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Fall Leaves: Part III

Given the disdain that most people feel for raking, the power equipment industry has offered up a vast array of options that, at least ostensibly, are supposed to make the task easier. I can tell you from experience that most blowers and suction systems won’t save you a minute — and that all of them are worse for the planet, for your wallet and waistline.

Having said that, here are some options to consider if you feel you must collect your leaves with something other than a rake:

YOUR LAWN MOWER — For thin layers of leaves, simply mulching the leaves with your mower is a great way to return the nutrients from the leaves back into the soil. I use my Black & Decker battery-powered mower for this purpose early in the season, well before the oak leaves drop onto the lawn to form a thick blanket that no mower could handle.

Side discharge mowers can also be useful, even with a fairly thick layer of leaves. I usually begin mowing on the perimeter of the lawn and aim the chute toward the center. That reduces the area of leaves that I need to collect with my rake.

POWER BLOWERS — These devices, powered by either an electric, propane or gasoline engine, force streams of air out a long tube, thereby allowing you to blow the leaves in a certain direction. They are available in hand-held, shoulder-strap or wheel-mounted models depending on the size of your job.

For the average size lawn, power blowers are complete overkill. As I said in my previous post, the rake-and-tarp method is going to be the fastest, most reliable method of collecting your leaves. I do own this hand-held, battery-powered sweeper — which I use to blow off my walkway and driveway, or to get leaves out from behind shrubs. I love it and, since it’s rechargeable electric, it’s quieter and vastly less polluting than gas models. One charge provides about 40 minutes of use on the 18-volt battery.

I have written off the other gas-powered blowers as a matter of principle. They’re just too loud, too polluting and generally disruptive to my quiet neighborhood. I would especially avoid any gasoline models that require mixing two-stroke oil. These devices, used for just a half hour, emit more volatile organic carbons (VOCS) than a car driven for several ours.

The Lehr company of California has come out with the first hand-held or shoulder-strap propane version, which is reportedly 90 percent cleaner burning than gasoline models. The canisters are readily available at your local hardware stores and provide about two hours of use.

NOTE: The Lehr company has since licensed this technology to Fiskars, and has discontinued its own production. Fiskars will come out with the propane trimmer in 2011, with plans to re-introduce a blower and mower thereafter.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

    Paul — I use an electric mulcher (basically the blower, but it can “vacuum” and chop up the leaves). I then keep the leaf clippings on hand for garden mulch and “brown material” for my compost bin. Mine’s a Black & Decker LeafHog, but I’m sure there are a number of good models out there…

    • Paul Tukey

      I know a lot of people like that model and the mulching function makes composting very simple.

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  • Alice

    Thanks for the discussion. There is a 3rd alternative: collect them, mulch them, and put them back. I have heard several experts suggest that mulched leaves are the ONLY fertilizer a garden needs. As my husband and I have replaced our entire lawn with trees and perennials, I now use a Toro vacuum/blower to collect the leaves, run them through a Flowtron shredder, and reapply them as a light mulch or mix into soil as I add plants or bulbs. I just purchased a Black & Decker cordless blower, which helps clear/collect the leaves and is quite quiet. I try to save some of the shredded leaves to add to the compost pile in the spring, as an adequate carbon source is hard to find to mix with green matter.

  • Eugene Pummill

    After purchasing the Safe Lawn handbook, I’ve pursued the organic method for about three years now. Last year I raked my copious numbers of maple, oak and other tree leaves, and then shredded them with an electric leaf shredder and composted them through early summer before returning the compost to the lawn. It was backbreaking and very time consuming. During the last several summers, I have used battery powered mowers (I have four and it takes all of them)to cut my lawn. But last week, I used my Echo two cycle leaf blower to push a mountain of leaves to my driveway where I used my two cycle Lawnboy to mulch them to tiny bits in about 45 minutes. I make no apologies, and I suggest that the blanket condemnation of power equipment is itself “overkill.” Measured use of power equipment is simply efficient, and I don’t think we have to become total tree huggers to do our part: no pesticides, insecticides or herbicides; nothing but organic, non-synthetic fertilizers and soil amendments, compost tea and yards and yards of compost. Just like I resort to power core aerating my lawn, I see nothing wrong with limited use of brief, intensive use of leaf blowers, power mowers and chain saws,

  • Paul Tukey

    Thanks for the post. I agree with you. I use my gasoline chain saw because I simply haven’t found an electric model that will handle the 20-inch oak trees in my back yard. Although I don’t even own gas mowers and blowers anymore, I’m not against the judicious use of them.

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