How to Use Leaf Blower/Vacs

Knowing When to Use Leaf Blower/Vacs -- And When Not To

Image of a Black & Decker leaf blower.
Leaf blowers are useful in fall landscape maintenance if used correctly. David Beaulieu

This article addresses "how to use leaf blower/vacs" in the sense of developing a plan for employing leaf blower/vacs as one component in your yard-cleanup arsenal. The article does not address such issues as starting up such equipment, switching from blower mode to vacuum mode, etc. For information on the latter, please consult my reviews of specific leaf blower/vacs; for instance:

The basic premise of the present article is that the most effective way in which to use leaf blowers/vacs is to use them selectively. That is, you should not buy a leaf blower/vac with the idea that you will never rake again, (unless your physical condition does not allow you to pick up a rake).

Rather, plan on keeping that good ol' fashioned rake handy, but supplement with leaf blower/vacs when you clearly can save some time with these new-fangled gadgets, be it in blower mode or vacuum mode.

When It Makes Sense to Use Leaf Blower/Vacs: Blower Mode

Just a couple of examples:

If you need to "sweep" dried grass clippings, leaves or dirt off your driveway, patio, sidewalk, etc. quickly, then -- as long as you're not especially concerned about picking them up just as quickly -- it may make sense to use leaf blower/vacs. If pick-up is a concern, use a shop-vac instead.

If you have a large lawn and it becomes covered with great masses of leaves in fall, it may make sense to use leaf blower/vacs as a first step in the leaf-removal process. That is, using a leaf blower/vac in conjunction with tarps, round up the bulk of the leaves into separate piles. For instance:

  • Beginning in the far left-hand corner of your lawn, blow the majority of leaves into a pile, on a tarp.
  • Don't be fussy: it's counter-productive to try to round up every last leaf using a leaf blower/vac.
  • When you've blown the majority of the leaves into a pile in this corner of the lawn, fold the tarp over the leaves and remove the pile (you'll probably need help) by dragging the tarp away
  • Dump the leaves into an enclosure where they can be composted or from which they can later be added to a compost bin
  • Move on to the other corners, proceeding in the same manner.
  • Then tackle the leaves in the center of the lawn, in like fashion.

But I emphasize that the idea here is not to be fussy. Remove the bulk of the leaves, then finish up with a leaf rake.

If you don't compost your leaves and are, instead, facing the proposition of having to dispose of them in leaf bags, consider an alternative to removal: namely, mulching in place. I.e., a mulching mower may make more sense for you than a leaf blower/vac. Just run the mulching mower over the leaves, letting it chew them up into fine pieces that will work as a sort of lawn fertilizer. Another alternative is to run either a regular or a mulching mower over the leaves with the bag attachment on, then dump them from the bag attachment into your leaf bags. The bag attachments for some mowers hold more leaves than do the vacuum bags of leaf blower/vacs, so the job will go faster.

Leaf blower
Mint Images / Getty Images

What Leaf Rakes Can Do That Blower/Vacs Cannot

Below, I will elaborate on a use for leaf rakes already alluded to on Page 1, as well as uses for the "vac" mode on blower/vacs. But first, let me note that leaf rakes can play a role in lawn care of which blower/vacs are utterly incapable. I'm speaking of lawn aeration.

You see, the leaves we remove in fall are not the only debris that plagues our lawns: there's also thatch to be removed. The build-up of lawn thatch makes it difficult for your lawn to breathe. Lawn aeration performed in spring or fall helps control lawn thatch.

The blower/vacs we use for fall leaf removal do not, in any way, address the issue of thatch. By contrast, if you use leaf rakes wisely, you can accomplish leaf-removal and thatch-removal at the same time.

What do I mean by "wisely"? Well, assuming we're talking about an established lawn, don't be afraid to lean on that leaf rake some, applying enough pressure to dig the tines in a little. This will help dislodge some of the thatch that has accumulated on your lawn, in addition to taking care of the leaves. Not that this is a cure, in and of itself, for serious thatch problems. But every little bit helps.

Raking leaves in yard
George Doyle / Getty Images

When It Makes Sense to Use Leaf Blower/Vacs: Vacuum Mode

The devices in question are termed, "blower/vacs" due their use in two different modes, of course: blower mode and vacuum, or "vac" mode. It's time now to consider the capabilities of blower/vacs in vacuum mode.

Frankly, most people find leaf blower/vacs ineffective as vacuums for the purpose of, say, removing a large number of leaves from the lawn, because:

  1. They just don't vacuum up a large number of leaves very quickly
  2. Their vacuum bags don't hold a sufficient quantity of leaves to make them worthwhile for leaf-removal purposes (you'd find yourself constantly stopping to empty the bags)

Nonetheless, it might make sense to use leaf blower/vacs in vacuum mode in certain select areas of the yard for the removal of a small amount of leaves, dried grass clippings, dirt, etc., where it would be difficult to use leaf rakes; for instance:

  • Areas where leaves fall between rocks
  • At the base of a fence, where leaves become trapped
  • In nooks and crannies around the house and outbuildings
  • On decks

You could also blow the debris out of such areas, then pick it up later. But why make extra work for yourself? You're paying for your equipment's vacuuming capability, so why not put that capability to work in those cases where it truly is effective?

When It Does NOT Make Sense to Use Leaf Blower/Vacs: Long Live Leaf Rakes!

After you remove the bulk of leaves from your yard, you'll still have some leaves to remove. And that's where leaf rakes come into play.

The best way to pick up those stray leaves is by using that old favorite, the leaf rake. Techie diehards who scorn leaf rakes as a matter of principle will persist and desperately try to pick up the remaining leaves with leaf blower/vacs. But doing so just doesn't make sense, in terms of efficiency: leaves aren't very cooperative in such matters! Technology simply hasn't come up with an inexpensive product, at this point in time, that replaces the lowly leaf rake for this purpose.

Summary: When to Use Leaf Blower/Vacs, Leaf Rakes

  • Use leaf blower/vacs in vacuum mode to remove small amounts of leaves, etc. from tight spots, where leaf rakes would be hard to use
  • Use leaf blower/vacs in blower mode (in conjunction with tarps) to gather the bulk of your lawn's leaves into piles, for removal by hand
  • Leaf rakes are still the most effective tool for putting the finishing touches on lawn leaf removal, or for leaf removal in small yards.
  • Leaf rakes offer the added bonus of helping you keep thatch under control.