Weapons of Mass Suction for Autumn Leaves
We’re headlong into fall and the leaves are piling up. What’s a Painless Gardener to do?
One strategy is to bring in the big guns – leaf blowers or leaf vacuums – to arm yourself against strain and over-exertion.
A Blow for Freedom
The fellow who invented the leaf blower in the 1950s in California (naturally) was an aeronautics expert. He merely built a small jet engine and harnessed the exhaust.
In the years since, the leaf blower has spread from the coast to become the favorite tool of landscape maintenance companies far and wide. In fact, the standard in the service has become “Mow, blow and go.”
Personally, I’ve never used leaf blowers. If you love using yours, that’s great. I just find that, in many spots in the yard, a rake does a faster job and you’re still left to bag the blown leaves – unless you just blow them out into the street as some yard crews do. And bagging usually means bending – and backache and elbow strain and shoulder stress.
When I noticed the first leaf blower/vacuum I ever saw, I did a little dance of joy (and alarmed the other Wal-Mart shoppers.) This was exactly what I had been looking for all my yard-keeping life.
And I still feel that way – with a few caveats.
I never use the blower function, only the vacuum function. That allows me to collect and bag leaves all in one process, without bending or straining. That, right there, cuts the job in half.
Even better, the vacuum shreds the leaves as it collects them, meaning I end up with chipped leaves that can be added directly to the compost bin. Another step accomplished.
It also means no need to buy as many plastic leaf bags, which is good for the pocketbook as well as the environment. If you don’t compost – and don’t know any gardener who would LOVE pre-shredded leaves for his or her compost – the shredding means you can get about eight times as many leaves in a bag as usual. That’s a win too.
Your Suckage May Vary
There are a few drawbacks to using a leaf vacuum. There are a lot of oak trees in my yard and in yards around me. That means you get not only an abundance of leaves but also acorns, small limbs and sticks. The vacuum is useless with these.
The vacuum tube clogs easily. A wad of leaves or a stick you didn’t notice can plug the tube and force you to take the thing apart and manually free the obstruction. If you have a lot of debris in your leaves or they’re damp or piled high, you may be stopping to clear the tube as often as every few minutes.
Leaf vacuums work best on light scatterings of leaves. It’s a joy to use them on your deck, for instance, and having a long nozzle to use under shrubs and in awkward spots in beds is wonderful.
So, by themselves, they can be a boon to Painless Gardeners dealing with moderate leaf-fall or those who are disciplined enough to vacuum regularly, before leaves get several layers thick.
In my experience, though, if you have a lot of leaves, you’ll still need to do some raking. We’ll look at the best way to accomplish that in our next post. And then I’ll share my back-saving bagging tool – my secret weapon that I’ll show you how to make.
NOTE: My leaf vacuum is a Black and Decker Leaf Hog. It’s four or five years old and is about ready to be retired. So, some of the problems I’ve had with mine may have been improved in later models or by different manufacturers.
If you have a leaf vacuum or leaf blower that you really like (or really don’t) share it, please, with other readers below.