lawn sweeper attachment to pick up more leaves as you pass by. Collecting the leaves this way can save time but may not be effective in a deep layer of leaves. Residential mower bags tend to be small, and the constant mowing and emptying could become even more work than just raking.
Should you choose to mulch the leaves, pass over them one or two times and choose a mulching setting that is small enough to take less space in bins but not too fine that raking will be difficult. There is also the possibility of leaving some leaves as garden mulch and only bagging excess leaves. Whatever you end up doing with the mulched leaves, try to use them as a natural fertilizer or a compost addition and not just throw them in the trash.
Without the aid of mowers or mechanical leaf collectors, you will need to make several piles that will easily fit in leaf bags. Piles can be as big or small as you like but makes sure they can be accessed and are not blocking walkways or other paths. Despite our best intention, sometimes we do not finish bagging all of the piles we create the same day we start, so make sure piles that may remain longer are not killing grass or anywhere they cannot sit for several weeks or months.
I find it is a good idea to wear good garden gloves before starting as the rake will cause callouses on your hands, and leaf litter may contain bugs or critters that can, defensively, harm you. Gloves can also keep your hands warm if the leaves are a little damp or the temps have dropped drastically.
Raking leaves and making piles in the same direction the wind is blowing and in areas where the breeze naturally deposits each batch of leaves can save you time and effort. Trying to rake against the wind is impossible, and even a leaf blower may not be able to help you against determined gusts. Raking with the wind can speed things up and help you move large amounts of leaves with far less effort than you would use fighting against nature.
Collect the Leaves
Once there are piles of leaves, you will need to do your best to move them to where they will finally be disposed of. The most common way to collect leaves is in heavy-duty brown paper lawn bags or plastic bags, which can be either compatible, biodegradable, or non-biodegradable, like standard garbage bags. After you select your desired leaf receptacle, it’s time to pick up those piles and get bag them.
The most common leaf tool is a rake with angled tines, and a wider tine spread to gather more leaves in one go. Unlike metal-tined rakes for grass clippings, large plastic rakes make quick work of big piles of leaves spread across your lawn. You can use the rake as an anchor and press your hands against them to drop batches into the bags with little effort.
As far as rake alternatives go, you can use a leaf scoop to pick up larger piles at a time with fewer dropped leaves. Leaf scoops, snow shovels, and leaf tongs can all be used on their own or in combination with a rake to move leaves into the bag. Temporarily placing the bags in a plastic bin or using a trash funnel can help get more leaves into the bag and reduce the amount of time you need to re-pick up lawn litter.
Leaf Bag Disposal
Collecting leaves in bags for the landfill, piling them into a green bin, or tossing them into compost piles are all acceptable ways to get rid of lawn leaves. Some are obviously better than others, and these should take priority for a smaller carbon footprint and better lawn maintenance.
Plastic trash bags made of petro-chemicals and sending leaves to the landfill are the least ideal options, whereas gathering them for a community collection center in the green bin or using biodegradable bags are far better options. The best choice would be to add them to your compost pile or use them as mulch around trees, shrubs, and in overwintering flower beds.
If you will not be putting the leaves in bags, you can use burlaps and tarps to make the leaf removal process far easier. Lay the tarp out on the ground and rake the leaves over onto it. Once the burlap or tarp is 3 quarters covered, grab the corners and fold them towards the center like a parcel. These can be hoisted onto trailers or dragged to garden beds and compost piles for quick dumping, saving you bagging time and costs.
Why Should You Rake Leaves in Autumn?
Lawn care is difficult, and rotting leaves left over winter can make your spring tasks much more difficult. If you want to make your life easier, then collecting leaves in autumn is the best choice. In addition to saving time, you can help your lawn grow faster and stay healthier if you remove deep layers of leaf litter before winter each year.
Soil temperatures signal to turf grass when to grow and when to go dormant. While a little bit of organic mulch is great for grass, too thick of a layer of leaves can cause problems that may cost time and money to repair next spring. While warm-season grasses may go dormant and like a little protection from cold winter, cool-season grasses may need direct sunlight to grow all winter, and leaf litter can stunt that growth.
