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7 Tips and Tricks to Make Raking Leaves Easier

Using the right tools and rethinking your approach to this chore can help

woman cleaning the backyard from fallen leaves
Phynart Studio/ Getty Images

​Falling temperatures may bring welcome cool air, but for many homeowners it also means an unwelcome chore is coming: gathering the leaves. ​ ​

Oak, maple and elm leaves in the bright colors of autumn cover lawns and drift into flower beds. In some neighborhoods, you can rake them to the curb for pickup. In other places, they must be bagged or put into bins to be emptied by local yard-waste services. Elsewhere, towns and cities require rakers to take them to a landfill or compost area. ​

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​Though people tend to think of dead leaves as messy and try to clear them right away, many experts now recommend reusing fallen leaves to insulate plants and creatures—including grass, butterflies and birds.​

​Dead leaves contain rich organic matter, minerals and nitrogen, so a light layer can provide compost for a lawn. Some experts recommend “leaf mulching” with a mulching mower to help the leaves break down more quickly. The result? Less fertilizer may be needed, so less pollution will run off into local waterways. Composted leaves will help the soil retain moisture too.​

​Here are a few other timely autumn tactics.​

1. Plan ahead

For efficiency’s sake, wait to rake until all of the leaves have fallen. Also, avoid raking on windy days, when your hard work will scatter. Divide your yard into quadrants or other sections and tackle them one by one.​

2. Choose the best rake—for you

The handle should be long enough so you don’t stoop while raking, which could lead to back and shoulder pain. James White, an assistant manager and buyer at Merrifield Garden Centers in Fairfax, Virginia, recommends choosing rakes with wooden handles that are slim enough for anyone to hold, even someone with some gripping or wrist challenges. “Wood also doesn’t transfer the vibrations as much,” he says. Some people find aluminum or plastic rakes uncomfortable for that reason. (See sidebar below for more information on rakes.) ​

3. Dress for success

Wear gloves to protect your hands from blisters, along with long pants and long sleeves to avoid scratches and other possible injuries. Sunglasses will keep dust and leaf particles out of your eyes.​

4. Rake into a tarp

If your jurisdiction has a curbside pickup program, you can fill or half fill an inexpensive tarp, depending on your strength and the number of available rakers, and then drag that tarp to the curb where your excess leaves will be vacuumed up, usually for use as mulch elsewhere. Or use a tarp to transport the leaves to a backyard compost pile or to spread them under your bushes.​

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5. Use compostable paper or reusable leaf bags

Many consumers want to avoid creating more plastic waste in the environment, White notes. You can find compostable leaf bags at most home and garden stores, or invest in some sturdy reusable yard-waste bags that allow you to easily transport leaves and then fold the bag up to store for next time. Many home and garden stores also sell funnels to help keep the bags open for filling. Hand-held leaf scoops can also move leaves from piles so they easily slide into paper bags. ​

6. Use a leaf blower

Many homeowners love the ease of a lightweight leaf blower, while others can’t stand the sound. Leaf blowers are now regulated and banned in some areas, so check your local laws before purchasing. Keep in mind, however, that the emissions of most gas-powered blowers also release carbon monoxide and other harmful air pollutants that contribute to climate change. Electric leaf blowers, both corded or with a rechargeable battery, are also options. ​

7. Leave the leaves

Lots of essential creatures—moths, butterflies, snails, and spiders—need some leaf litter to survive and thrive. Most butterflies (other than monarchs) overwinter in your landscape as eggs, caterpillars, chrysalides or adults, according to the Xerxes Society, which advocates for butterfly and biodiversity preservation. ​

​If you want to support these animals, however, avoid leaf-mulching; the blades will just chop them up. Instead, use gentle strokes to drag the leaves to a back corner of your yard or distribute them under shrubs or over your perennial beds. The composting leaves will feed the soil and shelter the butterflies and others throughout the winter to assure their abundance in the spring. ​

​“We know that 96 percent of our of our backyard birds rely on insects as the primary food source for their young come spring,” says David Mizejewki, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. “So if you eliminate all of the fallen leaves in your yard, which are the natural habitat for those insects, essentially what you're doing is removing the food resource for the next generation of birds.” ​​ ​

Woman raking fall leaves
Diane Labombarbe / Getty Images

The Right Rake for the Job—and Your Body

All rakes are not the same, says James White, an assistant manager and buyer at Merrifield Garden Centers in Fairfax, Virginia. ​

“Be sure to size the rake to your needs,” says White, who’s bought tools for garden centers for 22 years. He suggests taking into account your upper body strength, and shoulder and arm strength. While large rakes with wider reaches might gather more leaves faster, they also “might cause undue stress and strain on your shoulders and back” if you’re raking a large area.​​Had the same rake for decades? You might consider upgrading. ​

​White often recommends the American-made Flexrake, which has a lightweight, classic design. Or you can check out the recent design innovations. The Ergieshovel rake, for example, has a D-grip handle that extends from the middle of its shaft, along with its end-handle grip. Using both can increase your leverage and may reduce strain on the rest of your body. Its long-lasting steel tines will easily tackle turf grass, and it’s also lightweight. ​

​Other rakes might have anti-slip, padded grips that will make holding the rake easier on your hands and wrists. Some rakes now have telescoping handles, like Jardineer’s adjustable rake with an expandable head (from 7 to 23 inches). ​

​You may even consider having several raking tools for different situations. Homeowners often find narrower shrub rakes to be handy for reaching between shrubs or around utility boxes and air-conditioning units, where leaves often accumulate.​