Saturday, October 25, 2003

Leave no leaf behind

Whether you blow, vacuum, rake or claw, removing fall's fallen colors must be done

By Beth Burwinkel
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Lisa Barto of Mason cleans her yard.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
It happens every year. The fall tree color show ends and homeowners are faced with the rustle of crispy leaves - and the roar of leaf blowers.

If you are facing a yard full of leaves, there are plenty of leaf-removal options, from gas- or electric-powered leaf blowers to vacuums that suck up the leaves and shred them to rakes that swivel and refuse to clog.

Debi Williamson, assistant manager of Hader Hardware who has a small yard in Loveland, is sold on her hand-held electric leaf blower.

"If you have a smaller yard where you don't mind that extension cord, they're nice and not heavy," Williamson says.

Wayne Mosley, owner of Central Tool Rental in Evendale, uses a vacuum shredder at home because it helps him easily retrieve the leaves stuck in bushes. The shredder reduces the volume of the leaves, but he has to stop frequently and empty bags.

Nevertheless, Mosely says, backpack blowers are more popular than vacuums.

And when it comes to leaf blowers, gas-powered is gaining popularity over electric-powered, Home Depot spokeswoman Jen King says.

"Ten years ago, electric was more popular," King says. "The split was 80-20 in terms of electric-gas. Now we are seeing 50-50 in terms of gas and electric."

Hand-held leaf blowers start at about $30, Williamson says. A commercial backpack blower can sell for $400, adds Mosley. The type of vacuum shredder that Mosley uses at home costs $200-$260. A commercial push vacuum can cost $700.

Want a nicer leaf blower or vacuum without the up-front cost? Renting is an option.

A blower rents for about $20 a day, a vacuum rents for about $40 a day, says Mosley, president of the Greater Cincinnati Tool Rental Association.

If you prefer the low-tech leaf-removal route, there are a variety of new rakes on the market, including the Clog Free Rake from Ames True Temper, about $10. The company says that patented "wave shaped" teeth prevent leaves from clogging the rake.

"Yes, it really works," says Brian Imel, director of marketing for Ames True Temper. "It will also help move mulch and loose gravel."

The Plow & Hearth ( catalog features a pivot rake with a handle that adjusts from 55 to 80 inches. It is angled so users can stand up straight while raking. It sells for $29.95.

Plow & Hearth also sells 15-inch Bear Claw scoops. Users slip their hands inside the scoops and pick up leaves and other yard waste. The Bear Claw costs $7.95.

So you've blown, vacuumed, raked or clawed the leaves out of your yard. Now what?

Check with your municipality. Some cities ask you to place leaves at the curb in paper bags. Others tell residents to rake them into a row or pile at the curb so municipal vacuums can collect them.

If your leaves don't stay at the curb, you may be interested in Leaf Lock, a new product by Toro that holds leaves in place. After raking the leaves, wet them with a hose, sprinkle Leaf Lock on top and wet the pile again. Leaf Lock costs $9.99. One package covers 150 square feet of leaves. It is available on

Many gardeners send their leaves to the compost pile or use them as mulch.

John Demetriou of Withamsville blows leaves into a pile and uses a vacuum to suck them up and shred them.

Demetriou spreads shredded leaves as mulch on his beds each fall. He also piles leaves in a designated area and lets them decompose over the winter so he can use the pile as mulch the following summer.

If you are planning to dig a garden bed next season, Demetriou says that this year's leaves can make the task easier.

Lay a 6- to 8-inch pile of leaves in the spot where you plan to dig next spring. Over the winter, the leaves will kill the grass so that it will be easier to create the bed when spring arrives.

Do it - or pay for it

If you don't want to deal with fall leaf removal, landscaping companies are available to handle the task.

Roger Mitchell, owner of GroundTakers Lawn and Landscaping Services, says that the cost depends on several factors, such as the type of equipment needed and if the city or landscaper hauls away the leaves. Generally, he says, a homeowner can expect to pay $150 to $225 for a team of two working two hours.

For do-it-yourselfers, Mitchell offers the following end-of-season lawn care tips:

Make sure that the leaves have been removed before it snows. Mitchell removes oak leaves (rather than shredding them and leaving them in place) because they are acidic and over time they can increase the acidity of the soil.

Run the lawn mower to chop final stray leaves and use an aerator to poke holes in the lawn. The holes make it easier for air, water and fertilizer to reach the roots of grass.

Fertilize the lawn after the top growth has stopped and before the ground freezes.


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