Choose the right tools
The tools you use can help make this chore far more manageable.
First, Kaminski recommends getting a leaf rake. There is more than one type of rake out there, and each one has its purpose. For example, a heavier steel implement can aerate your lawn in the spring, but it weighs too much to deal with lighter leaves. For this task, you’ll want a lightweight rake with a handle that’s long enough so you won’t have to repeatedly stoop over and possibly hurt your back.
An adjustable leaf rake can also help you nab leaves that may have fallen between flower beds, as well as the ones on your yard, without having to switch tools, says Matthew Cook, manager for arboretum and grounds at the New York Botanical Garden.
You can also use a leaf blower to blow the leaves into piles, says Kaminski. Many large blowers run on gasoline, which makes them less eco-friendly than the low-tech rake. However, there are electric and battery-powered leaf blowers on the market. A blower can also help people who are older or not as fit get out and take care of their yards, says Cook.
According to Cook, another higher-tech option is to mow over the leaves, effectively turning them into mulch right there on the grass. This lets the decomposing leaves absorb back into the soil. “I would say the best rake is a lawn mower,” he says.
Cook recommends taking the bag off your home lawn mower and letting the chopped leaves and grass clippings fall back down to fertilize the soil. He points out that grass grows the most during the spring and fall, when the days are warm and the nights are cool. As a result, many people will continue to cut grass through much of the autumn anyway. Might as well take care of the leaves while they’re at it!
However, Kaminski warns that too many decomposing leaves can throw off your soil chemistry. Healthy soil normally has a ratio of 20 to 24 parts carbon for one part nitrogen. Dead leaves hold a lot of carbon, anywhere from 30 to 80 parts carbon per one nitrogen. All that extra carbon floods the soil as the leaves decompose, which means decomposition uses up the nitrogen, so it won’t be available to aid plant growth in the spring.
Cook agrees that your lawn can only absorb so many dead leaves. Even if you do opt for the mulching method at first, you’ll eventually have to start picking up dead leaves and moving them somewhere else. But you can still do this with a mower: Just put the bag back on so you can collect those chopped leaves and dispose of them as you go, says Cook.