Ten Leaf Raking Tips for the Lazy Homeowner

Fall is my favorite season of the year for so many reasons. But the one thing I could do without is fall yard cleanup. We have gorgeous, mature trees that shade our yard in the spring and summer. They shade our yard so perfectly, we barely use sunscreen during the summer. There’s just no need for it! The downside to that lovely shade is the massive amount of leaves they shed in the fall.

This is our fifth fall in a home with loads of leaves to rake, and we are finally getting the hang of it. You see, leaf raking is really a fine art, or in the very least, a game played with strategy. Read on for our fall raking strategy for lazy less than enthusiastic yard workers like myself. Hint: it’s all about working smarter, not harder.

Let me first start off with a little background on our leaf situation. To start, our city requires leaves be bagged in compostable bags and set at the curb on trash collection day. It is illegal to dump leaves in your regular trash. In addition, we live on a street with a gradual downslope towards the storm drains. The storm drains happen to open right next to our neighbors’ driveway. In past years, the storm drains have collected too many leaves and backed up, causing potential flooding issues for our neighbors’ basements! One year, the fire department was even called out for a flood response when it was clear that the storm drains were begining to back up. Eeek! All this to say, we do take leave raking pretty seriously around these parts. But that’s because our neighborhood is FULL of mature trees and well, storm drains waiting to collect gobs of falling leaves.

So, with that said, please read the following tips with an eye on your own city’s rules and restrictions. If you are lucky, you can take a verrrry relaxed approach to this yearly chore without our same worries.

#1: Buy all your yard bags at the start of the season. With one fall behind us in our current home, we know we need about 40 bags (ouch). Instead of taking 6 trips to the store, we bought them all at once this year. To save money, you are better off buying leaf bags in the store. But to save a trip to the store, these bags on Amazon are a good option (though they cost about 75 cents more per bag). Gotta love Amazon prime!

#2: Don’t let your grass get too long. Yes, this requires less laziness more enthusiasm in the grass mowing department. But it’s definitely worth it. When the grass is long, it takes more effort to rake and blow. Long grass also promotes more blowing leaves to STICK in your yard (rather than tumbling on).

#3: If possible (see tip #2), wait to rake until the biggest tree has dropped all the leaves. Once you have a carpet of leaves on the lawn, it can be tempting to go out and clear those freshly fallen leaves. But if you can hold off, you will save yourself some time in having to re-rake the whole yard (possibly multiple times). And as another bonus, crunchy leaves take up less less space in yard bags. This is the strategy we use in our front yard, but in the back we do have to rake the whole yard more than once. Why? There are just SO many leaves, we have to rake and mow to make the whole process smoother.

#4: If you can mow the leaves and mulch them, go for it. If there are just too many leaves to mulch, mow the yard in a way that blows the leaves into two or three managable lines. Bob Villa has a great article about the benefits of mulching leaves as well as how to do it. You can read that article here.

Unfortunately for us, we’ve found that it actually takes MORE time to mulch the leaves (either by bagging them or by the process Bob Villa describes) than it does to rake them. Why? We have SO many leaves. It is out of control. To get the leaves to the size the article describes, the number of passes we would need with the lawn mower is insane. What works well for our yard is the mulch-rake approach. We do one pass with the lawn mower and THEN rake. As it turns out, mulched leaves are a bit easier to rake up as they don’t require as much muscle to move. Here is our backyard, the morning after mowing our leaves into a line:

#5: Unless you have a great leaf blower, think twice about blowing OR sucking leaves. It will probably take you more time to blow or suck the leaves than it would to just rake and bag (see tip #2 about how the length of your grass matters, too). If you have a massive job, consider renting a gas powered blower. They are more fun to use and do a much better job than their battery and electric powered cousins. A daily rental near us costs $60. The good news is, based on quotes we’ve received for professional fall yard cleanup, DIYing your yard with a gas blower rental still saves money:

  • Gas Leaf Blower Rental: $60
  • Total Leaf Bag Cost: $40
  • Yard Waste Collection Cost: $65
  • Total DIY Cost: $165
  • Professional Fall CLeanup Cost: $250
  • Savings: $85

#6: Rake or blow your leaf pile towards their final destination (if possible). The closer to their ultimate destination, the better. You could also try the cardboard approach, which looks VERY effective (click the image to watch):

#7: Use a snow shovel to scoop the leaves into the bag. Oversized dust pans also work well. There are a few products on Amazon to make the job easier:

I’m a little hesitant to invest in the Bag Butler because the reviews note that it is designed to use with plastic bags. Our city doesn’t accept plastic bags. The leaf & lawn chute seems a bit better for handling paper bags. Or, skip the bag contraptions and pick up those leaf scoops.

#8: Time your leaf raking as close to yard waste pickup as possible. I tend to binge-rake the day before trash day so I can move the bags just once: to their pickup spot.

#9: Rake a separate, smaller pile away for your kids to jump in and run through. Our young kiddos love to run and kick the leaves out of the pile, making it take 3-4 times as long to bag leaves. Though I can’t blame them - leaves are fun! I like to start by raking them their own pile, then get to work on the rest.

#10: Even better approach: get your kids to rake and bag for you. You can even get kid-sized rakes for this (though our kids aren’t quite old enough to be super useful).

Alright, now it’s time to get out and rake, leaf warriors. With 16 bags down, we are halfway through our raking season over here. Don’t forget to have a little fun with it, too!

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