Fall leaves certainly are beautiful in this neck of the woods. At least they are while they are still on the trees. Not so much when they cover every inch of your lawn! If they don’t get removed from the lawn, they will smother the grass making it weaker in the spring.
So, should you rake them, blow them or mulch them?
When all the pretty leaves fall from the trees this fall, instead of bagging them to put out on garbage day, use them in your garden as free mulch. Most leaves, with the exception of oak leaves, break down easily over the winter. They add nutrients and humus to the soil in your gardens.
In the garden, worms from the soil will draw the decomposing leaves into the soil, improving the condition of your soil, which in turn benefits your plants. Next spring you can bury the portions of leaves that have not decomposed in the garden, and marvel at how rich your soil is.
The leaves in the garden will also protect your perennials and shrubs, like a warm blanket, from the freezing and thawing cycles that do the most damage to garden plants. Roses especially benefit from a blanket of leaves around their crowns at the soil level.
If they are small leaves, simply rake or blow them into your garden around your perennials and shrubs, taking care not to bury the smaller plants. If the leaves are large, run them over with your lawn mower to shred them before adding them to your garden. Oak leaves especially should be shredded, as they are slow to decompose. You may have to spray the leaves with your hose once they are in the garden to keep them from blowing back onto your lawn.
Raking Fall Leaves
Raking is the old-fashioned way to rid your lawn of leaves. Some (my husband included) still swear by this method. We use plastic bags saved from new mattresses years ago to haul the raked leaves to a designated leaf (AKA compost) pile. This procedure works well if you have an area to store the leaves. (which we do at the cottage) I don’t mind raking but when we are talking about a huge property, a blower or mulcher is called for in my humble opinion.
The Advantages of Mulch
Mulched leaves are great for your garden. They are an inexpensive way to amend your soil and protect tender perennials and shrubs from the wrath of Mother Nature over the winter months. If your soil is really poor, add a layer of composted manure over top the mulched leaves. The soil in my Kanata (Ottawa suburb) gardens was predominantly clay, so this fall treatment has really helped over the years. Your reward will be visible next spring and summer when your gardens look gorgeous.
If you don’t have a blower or mulcher, you can run the leaves over several times with your lawn mower, then rake the crumbled pieces onto your gardens or into a compost bin.
Leaf Blowers with or without Mulcher Options
These contraptions also create great mulch for gardens and/or compost bins or piles. I first purchased a leaf blower several years ago, early on in my career of looking after peoples’ gardens and yards. I loved it so much I was collecting leaf-filled yard waste bags from my neighbours’ curbs to mulch. I love mulched leaves in my gardens. So much so that one of my neighbours gives me his mulch too.
As with any brand of leaf mulchers, you must wait until the leaves are dry before you attempt to vacuum and mulch them. Wet leaves will just clog up the motor, resulting in a loud whining noise. Wet or damp leaves also make for larger pieces of mulched leaves instead of the incredibly fine mulch. With low overnight temperatures and lots of rain keeping the leaves wet, perfectly mulched leaves were no easy feat these past few weeks. I found the easiest way around this dilemma was to blow leaves into a single layer in a sunny spot to dry before mulching them.
Another thing to avoid while vacuuming and mulching is twigs or sticks. They too will clog the motor, not to mention damage it.
Most models are quite noisy so earplugs are recommended. The first time I used one without ear protection I wound up with a massive headache.
Although the models I’ve used have all been electric, there are battery-operated or gas-powered, cordless options available. If you are using a long extension cord or several combined (for large properties) be sure your extension cord is a heavy-duty one. According to Copper.org:
An improperly sized extension cord can cause a tool or appliance motor to burn out if allowed to run for too long. It can also cause a dangerous situation if it overheats.
Blower and Mulcher Brands
Toro Ultra Plus
I liked the Toro but found switching the blower to the mulcher tedious. You had to remove one attachment and trade it for the other. This switching back and forth was not only time-consuming but hard on my arthritic wrists.
The bag that held the mulched leaves had a zipper on the bottom to contain the leaves. This zipper was handy, but if you forgot to close it before you started the motor for the next batch, the leaves would fly all over. I did that a few times.
When I graduated to a fancier blower and mulcher, I donated my Toro to the hospice I volunteer at.
Worx Leaf Blower and Mulcher
My next garden toy was made by Worx. I prefer it because you can switch from mulching to blowing leaves with a simple turn of a dial. Very convenient and much easier on my wrists. It too has a zippered mulch bag, so the “don’t forget the zipper” rule applies here too.
Black and Decker
The most recent blower and mulcher I’ve used is a black and decker model. It was given to me by the son of a client after she passed away. I took it to the cottage as I had one at home.
This model is quite impressive although it is now an older model. It seems more powerful than the others in both blower and mulcher mode. This is awesome while you are using it but it means the unit is heavier. I could feel the workout in my forearm muscles the next day. And the arthritic wrists well before that.
You do have to switch between the options by removing and installing the motor component but the process is so simple even I can do it without complaining. There is no zipper on the mulch bag. Instead, you insert the bag onto the mulcher head with a plastic latch. In theory, this works well but the latch seems flimsy, so after several batches of mulch it was getting loose. I’ve noticed the new models don’t have this latch.
Another downside to this model is that it has no shoulder strap on the mulch bag to distribute the weight of the tool as well as the bag of mulch. The other two models had a strap, perhaps that is why my forearm muscles and wrists felt the workout with this one.
It doesn’t matter which method you use to remove the fall leaves from your lawn. Just be sure to do so, your lawn will thank you in the spring with a quick recovery from winter stress. So will your gardens and compost pile if you add the mulched leaves to them.