Don’t Believe the Headlines: You Can Use a Leaf Blower Responsibly
Autumn leaves are falling and, with them, the rising howl of leaf blowers can be heard throughout the land. Unless you’re going to rake completely by hand (a perfectly viable solution for a small yard and physically fit people), you’re bound to create some racket by using a leaf blower, even an electric one.
The humble two-stroke leaf blower has been demonized—most recently in a New York Times op-ed, “The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Leaf Blowers”—and the complaints about noise and pollution are legitimate. Still, it might be the best tool for the job in some cases. To be a good neighbor and not a complete nuisance, you can minimize the din and environmental impact with several best practices, which we’ve gleaned from our years of leaf blower testing in yards both big and small.
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Plan Your Attack
When you think of your lawn as the collection point, and not just the place to move leaves off of, the project comes into sharper focus. The key is to avoid relocating the leaves twice. First step: Move embedded leaves off of cars and paved surfaces, out of flower beds, and onto the lawn. If the leaves are piled against your house and behind bushes, blow them out.
Keep blowing everything onto the lawn. Once you get a sense of how thick and damp the leaves are, you’ll know how far you can blow them to make either a pile or a windrow. Form these up and leave them. Don’t keep trying to blow a huge pile of leaves with a leaf blower that’s just not strong enough to move them.
When removing leaves, keep the entire process in mind. Normally that’s a three-phase approach: blowing, then raking and tarping (or bagging), and finally mowing and bagging. This last pass over the grass with a mower—which we get into deeper below—picks up anything you might have missed, leaving the grass cut evenly and neat going into the winter.
If you try to be overly fastidious with a leaf blower, you’re just wasting your time. Working for more than a couple of seconds, trying to free one leaf from the grass, is something you could do as quickly by picking it up. Or just leave the one leaf. It’s not a big deal, and the leaf blower is a “broad strokes” tool anyway.
Keep the Wind at Your Back
Fall is a windy time in most of the U.S. Whenever possible, blow the leaves with the wind, not against them. As the breeze shifts directions, as it often does, you can still manage to form a pile or a windrow. Once you do, leave it, and form another one. Again, don’t keep trying to move the pile or windrow once it’s formed—especially against the wind as it shifts. Only the most powerful blowers (backpack or walk-behind) can handle that work, and they’re likely overkill for many people.
The Best Leaf Blowers From Our Testing
Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to remove every single leaf. You want to get enough of them into a pile so the lawn looks neat and that leaf litter won’t block sunlight to the grass. The irony of overly fastidious leaf removal is that in parts of the country where snowfall comes later in the season, after you’ve rid your property of downed leaves, you’re liable to have some blow onto the lawn anyway. The leaves will break down soon enough, especially after the lawn bounces back in the spring when heat, sunlight, and moisture speed the decomposition process.
Use Hand Tools
Unless you have an incredibly powerful leaf blower or a lawn perfectly suited to leaf removal, chances are you’re going to need to do some raking. Don’t balk at the idea. It’s a lot faster to use a rake to do minor cleanup than to try to get every single thing done using a leaf blower. Let that machine handle what it does best: gross leaf moving over a short distance to form a pile.
Employ Your Mower
There’s nothing like using a mower in bagging mode to finish the job. The lawn will look like it’s been vacuumed after you’re done. Of course, the mower’s bag will quickly fill. Have a tarp, trash cans, leaf bags, a garden cart, or a wheelbarrow at the ready. Repeat as needed: mow, bag, dump, mow, bag, dump.
Everybody has seen the person who will stand in one place for 15 minutes blowing a handful of leaves. Again, the idea is to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible. If that means using the leaf blower, so be it. If it means breaking out the rake, so be it. If it means leaving what’s left for the mower, same thing.
Take Advantage of Technology
Cordless leaf blowers are amazing. Even if you’re not completely on board with battery-powered yard care, it’s a blessing how much noise you can cut out of the job by using one. Even if your leaf-removal needs are severe, you can use a cordless handheld blower on some parts of the job and then pull out the big gun, the gas-engine backpack, say, for the tougher bits.
Many homeowners, however, will be able to get their yard clean, start to finish, with a cordless leaf blower. It might take more than one battery, but they can get the job done.
But if you have a big yard with a lot of leaves to remove and a gas-powered blower is the most effective option, consider how often you use it. The California Air Resources Board claims one hour of gas-powered leaf blowing is equivalent in emissions to driving a vehicle 1,100 miles. To minimize the environmental impact, wait until late in the season and only clear leaves on one or two weekends. In the interim, mulch them while mowing the lawn, until the leaves get too thick to mow over. By this time, grass growth will be slowing, so let the leaves collect for a couple of weeks and pick them all up at once.
And Finally, Be Polite
Remember your neighbor. Everybody has a lot to do, but clearing leaves at the crack of dawn or while the sun sets is not the way to endear yourself to anybody on your block. Be efficient. Your neighbors are far more likely to accept some stray leaves on your lawn than your being hyper-vigilant in trying to maintain an unrealistically summery landscape in the middle of autumn. And you’ll be able to do a better job with less effort. Work smarter, not harder.
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Published at Tue, 09 Nov 2021 20:14:00 +0000