LESLIE: Well, raking up fallen leaves is a time-honored autumn chore and totally strenuous if you go about it the wrong way.
TOM: That’s right. Like any task, it’s much easier if you’ve got the right tools and techniques. For fall leaf-collection tips that save time, sweat and stress, we welcome Roger Cook, the landscaping contractor for This Old House.
ROGER: Thanks for having me.
TOM: So, why do we even bother rounding up leaves in the first place? Can we just leave them alone?
ROGER: That’s really a good question. I mean we’re out there chasing the last leaf until the snow falls and sometimes I wonder why we’re so bound and determined to remove every leaf when in certain situations, they can be good.
ROGER: On a lawn, if you have excessive piles of leaves, it will – it can damage the lawn; it can smother it. So we definitely want to collect all the leaves off there. I like to put some of the leaves back into the beds, especially if you can grind them up and reduce them. Take and spread them right in the bed and they’re a natural mulch.
TOM: Alright. So what’s the best way to collect them when you do have to rake them? Is it simply raking them up? Any tricks of the trade for that to make it easier?
ROGER: It all depends on the yard, how big it is and what you’re going to do with them. I love to rake up leaves and just take and put them on a blue tarp, drag them over …
LESLIE: And then jump in them?
ROGER: The big pile? Yeah.
ROGER: Just make sure there’s no sticks in there.
ROGER: I love to take them, make a big pile on a blue tarp, drag it over to the compost pile and dump it off. But if you have a big yard, raking becomes a real chore.
TOM: Now, let’s talk about that compost yard. If you just have brown leaves, don’t you need other things to put into a compost to make it work properly?
ROGER: Yeah. You’re going to mix it in with some of the green stuff you saved all year from saving the grass clippings from your lawn.
TOM: Ah, OK. So you’re basically taking your grass pile that you accumulated all spring and summer and your leaf pile from the fall and mixing them together to mix your compost.
ROGER: Leaf jambalaya. It’s great. It’s great.
No, it will. It’ll break down over time and then you have a source for compost to do your planting.
LESLIE: Well, you know what I think is so funny is in my municipality, they come and vacuum up the leaves with an industrial-sized truck once or twice a week.
LESLIE: But the funniest thing is every single time I rake up all the leaves and put the nice pile in the street, the next day is like the windiest day and then they’re all right back.
ROGER: All loaded back again? Well, it’s frustrating sometimes but there are tools that can help you do it a little easier. There’s a lot of different types of blowers around. There’s small, battery-powered ones or electric ones for a small yard. Particularly good for getting some leaves that you can’t reach in with a rake. There’s the basic backpack blowers that you go around with, you see the guys with all the time to clean up the leaves. And then there’s the big one – the big mother of them all: the big, giant, two-wheeled blower that blows everything into the neighbor’s yard.
LESLIE: I’ve seen it.
TOM: And wake up the neighbors if you start early enough, right?
ROGER: Yeah, yeah.
ROGER: You just have to pick the right tool for the right spot.
LESLIE: So once you’ve got all those leaves gathered, should you just contact your local municipality and find out the best way to dispose of them if you’re not composting?
ROGER: Well, there’s a lot of different ways to get rid of it. A lot of the communities, you can get the brown bags and you’re going to fill the brown bags and put them out at the curb. Some people will put the leaves in a pile and a landscaper will come by and vacuum them up for them. Others will just take and chew them up and use them as mulch.
TOM: So we know that, generally speaking, it’s best to get the leaves up. You mentioned they can kill grass but I imagine it can also attack trees and other types of plants because you can get a fungus under it, correct?
ROGER: Right. If you have a tree – like crabapples, which are prone to a fungus disease – those leaves fall to the ground and the fungus spore is there for next spring. If you vacuum them up or you rake them up and get rid of them, you’re really going to help cut down on the amount of fungus disease in that crabapple.
TOM: So we were so hoping Roger was going to give us a pass on raking up leaves this fall but alas, no dice.
LESLIE: No dice.
TOM: Roger Cook, the landscaping contractor from TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
ROGER: Well, at least I said you could leave a few behind.
TOM: There you go.
ROGER: Thanks for having me.
LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you on PBS by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.