Fall yard work isn’t just about clearing away fallen leaves. By weeding your garden, trimming your trees and bushes and cleaning your tools and patio furniture before winter sets in, you’ll set yourself and your yard up for a happier spring.
Get rid of fallen leaves
Fall is synonymous with leaf cleanup, and that usually means raking. According to most yard-care professionals Wirecutter consulted in its test of leaf rakes, a sturdy steel-tined model is the way to go, for the combination of durability and leaf-grabbing “spring” of the tines. Jackson and Ames are two common brands with good reputations. Their 2-foot-wide models cover a lot of lawn fast and are built to endure: one of the test rakes lasted for eight seasons.
If you have a big lawn or a lot of trees, the Worx WG520 Turbine Leaf Blower is a user-friendly top performer from Wirecutter’s leaf blower review. It’s about as powerful as a gas blower, but requires far less maintenance, is more compact and is much lighter and more maneuverable. The only downside is that you have to plug it into an outlet.
Mark Smirniotis, an editor at Wirecutter, tested 44 different extension cords before picking the U.S. Wire & Cable Extreme All-Weather. He said that its all-weather flexibility “makes it easy to work with whether you’re in the height of summer heat or the depths of a near-zero-degree winter.”
If you have a smaller yard but lack easy access to an outdoor outlet, go with the cordless Ego LB5302. Just be aware that its 56-volt rechargeable battery has a run time of less than 20 minutes. For really big jobs, the Stihl BR350 is a gas-powered backpack blower favored by lawn care professionals but user-friendly enough for weekend warriors. It’s totally portable and puts the weight on your back rather than your arms. But you’ll need to maintain the gas engine and properly store it for the off-season.
If you have the right lawn mower, you might be able to skip leaf removal entirely. Wirecutter’s reigning pick for best gas-powered lawn mower, this Honda model, has a mulching function that turns leaves (and grass clippings during the summer) into small shreds. These are left on the lawn, where they naturally decompose and nourish the soil — and spare you from lugging the clippings to the curb or your compost heap.
Weed the garden
While it may be difficult to find motivation in a bed full of dead annuals and resurgent weeds, doing prep work in the fall will help you hit the ground running in spring. After testing nearly 20 weeding tools, we still recommend the inexpensive Nejiri Gama Hoe for removing unwanted plants. Its short, sharp blade and hook-like shape get to the root of the matter (and the weed), reducing the chance of an unwanted return.
Then, when you need to get your hands dirty, a set of kneepads can save you some aches and pains later on. If you don’t care for strapping pads directly onto your knees, a simple kneeling pad works, too.
Trim those trees
Heading into winter and the storms that it might bring, fall is a good time to trim off any dead wood from trees and bushes on your property. (For the health of your trees, save the live branch pruning for late winter, just before the spring sap begins to run.) Wirecutter’s favorite garden pruners, the Felco F-2 Classic Hand Pruners, can snip branches and twigs up to about a finger in width.
A compact hand saw like the Silky PocketBoy, a favorite of professional arborists, can cut branches up to about a wrist’s width. It folds down for safety and fits in your hip pocket. For larger cuts, either grab a bigger hand saw, like the Vaughan BS333C Bear Saw, or invest in a chain saw. Wirecutter experts tested gas and electric chain saws in the woods of New Hampshire, and they settled on the cordless Ego Power+ 16.” It has plenty of power and battery life for yard work, but none of the drawbacks of a gas engine (including noise).
Clean your yard gear before storing it for winter
Fall is also time to put away all of your summer equipment, especially if you get freezing temps in the winter. This means lawn and patio furniture as well as tools like shovels, edgers, garden hoses and wheelbarrows.
Before you stash them away, make sure to clean them first — that way you won’t have to next spring. A pressure washer can dispatch a summer’s worth of caked on grime and dirt in no time. Wirecutter tested six of them last summer and picked the electric Ryobi RY142300. Gas-powered models offer more oomph, but the Ryobi is powerful enough and is easier to use and maintain. We also appreciated its large wheels, long hose and low center of gravity, which resists tipping. Alternatively, a regular garden hose with a good spray nozzle and some elbow grease will get the job done with a bit more effort.
Don’t forget to protect yourself
Whether you’re raking, weeding or tree trimming, your hands will need protection from cuts, scratches and scrapes. Wirecutter’s favorite gardening gloves, the Atlas NT370 Nitrile Gloves, offer enough protection for general use, and because they’re so thin, you still have the dexterity to pluck a small weed or jot something down in a gardening notebook. They come in a pack of six, so you’ll have extras in case you lose a pair.
A version of this article appears on Wirecutter.com.
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