Carl Hutzler's Blog

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Best way to dispose of leaves in the fall (?)

We live in a very nicely wooded wooded neighborhood in Reston, VA. We love the trees, shade, and beautiful fall colors except for one small issue…the falling of those leaves.

The first year, Rylan and I raked the leaves and put them into bags. I think we did 100 bags! The process was time consuming to say the least. I think we (mostly me) spent 30 hours doing it.

I got a bit smarter the next year and purchased an electric leaf blower. This was a great step up. I could blow the leaves into small piles which saved some time (and energy) raking. And I could get a lot of the leaves from in between the foliage in the garden beds too. But I still had to bag them. At the time, I had a back yard that did not have a lot of grass and I would just blow them up onto the dirt areas and that solved half the problem. But I still had to bag the front yard.

A few years later I got a little smarter yet and started the “tarp” method. I would blow the leaves onto a huge tarp and drag them onto the driveway where I would let it rain on them and I would drive on them and much them down a bit. Then I would bag them using a shovel to just scoop them up. Much faster. And the wet leaves packed the bags much fuller. Less bags, less work. Still was a bit hard getting the bags to the curb as they were heavy and sometimes burst.

I have also tried lawn mowing the leaves into mulch. That does not work well for large volumes but works fine for the last bit of clean-up after you have done the raking. I have also tried using the bag on the mower, but it just fills way to quickly. And you still have to dump the bag somewhere.

This year I started thinking a little outside of the box.

Most of the early ideas I had gotten from neighbors or landscaping firms I saw working around my house. What I first tried was hooking a 6″ drainage pipe up to my lawn mower and using the mower to suck up the leaves and blast them into a trash can. This looked like it might work but I found the mower did not have enough power to do a good job on the large volume of leaves. It worked well on the grass and a small amount of leaves, but when the real stuff came down, it clogged.  And even if the mower had worked, I still had an issue getting the leaves out of the garden beds. But failure can sometimes yield better ideas….

My electric leaf blower had done well for many years, but it just could not move wet leaves nor much of a volume or leaves. It was slow. So I bought a gas powered backpack leaf blower for $300. The benefits are many including lack of a cord to start with. But the real benefit is that although the speed of the air coming out is about the same as an electric machine, the VOLUME of air coming out is many times more! This allows me to move more leaves, even wet ones, much quicker than the electric leaf blower could.

So now I could round up all the leaves in the front and back into just a couple of big piles in maybe 45 minutes which is about the amount of time it takes me to mow the lawn. With this speed, I could afford to do the leaves 2-3 times instead of waiting to do them all in late November as one huge job. And this also meant that each time I did the leaves, the volume was obviously less than if I waited till the end. And not waiting till the end allowed me to get the leaves off the grass and avoid situations where the leaves would kill the grass after a rain, etc. All good.

But the final piece to the puzzle was how to get the leaves into the garbage truck. I thought about blowing them to the street and having one of those huge vacuum trucks come by, but that was not practical unless I got my whole neighborhood involved. Then it dawned on me.

What I did was just go the hdepot and buy some of the biggest garbage cans $70 with wheels that they sold. I bought two. I figured I could load the cans up with leaves and just wheel them out to the curb. This would save a ton of bagging time and also not require any plastic bags! Good for the environment and less expensive. The only question was would they hold enough? The answer I found is yes! If I do the leaves 2 or 3 times and get them onto the driveway where they get mushed and rained on a bunch, I can really load up one of these cans and then get in the can and stomp on them a bit to get in even more. The end result is a trash can full of leaves weighing maybe 200 pounds! But since it has wheels, it is fairly easy to get to the curb…even from the back yard. And the trash guys (the truck that comes for leaves and yard waste) have no issues getting it into the truck as the garbage cans I bought are the same standard cans as the ones they gave me for my regular trash.

I also teamed up with my neighbor as he has a different trash collection service. So I can leave my cans at his house on Monday and then at my house for my yard waste pickup on Wednesday. That way I get twice a week leaf pickup and it makes the job go quicker (most services only pick up once a week for yard waste).

And if you don’t believe that using a can is much faster than bagging, using a tarp or other process, I timed it. It took me and a helper nearly an hour to bag 8 bags of leaves which was exactly half of a big pile in the back yard yesterday. Then we brought back the cans and literally hand scooped the other half into the cans in 10 minutes and wheeled the cans to the curb. And we still had the cardio workout of moving the 8 bags to the curb ahead of us!

The only downsides are storing the cans and keeping up with the process. Mine stack so at least I can save a little room. If you have a shed, then storage is not a big issue at all. And you really have to do your leaves 2 or 3 times as the full volume won’t fit into two cans obviously. But I think 6 to 8 can loads is about what it takes for my yard. You could buy some extra cans to have more room I guess (at $70 a pop), but for me two cans is enough as I usually don’t like to spend more than an hour or so on leaves at any one time and that seems to be blowing and filling these two cans.

Hope this helps some other folks who dread this operations. Instead of paying someone $500 or more, go buy a gas blower and some trash cans with wheels. You might find this to be a great solution.

Wow, I wrote a 1000+ word essay on leaves. I need help ;-)


2 Comments so far

  1. Dossy Shiobara November 3rd, 2009 10:16 pm

    You could always try digging a very large, deep ditch to fill with all the leaves, covering it with dirt (from the hole) every so often … layering leaves and dirt. Water it and let the weight of the leaves and dirt compress it.

    Excellent composting – you can dig up that soil next spring and use it for planting.

    If you’re hardcore, get some pelletized lime fertilizer and layer some of that in there with the leaves and dirt. It’ll help neutralize the pH of the leaves and soil.

  2. Brad November 5th, 2009 4:00 pm

    I bet Goat Man doesn’t have this problem!

    My house is only 9 years old, so my trees are young and I haven’t really had to face this problem yet. But I foresee it becoming an issue in a few more years as the trees get bigger. This year a timely wind came along and blew nearly all my leaves over the fence into the canal behind us.

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