It's time to turn over a new leaf — billions of them, in fact, as trees begin to shed their canopies for the winter. My leaf mover of...
It’s time to turn over a new leaf — billions of them, in fact, as trees begin to shed their canopies for the winter. My leaf mover of choice is the rake. It’s much quieter than a gas- or electric-powered blower, which means you can use it any time of day, and get exercise and fresh air, too.
Of course, there are different kinds of rakes, and you need to settle on the right one for the task at hand.
Rake types: They fall into a few basic categories, including lawn and leaf rakes, thatching rakes, and soil or landscaping rakes. Lawn rakes are made for light-duty work, such as removing clippings after mowing without tearing up the grass or disturbing the soil. Leaf rakes are much more heavy-duty, designed to shift weighty piles of often water-logged leaves.
Among landscaping rakes, metal bow rakes are used for moving soil around the garden, mounding dirt to create raised beds, picking up garden debris and tamping the soil. The sharp steel points can dig too deeply into a lawn, however, and, when used to rake leaves, those same points spear the leaves and get clogged easily.
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A more heavy-duty rake is the thatching rake. Thatch is the accumulation of grass (alive and dead) and other organic debris at the soil surface, which can create a thick mat that prevents water from reaching the grass roots and can make a lawn more susceptible to extreme temperatures. A thatching rake has thick blades designed to dig into turf and loosen the thatch layer. All you do is pull the rake across the lawn, bringing the thatch up to the soil surface. Then remove and discard the debris.
Be sure to ask: What is the rake made of? Leaf rakes with metal tines (also known as spring rakes because they bounce) last the longest because the teeth don’t bend when the leaves are heavy. Bamboo rakes are lightweight, but the teeth tend to break easily. Plastic rakes are durable.
The best rakes for tight spaces are the little bamboo ones made for children. They are rarely wider than 7 or 8 inches and have short handles that let you get to leaves under shrubs. Some rakes come with telescoping handles, true, but a kid’s rake is cheap. If it breaks, buy a new one.
Don’t do this: Don’t buy a rake that’s too narrow or too wide. A leaf rake that’s 18 inches wide may make the job longer when you have lots of leaves, even though a narrower width reduces the amount being raked and won’t put a strain on your back. A 30-inch-wide rake makes the job go more quickly but puts more of a strain on you. A rake with a 24-inch width is a good middle-ground choice. Some plastic rakes have easily adjustable widths that allow you to get into tight spaces.
What it will cost: $5 to $50. The most durable and ergonomically designed rakes usually cost about $30.
Good advice: Rake leaves when they’re dry. Wet leaves are heavier, harder to rake and more slippery. They also breed mold and mildew, which can make raking unpleasant for allergy sufferers.
Operating manual: Avoid using a rake that is too short or too long. Allow space between your hands on the tool grip to increase leverage. Wear gloves or use rakes with padded handles to help prevent blisters. Stretch beforehand for 10 minutes to warm up muscles; stretch afterward, too, to relieve muscle tension. And alternate leg and arm positions often. When picking up leaves, bend at the knees, not the waist. Keep leaf piles small, so you don’t strain your back while gathering them.
The big question: Why rake at all? Leaves cover the grass, blocking the sunlight it needs to grow. If you’ve ever left a pile of wet leaves sitting for a few days on the lawn, you’ll find the grass underneath it discolored or, worse yet, bare ground. If you’re going to leave the leaves on the lawn, chop them up first.