Nothing brings back warm childhood memories like raking leaves. There’s something about the challenge of seeing how high you can pile the leaves. Then of course, one must fall backwards into that pile. At this point a warm mug of hot chocolate magically appears.
Uhh… no. Norman Rockwell imagery aside, jumping in a pile of leaves is fine when you’re a 75-pound kid. As a fully grown adult however, those leaves don’t provide much cushioning.
A few years ago, I acquired my first house. After decades of apartment living, I had to brush-up on my leaf raking game. Here’s my scenario: my property has twelve mature trees, on a 10,000 sqf lot, not to mention that one of them is a 100+ year-old sycamore tree. I have no doubt that those trees reduce my power bill during the Summer, but come Fall, it’s time to pay the piper.
Also, all trees don’t lose their leaves at the exact same time. With the variety growing on my property, leaf raking is a process that can take weeks to complete. During drought conditions, some trees will begin to shed leaves early. This can mean months of leaf raking. The longer you let it go, the more daunting the task.
I don’t have kids that I can cajole into working. I could hire a landscaping service to tackle the problem, but I’ve always been a DIY kind of person. Some cities offer curbside leaf collection during the fall, you simply pile the leaves on the street, and a truck with a giant vacuum will take them away. That would be a nice option, if I had it. My only option is a 96 gallon yard waste container that gets picked up every other week.
Upon arriving the hardware store I was confronted with a plethora of rake choices: steel or plastic tines, wood or fiberglass handle. I of course went with the cheapest option. Actually I bought two rakes, one wide rake and one that’s narrow to fit in tight spaces.
After ten minutes of raking I began to cough uncontrollably. I wasn’t kicking up any dust. Perhaps this was some psychological aversion-response to yard work. Not likely, after decades of apartment living, I was actually enjoying myself. I did a little research online and apparently sycamore leaves have microscopic fibers which, when disturbed, can cause respiratory distress. I confirmed this by asking a tree-service technician working in my neighborhood. He said they refer to them as sick-a-more trees for this very reason. I solved this problem by donning a N95 mask.
After creating a large pile of leaves, I found an efficient way to transfer them to the yard-bin. I took both rakes and used them like salad tongs. I was soon faced with another issue: how to fit all those leaves in a 96 gallon container. I explored various methods of leaf compaction on YouTube, but the fact remained, I wasn’t going to get them all. I could bag them, but my service doesn’t collect loose bags. I could transport them to the dump myself. It didn’t seem like a good option. Bags are expensive, and it seems silly to add more plastic to a landfill just to remove leaves. So I was resigned to the fact that I would have to wait two weeks between yard waste collections.
That first year I finally got rid of all the leaves by mid-February.
As the pandemic raged, finding N95 masks was an impossibility. I had a few left, but they weren’t going to last very long. The surgical masks did absolutely nothing in preventing that sycamore dust from irritating my lungs.
I did however have an epiphany when it came to compacting leaves. I raked them into a long pile and gathered them my with lawn mower. It was genius. I mulched and collected them in one step. It did kick up a huge cloud of dust though. Although I was wearing a N95, if my neighbors were enjoying the fresh Autumn air, they would soon be enveloped in a cloud of airborn dirt. I solved that issue by spraying down the leaves with a garden hose ten minutes before I mowed them.
With this method I was able to cut my workload by a couple of months.
At this point, it was time to really refine my technique. That narrow rake I bought wasn’t small enough to fit into a lot of tight spots in my yard, so I researched leaf blowers.
I must say that I despise leaf blowers. Having worked night shift for many years and being awakened by that loud high-pitched noise, the mere sound of one elicits a visceral response in me. But the fact remains that it would be a more efficient way to clear some of those problem areas in my yard. I explored the electric models. At least their sound is a little less grating.
As I explored the options online I found that some models have attachments that convert the blower into a leaf vacuum. What’s this sorcery? I can eliminate raking altogether? Yes please! I raced down to the big-box hardware store and plunked down my money.
These models use an aluminum impeller which moves the air and mulches the leaves simultaneously. It worked great… until I got to the sycamore leaves. If you’re not familiar with them, sycamore leaves are huge. Many are larger than an adult-sized hand. It didn’t take long until the vacuum attachment was clogged.
To compound the problem, they use a woven cloth bag to collect the mulch. By necessity, it must allow air to pass through it to create enough suction to pick up leaves. This means it releases a lot of dust, a few feet away from my face. I couldn’t spray the leaves down, as the water-weight made the leaves more difficult to pick up. So I was back to wearing the N95s. After ten minutes of dust sticking to the sweat on my face, I looked like a coal miner. At least now the good masks are back in-stock again.
It works well as a leaf blower. However using a controlled tornado to create an easy-to-mow pile is quite difficult. Also, dust is an issue. I was back to spraying the area down beforehand. It was at this time I had another epiphany: I could use my pressure washer!
A pressure washer delivers a small amount of water at high pressure. If used with a wide spray pattern, at a distance it will dampen the leaves and blow them away in one step. The amount of air it displaces makes it a good way to move some material. At 3100 PSI, it moved some leaves. In fact it blew a bunch of them over a 6 foot high fence into my neighbor’s backyard. Hopefully they didn’t notice. With a little practice my leaf powerblasting technique has improved.
So now I have a multi-faceted approach to tackling the Autumn ordeal. I use the pressure washer to blast leaves from the tight areas. I use the leaf vacuum to remove the smaller, hard-to-get-at leaves. Then I use the rake to create a nice long pile that I can mow up.
So if you are looking for some ways to make your Fall chores a bit easier, perhaps some of these ideas can help.
Written by Jeremy Dunn – Select Group Videographer