We all like to keep our gardens in great shape, in spring and summer this largely involves keeping our lawn trimmed and healthy. Autumn and winter bring their own set of problems, one of the biggest being that trees and plants shed their leaves. This can be dealt with in one of three ways:
- Ignore them and allow a sludgy mulch to develop, which looks terrible even though it might actually be quite good for your lawn… Although in some cases there is good evidence to suggest otherwise, leaves left on the lawn may actually invite fungi to develop.
- Rake the leaves into piles to be collected up for composting or disposal, which works but is of course very laborious
- Clear the area of leaves, moving them all into one pile for the same reason as above, but this time with the aid of a leaf blower or garden vac. This eliminates breaking your back with a rake, and in many cases will allow you to suck up the debris as well, taking all the effort out of collecting the leaves. This saves a whole lot of hassle, not to mention time.
Garden Vacs and Leaf Blowers
Garden vacs and leaf blowers are devices specifically designed to help shift those rogue leaves that plague our gardens during autumn thanks to the power of air. Think of them like vacuum cleaners for your garden.
Just like lawn mowers and strimmers, leaf blowers come in many shapes and sizes and with the same choice of power sources. As ever, which type you choose will depend upon your garden size, strength, the amount of debris you need to clear, and of course how much you are willing to spend.
In general the terms ‘Garden Vac’ and ‘Leaf Blower’ are used interchangeably, and when it comes to blowing both perform in the same way, however typically ‘Garden Vac’ refers to such devices that also have the added advantage of being able to suck material up like a vacuum cleaner into an attached container or bag made from a porous fabric like the grass collection bag on a lawn mower. More expensive models even macerate the leaves and debris as they’re sucked up, making the end result perfect composting or mulching material.
Types of Leaf Blower
Corded Electric Leaf Blowers
As with all garden appliances, corded electric leaf blowers are the best entry-level option, typically aimed at those with smaller gardens who won’t be restricted by an electric cable. For most UK users these are more than adequate for the average size of garden found here. These models tend to be lighter but less powerful than other blowers, but many will still work as both a vacuum and a blower, complete with debris chopping mechanism.
Cordless Electric Leaf Blowers
These offer the same functionality of the aforementioned corded electric blowers but with the added advantage of greater freedom. As they’re battery powered cordless blowers are heavier than their corded counterparts and obviously have a limited amount of charge which limits their use to just a few minutes in some cases.
Handheld Petrol Powered Leaf Blowers
Offering all the freedom of cordless electric leaf blowers with added power capable of taking care of large gardens and even saturated heavy leaves, petrol powered leaf blowers are a heavy-duty, and it should be said, noisy means of clearing your garden of debris. Typically petrol leaf blowers are fitted with a shoulder strap to help spread their weight, which is typically greater than an electric model.
Backpack Mounted Petrol Leaf Blowers
These work in the same way as standard petrol leaf blowers, but have the added advantage of being more comfortable for the user to carry as the weight of the engine is supported by on the back which can be more comfortable and less cumbersome as the weight is better distributed. On the downside they’re powerful, noisy beasts, and having the engine so close to your head means that wearing adequate hearing protection is an absolute must.
Wheeled Leaf Blowers
Some basic electric models, right through to heavy-duty professional level blowers feature wheels to make operation of the blower less strenuous. This is certainly worth considering if you know that you’ll be carrying out your leaf clean up for an extended period of time, and it’s worth noting that this feature (certainly on more basic models) isn’t a major factor in determining the cost of the leaf blower.
A noisy nuisance?
If you’ve ever spoken to anyone about leaf blowers then there’s a good chance you’ll have come across people who don’t see them in as favourable light as they deserve. Indeed this unfair reputation generally comes from people not using them properly. Certainly if just used to aimlessly blow leaves around, or if used during unsociable hours then it’s easy to see that leaf blowers can indeed be irritating. If you try to stick to using them during the day, and follow the correct operating procedures, these qualms will become a thing of the past.
Potential irritation aside, perhaps you’re a bit dubious about how useful a leaf blower really is. Well other than saying ‘once you’ve tried it you’ll wonder how you ever got on without it’, consider that these things have been around since the mid 1970s, and like other modern gadgets, their introduction was done with the simple aim of making life easier. Forty odd years later, and with the help of design refinement and modern technology behind them, leaf blowers are more popular than ever. Remember also that their usefulness stretches beyond their primary use, these days it’s not unusual to find blowers that have long attachments to help you clean leaves from your gutter, and they can also be used for other general cleaning tasks such as blowing debris out of your garage or garden shed.
