Always rake with the wind, and rake downhill whenever possible. Leaves are light, but they have enough weight to respond to the pull of gravity.
Share the wealth with your lawn. Leaves contain some of the nutrients that trees and shrubs have taken out of the soil, and it’s in keeping with nature’s plan that you should give back some of those purloined nutrients by mowing over part of your annual leaf-fall, thus returning organic matter to the soil from whence it came. This works best in early fall when the first leaves are coming down and grass still benefits from mowing. In addition to helping the lawn, it’s easier to rake turf areas that have been smoothed over by a good mowing.
Keep whole leaves from blowing away by stomping through the pile. If you are using a bin or other enclosure, leave it open on one side until you’re through collecting leaves. That way, you can rake or dump right into the pile without lifting your loads over the sides of the bin, and your leaf pile will be accessible for walk-in stomping.
Minimize how far you move your leaves. Rake them directly onto nearby beds that won’t be worked until spring. Use shredded leaves as mulch beneath foundation shrubs. Maintain leaf piles in different parts of your yard so you won’t have to drag or carry tarps full of leaves any farther than necessary.
Match your rake to the type of leaves you have in your yard and to your body. At stores, try rakes on for size before you buy. Rakes with metal tines last longer than plastic ones, but plastic tines may be lighter.
Use your mower to shred what you can. Put shredded leaves to work in active compost projects. Set aside whole leaves in a separate pile and deal with them later when you have more time.
Mix leaf species whenever possible. Leaf-eating microorganisms that get started on thin maple or dogwood leaves will move on to thicker oak leaves as the pile decomposes.
Wear gloves to prevent blisters. Cloth gloves are comfy, but any glove that protects your skin from rubbing on the rake handle will suffice.
Wear a dust mask when shredding leaves with your mower, especially if you have allergies or are easily irritated by dust.
Don’t pick up leaves unless you must. Instead, use an old sheet as a tarp, pick up the corners, and carry or drag the bundle to your piles. Few carts or wheelbarrows have the capacity and portability necessary to make them worthwhile during leaf season. Use a sheet, tarp, or sling to collect and move shredded leaves.
Watch the noise. When you’re not in the mood to mess with your mower, or the sound of a leaf blower or shredder would ruin your neighbors’ quiet afternoon in their yard, fall back to manual raking and collecting methods and work with whole leaves.
Work a little at a time, and stop when you’ve had enough. Keep in mind that leaf season will last for several weeks, so you have plenty of time to let yourself enjoy the weather and the work.
This article is excerpted from Compost Gardening by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin. (Storey, 2008)