Clumps of wet leaves can build up and cause snow mold when the temperatures drop, and dew evaporation ceases to happen daily, making it even more important to rake them up. If leaf litter rots, then autumn leaves can kill your grass in the spring and leave ugly brown or bare spots that need resowing and invite invasive weeds. Remove clumps of leaves to keep soil from suffering a lack of oxygen and anaerobic conditions.
Reduce Lawn Pests
While some beneficial insects may hide under leaves to survive the winter, there is also a slew of lawn pests that find the reprieve ideal. If your turf has been unbalanced lately or pest control regimes are insufficient, then leaves lying in your lawn could lead to serious pest problems in the spring. Some pests may kill your grass, and others could enter your home when the spring warms things up, so removing these hiding places can be critical.
I have found that pests like ticks and fleas love to hide in leaf litter and can jump from there onto you and your pets. Once these pests get into your home, it can be hard to remove all of them. If you have pets and children that will still occupy the lawn through winter, you will want to clean up the fallen leaves to prevent biting pests from taking over.
Gather Compost Materials
During the winter, almost all yard and garden plants will go dormant, and you will have very little to trim and toss in the compost. Yard waste typically accounts for a fair amount of the brown material in the C:N ratio of compost, and without that addition, you will end up with anaerobic nitrogen-dominant piles that stink and are slow to decompose.
Collecting leaves to add to the compost pile throughout the winter is a great option. If you have a big compost heap and want to do a large batch of compost, then dropping the entire season’s leaves all at once can be the right move, especially if you are hot composting. If you only have a tumbler or small pile, then it is a good idea to collect the leaves in bags and add handfuls as the winter progresses, and you add more kitchen scraps to the compost.
Free organic fertilizer is an appealing offer, and lawns benefit from leaf litter mulch just as greatly as if commercial fertilizers are added irregularly. Leaving organic waste in your lawn and along bare areas of your yard can help improve soil quality, feed the microorganisms, and protect from weeds and erosion.
Some fruit trees and sensitive ornamentals can benefit from the addition of mulch to their beds. Piles of leaves can lock in moisture, add heat, and keep soil microbes working hard during the winter. Adding a pile of leaves over the roots of trees but away from the stem can help plants survive frost and spring up faster when temperatures rise again.
To Keep Lawns Tidy
It is possible that winter is not cold where you live or that the lawn still gets winter use. A lawn full of leaves is messy and can be difficult to play or walk animals in. In addition to pests and lawn health issues, there is also the tidiness of the entire space to consider. As long as leaves are laying around the lawn, there is a chance they will blow away and end up in places you have already cleaned.
Wet leaves can stain pathways and choke out turf that is trying to survive the winter. When leaves blow behind houses, and between structures, they can become bedding for rodents and other pests that may soon find their way into your homes. To keep your lawn, home, and property completely free of pests and critters, you will want to clean up the leaves and not let large piles sit all winter long.
Reasons to Not Rake and Bag Leaves?
Not every lawn needs to be raked, and sometimes you can use the time that would be spent with lawn care preparing other areas of your home for winter. If the only reason you are going out to rake leaves is that you feel like you are supposed to, then you might want to check out the info below.
Beneficial Insect Territory
A fair amount of the beautiful and beneficial pollinators that we love and plants need to hide in leaves during the winter. When lawns are fastidiously manicured and left immaculate and litter free, then these useful insects may not have any way to survive. Knowing whether you need to do this is as easy as checking the plants in and around your lawn.
The pollinators will often hide from the cold near their favorite food sources. Even if the plants are not in bloom, pollinators know where they should go. If you commonly have pollinators like bees and butterflies visiting your flower and herb garden, then you should leave some piles of leaves that they can use. Strategically let piles of leaves build up in wind paths and along areas of the yard that receive less use to make it convenient for you and safe for them.
