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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.