This autumn chore is a breeze when you know how...

This autumn chore is a breeze when you know how to do it right. Credit: Getty Images/TNS/David Burton

Raking leaves — at the top of most fall garden to-do lists — can be labor-intensive and time-consuming. But dealing with fallen leaves doesn't have to be a pain (sometimes literally).

When you know how to rake properly, or even how to avoid raking altogether, you'll have more time to enjoy a final bonfire of the season or one last backyard football game before the snow flies. Use these leaf-raking tips to make quick work of your fall cleanup.

Use the mower

Leaves have nutrients that can be recycled into your soil, but when the leaves are piled too thick, they can smother the lawn and smaller plants. Experts suggest raking a lawn that is more than half covered in leaves.

For lawns with 50% leaf coverage or less, use a lawn mower to break down the leaves. A couple of passes might be necessary to get a fine chop, especially if you have larger leaves like those of maples, oaks and sycamores. Small leaf pieces will settle between grass blades, where they'll decompose over time. If your mower has a bagging attachment, you can use it to easily collect the leaves instead. Then add them to a compost pile, use them as garden mulch around plants that need winter protection or dispose of them through your area's yard waste channel.

Wait for all to fall

A few leaves on the lawn aren't going to hurt anything. Save yourself some time by waiting until most of the leaves from your trees and shrubs are on the ground. Then break up the work into segments by raking one section of the lawn at a time.

Pick the right tools

Comfort and ease of use is top of the list when choosing a leaf rake. The handle should be long enough for you to stand upright while raking. Rakes with durable steel tines are often preferred over rakes with plastic tines. Look for leaf rakes labeled "no clog" to avoid the chore of having to remove leaves stuck in the tines. And a pair of gloves will help protect hands from blisters.

Stretch first

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends stretching to warm up your muscles for 10 minutes before moderately strenuous activities such as raking. Take time to stretch your shoulders, arms and neck; do a few squats; and take a brisk walk. Stretching before raking can help stave off aches and pains.

Make small movements

Taking big, sweeping swipes with your rake will tire you out fast. Instead, use short strokes, making sure to keep your back straight. Switch the rake from the left and right sides of your body every few minutes to give your dominant arm and shoulder a rest. And every once in a while, put down your rake and take a break. Catch your breath, get a drink of water and enjoy the brisk autumn weather.

Use wind power

Wrangling leaves when there's a strong breeze can be comedic and maddening. Of course, calm weather is best for raking, but Mother Nature might not always cooperate with your weekend plans. When you can't avoid raking on a blustery day, instead of fighting the wind, try harnessing it. If the wind is pushing leaves to the south, you and your rake do the same. Shorter rake strokes and small piles are most efficient on windy days.

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