Leaf blowers are also great for dispersing water, whether you want to get rid of puddles on your outside table and chairs, or the dew from your lawn – a really smart move if you want to cut the lawn despite it being damp outside.
Leaf Blower Must Haves
Ease of Assembly
Luckily most leaf blowers are pretty straightforward tools, so you won’t need a Masters degree in Engineering to assemble them. None the less this is still worth thinking about, and in most cases you’ll at the very least need a screwdriver or two to assemble the key parts of the blower – typically the handle and motor unit with the nozzle element, which in itself may be made up of more than one piece.
Unlike lawn mowers, leaf blowers are nearly always carried either by hand or on your back, so choosing a model that’s lightweight is absolutely essential. Even if you only have a small garden and a small amount of leaves to clear, you’d be surprised at just how quickly your arms can start to ache when carrying a leaf blower that’s a little on the heavy side. Some heavier models do come with a strap to compensate, and of course backpack blowers shift the majority of the weight to your back.
Leaf blowers are designed to be held with one hand, both hands, or either, and if truth be told depending on your size and shape you might find them to be a bit cumbersome to hold. Using the lightest ‘one handed’ models is more akin to using a conventional vacuum cleaner, which works fine. However in our opinion the two-handled arrangement of heavier blowers isn’t usually the best design, and in reality the front handle would be better off being positioned further away from the rear handle to allow you better control over the position of the nozzle. To give you some idea of a blower that we feel has a better handle configuration than most, check out the Black & Decker GWC3600L20-GB.
Many models come with an optional carrying strap to take some of the weight of the blower on your shoulders rather than just your arms, although taller users should be aware that this often isn’t long enough to be of any use. On heavier petrol blowers it’s worth checking this feature more closely, in particular whether the strap is padded to be more comfortable over long periods of use.
Comfortable, Easy to Use Controls
Luckily most blowers pretty well tick the box as far as this is concerned, most feature a trigger control for turning the blower on and off, but besides that it’s just a case of addressing your own personal preference as far as how the power adjustment is controlled, usually by means of a dial either on the side or top of the handle casing. Having a speed control feature is absolutely essential for tending to different areas of your garden. If you’re working flat out on the wide open expanse of your lawn then you can afford to ramp the speed right up, but if you need to work carefully, clearing leaves from between flowers, then you’ll need to be able to dial the speed back or avoid doing damage to the delicate foliage.
Better cordless leaf blowers feature some form of indicator light to show you how much power is left in the battery, this is particularly useful as most cordless blowers are fairly limited on how much use a single charge provides, so you need to be quite organised about how you use them.
As mentioned above, some leaf blowers simply blow, whereas others vacuum and mulch material as well. Check closely what modes a particular model is able to provide, and make sure it does it well. Some cheaper models might claim to be great at doing everything, but chances are there’s a catch somewhere, so make sure you check what others have to say about it.
Comfortable Back Pack Straps
Backpack leaf blowers are the professionals choice, designed for shifting a lot of leaves from a large area. Ths implications of this are two fold, one that the blower must be powerful enough to do so and thus be petrol engine driven, and two, as a consequence of this they will be inherantly heavier than less powerful models and therefore need to be as comfortable as possible to carry. So if you do choose to go down the backpack blower route you should check that the strap design is as comfortable as possible, offering padding and the best distribution of weight possible, the last thing you want are painful pressure points on your shoulders, so nice soft wide straps are essential.
Decent Cable Length/Battery Life/Fuel Tank Size
Whatever power source you opt for, you should check that you won’t be restricted by it. so if for instance you know that you’ll need a good half an hour to tidy up your whole garden, a cordless blower that only offers 15 minutes of charge time isn’t going to be of much use to you. Likewise if your garden is 10 metres long but the blower you’re considering buying only has an 8 metre cable, you’ll either need to factor in the use of an extension lead, or else perhaps keep shopping.
Compliance With Local Legislation
Depending on where you live, your local authority might have some specific rules with regard to leaf blower use, particularly the petrol engine driven variety. If specific noise and chemical pollution issues have been flagged then you might not be able to use them, either at certain times of the day/year, or at all.