Dead leaves are great lawn mulch, especially if you have cold-sensitive warm-season grasses. Bags of leaves are not needed if you plan on leaving leaves to break down as mulch. In most cases, it is not advisable to leave whole leaves as they break down slowly and may block the sun leading to pale grass and dead zones.
To maximize the effectiveness of your leaf mulch without harming your turf grass, you will want to use a mower to mulch the leaves first. Passing over the leaves once or twice can reduce leaves to a fine litter that will act as a thin layer between the soil and the sun without blocking airflow or heat transfer. Leaf cover over lawns can also encourage a rich green turf earlier in the spring and supply crucial nitrogen early in the year.
Not Many Leaves
There are lawns that either do not have many trees or have trees that do not drop leaves in fall. If you have evergreen trees or leaf drops that miss your lawn and find your neighbors instead, you may not need to worry about this lawn task at all. It can be nice to skip a difficult part of lawn maintenance due to a good design and nice lawn setup.
Occasionally, a perfect wind sector may do your cleanup for you. If the wind naturally blows your leaves into the street and away from your yard, you can just assist with clean up by moving stuck piles to where the wind can get them. There is no point doing more lawn work than is needed, so if you don’t need to rake, don’t rake!
Leaf Bagging Alternatives
Instead of raking and putting leaves into a bag, you can look at other ways to clean up your lawn and get rid of piles of leaf litter. Raking may be the tried and true way to pick up leaves, but mechanical methods and cutting down on the amount of yard waste bags leaving your property can reduce the work needed. If you don’t want to rake but do want a cleaner lawn to try some of these leaf-bagging alternatives.
|Mow Over||Fewer leaves to clean up||mow over leaves in the lawn until they are a fine mulch that will help not harm your soil and turf|
|Leaf Vacuum||Picks up leaves from hard-to-reach areas and bags them automatically||Attach vacuum to mower or pack and run along hard-to-rake and unmowable sections of your lawn|
|Lawn Sweeper||Grabs large amounts of weeds and bags them quickly using your existing mower||Use a leaf blower or rake to move leaves into the main lawn area and then run over leaves with a lawn sweeper until the lawn is clear|
|Leaf Blower||No raking or cleaning up is necessary, and it can be done quickly||With a leaf blower, move leaves into garden beds, onto the street, and away from your lawn until no leaves remain|
|Organic Mulch||Leave leaves where they are with no need to move or pick up||Mow over the leaves repeatedly until they are fine materials or move leaves to beds and layer heavily to protect and fertilize|
|Compost||Returns all nutrients and leaves back to the garden, and consequently, the soil that the leaf-dropping plants grew from||Either let the leaves lie under their respective trees or move leaves where they are wanted and let them sit all winter|
There are many lawn and garden tools designed to reduce the effort in lawn maintenance. Bending, scooping, and trying to get all the leaves into bags can be exhausting, but fortunately, lawn equipment manufacturers know how to help. Mowers, blowers, and various attachments can speed up lawn care of even the largest lawns and make your fall pickup that much simpler.
The trade-off with mechanical collection is that it may require extra costs to maintain all of the different machines. Engine problems can also waste valuable lawn cleaning time, whereas rakes are always ready to go with no fuel or priming needed. Include mechanical leaf removal as an option, and you can save time while still being able to handle most of the yard without stressing if the equipment doesn’t work right away.
Organic Matter Collection
Building soil and collecting your lawn waste is the best method for leaf removal if you have the time and space. Compacting the leaves and allowing them to break down in bags over the winter can give you good garden material in the spring when you are planting a new garden. If you want to avoid bagging, you can opt to dump the leaves where they will remain all at once.
The main ways to use leaves as organic waste are to mulch them where they lie, add them to a compost pile, or put them in the greens bin. None of these require bagging and can save you time raking and working in the yard. Remember to compact the leaves by crushing them either in the pile, bin or on the lawn to save space and make it easier to move large amounts of debris.
Once in a compost pile or on the ground, the time it will take to break down depends on soil microbes, temperature, and other organic matter it is being composted.