Gardening is full of chores, tasks, and maintenance—some of which isn’t very fun. Clearing up leaves from the lawn is one of those strangely contentious gardening tasks; folks either love it or hate it. Additionally, as with so much in gardening, there’s an ongoing debate about the best ways to accomplish this goal. Lately the subject of leaf blowers vs rakes has been a prominent topic of discussion in gardening circles. We’ve had a few of our readers ask questions about it, so let’s dig into the debate on leaf blowers vs rakes and which approach is better for your garden.
The Pros and Cons of Leaf Blowers
Leaf blowers are effectively giant fans, that push a stream of air through a tube and thus allow you to direct it where you want it to go. This artificial wind can be used to move leaves around, pushing them into piles for bagging and disposal.
There are some significant advantages to leaf blowers. They’re a lot easier on your back—bending over and raking leaves can create a lot of strain on the human spine and hips. This may make leaf blowers especially attractive for older gardeners or those dealing with mobility issues. Leaf blowers are also much more efficient, moving leaves with less time and effort than a traditional rake would. And if you live where snow is an issue, leaf blowers can also be used to clear snow from a driveway or walkway before it settles and hardens.
However, leaf blowers are not all sunshine and roses—there are some downsides we need to consider. Leaf blowers create a lot of pollution, both in the form of the emissions their motors create and in the noise pollution that larger leaf blowers are famous for. Some reputable studies put gas powered leaf blowers at nearly the same emissions levels as automobiles, which makes them a real issue for the environment and for clean air in our communities. And while electric leaf blowers can mitigate both the noise and the immediate pollution issues, they’re less efficient, expensive to run, and may rely on batters that have their own environmental issues.
On a further environmental note: autumn leaves do more than just clear trees for new growth in the spring. While on the ground, they help provide shelter for many animals and insects as they wait out the winter. Leaf blowers make it easy to remove leaves indiscriminately, which destroys this vital habitat for butterflies, bumblebees, and even some species of mammals. How you maintain your lawn is up to you, but we do encourage you to leave some space for these creatures, which help your garden grow and thrive.
The Pros and Cons of Garden Rakes
Rakes are an ancient tool—we’re not sure how long they’ve been around as they likely pre-date written history—and they’ve been used around the world for all sorts of gardening and horticultural tasks. The advantages to rakes are sometimes obvious: they’re affordable, costing far less than any leaf blower. They’re easy to use, and the noise they do make is frankly relaxing, almost meditative—especially so when compared to leaf blowers. While they are less efficient, they give you greater control over what parts of your garden you want to clear, and where you’d like to put the leaves. This might be especially handy for those of us with bee and bird friendly gardens, or those otherwise looking to preserve natural habitat for the birds, bugs, and other critters and make our gardens such lively natural spaces. Fallen leaves are an important resource, and while clearing your lawn is a good idea in order to keep your grass healthy, those leaves are useful to both humans and animals. Leaving at least some of them in a compost heap or in a corner of the yard to serve as shelter and habitat are both wonderful things to do.
As a final advantage: raking leaves can be a good, low-intensity exercise and a chance to spend time in and connect with your garden. You can view raking leaves as a chance to be outdoors and enjoy this time of the year and the unique beauty it brings.
So Which is Better?
In conclusion, your choice of a rake or leaf blower will depend on your needs and goals for your garden. We recommend making good use of both—leaf blowers are great for clearing driveways, patios, walkways, and other man-made surfaces, while leaves are more environmentally friendly for your grass and garden spaces. Whichever you choose, use them in a way that benefits both you and you garden along with the natural world around you.
We realize this is an ongoing discussion, and we’d love to hear your thoughts. Get in touch in the comments or via social media and let us know which you prefer—leaf blowers or rakes—and why!