To Blow Or To Suck, That Is The Question


Of course, I’m referring to leaves — what on earth were you thinking — because my yard is, once again, overrun with leaves — which is strange, since I have very vivid memories of autumn weekends with a rake.  I’m positive I raked this yard a few months ago.  In fact, I’ve written extensively about my love of raking, and the peace and nostalgia that this chore delivers.

Blower/Vac

But as I look out at a yard buried under as many leaves as I raked in the fall, I have decided that I am not a fan of spring raking.  It’s bothersome and it gets in the way of what I really want to do, which is prepare the beds for actual gardening — not this maintenance stuff.  I’ve waited through all of winter for this first warmish weekend to work outside — and raking is not on my list of things to do.

At times like this, I wish I were Samantha Stevens from “Bewitched.”  If only my nose could twitch for magic rather than itch for allergies — because if it could, I would change my garden as easily as the show changed Darren.

But a twitching nose is not to be, and I am faced with what can only be described as a wasteland of leaves.

That’s when Joe and I begin our seasonal conversation about hiring a company to come in and do the yard clean up.  Outsourcing the yard makes perfect sense.  The tiresome chore would get done much more quickly, leaving me more time to do the garden work that I have been aching to do.

In essence, I am the problem because I think I have control over the yard.  No one, I tell myself, can clean my yard like I can.  No one, I tell myself, can know the subtle curves and nooks.  And no one, I tell myself, can know what’s an actual plant and what’s a weed.

Between you and me, though, I have blower envy.

Spring is springing up all around -- and I haven't made the beds yet.

Spring is springing up all around — and I haven’t made the beds yet.

Each spring, my neighbors hire lawn care services to return their yards to a pristine state.  Once the trailers and trucks arrive, the landscapers strap motors onto their backs and arm themselves with their blowers, turning my suburban street into a scene from Zero Leaf Thirty.  Once suited up, they begin their choreographed assault, herding leaves into a pile for future disposal.

Watching them, I am reminded of those moments when I pass a field or basketball court and see a group of men, all strangers to one another, put together some kind of ball game — all without saying a word.  It’s as if there is something in their DNA — an athletic telepathy, of sorts — that allows them to do this, something that is certainly missing from my own DNA.

It’s the same thing with the pro blowers.  I know it’s their job, but how do they make it look so easy and effortless?  How are they able to get all of the leaves to obey the power of the blower?  How are they able to get the job done so quickly?  I realize they do this each day and I understand that they work in tandem with one another — but I constantly find myself blown away each time another neighbor’s yard is blown clean.

I wish I could blow like that.

Daylilies are arriving, whether I'm ready or not.

Daylilies are arriving, whether I’m ready or not.

I own a leaf blower, but I cannot master its use.  Only recently, I perfected blowing smaller jobs, like grass clippings after mowing the lawn.  But a big job like this spring thing?  Nope.  I can’t do it.

I fantasize about being able to blow out the beds, gently, of course, so as not to disturb the new growth and the mulch.  Then, once the beds are clean, I blow the leaves using a graceful sweeping motion to move them off the lawn and driveway, until they are piled high for bagging.

That’s the dream.  Reality usually has me gently blowing the leaves out of the beds, only to become frustrated because spring leaves are more tightly packed than autumn leaves.  As a result, leaves don’t leave.  Instead, they’re matted down or deeply embedded in the inner branches of the shrubs.  I start playing with the force dial, taking my blower from a breeze to a hurricane that rips leaves and mulch and topsoil out of the beds.

I also tend to do this chore on the windiest of weekends, when the wind blows back whatever I have blown out.  I must be quite the show for the neighbors on days like this, as I try to blow leaves away from the house, only to have them blow upward and around, as if I’m a game show contestant locked in a glass box filled with blowing dollar bills.

The hyacinths are coming, the hyacinths are coming.

The hyacinths are coming, the hyacinths are coming.

That’s why I usually stick with vacuuming up the leaves, which is nothing like the gentle push-and-pull action of an indoor vacuum cleaner.  This outdoor contraption, bulky and awkward, requires a lift-and-descend motion, so the tip can loosen the packed leaves, sucking them up and shredding them into bits, which are blown into the catch bag that hangs over my shoulder.

It sounds so clean, doesn’t it?  But sucking up leaves is a filthy job, one that usually sees me working in a cloud of mulch dust, especially when I forget to zip up the bag.  Joe often tells me — once the motor is off and the dust has settled — that I should wear a mask.  I know I should, but I don’t, because it’s just leaves — just dead, moldy leaves.  No harm there, right?

This sort of thinking is probably why I tend to overfill the catch bag with mulched leaves.  I’m aware that the bag has swollen to a size that makes it all but impossible to maneuver, but I continue to suck on.  Just let me finish this one bed, I tell myself as the now-weighty bag digs the strap into my neck.  These leaves are not the boss of me, and I will prove to my neighbors, those pros, and myself  that although I’m an amateur, I’m still a homeowner who doesn’t need to pay to be blown.

Leaves or no leaves, I have to pause and breathe when I spot these welcome signs of spring.

Cleaning the yard or not, I have to pause and breathe when I spot these welcome signs of spring.

At this point, a twig usually gets sucked up, jamming the mechanism, and I have to stop and take the vacuum apart, mumbling curses about leaves and machines and pro-blowers and pro-suckers.  Is it so wrong, I wonder, to be a grower and not a blower?

As I hear my moans and groans, I’m aware of the silence all around me.  My neighbors’ landscapers are gone; they left long ago — and their work is stunning.   The beds are spotless and the lawns look as if they were combed — yes, combed — each blade of grass leaning in the same direction.

Reality hurts — I suck at blowing, and my sucking isn’t much better.   Clearly, I’m not man enough, nor gardener enough, to meet the needs of my yard and I now must make a choice — either get the rake or get the phone number off of the next landscaping trailer that drives down the street.

Or . . . I could start all over again tomorrow.  It’s still the weekend.  It’s kind of warm — and I know I can rise to the challenge, because there’s a sucker born every minute.

40 thoughts on “To Blow Or To Suck, That Is The Question

  1. You had to say the ‘B’ word! Don’t get me started! In south Florida, you can hear the blowers in stereophonic sound. The ‘pros’ blow the leaves and other debris into the street!! It is a great experience driving by while getting your car dusted and blasted with leaves, sticks, small rocks and lizards as the ‘pros’ don’t stop when cars are in the vicinity! I think it must be a contest to see who can hit the most cars with the blown debris. Oh, and the leaves eventually end up clogging drains….and streets may flood during a deluge. I wonder why??

    • Hi Mary. During the summer months, the pros do the same things here — and I’ve often wondered if they look at passing motorists as targets in a carnival game. Hmmmmm. What I do know is that many localities, mine included, are taking less and less of yard debris or are placing extra requirements on homeowners for the debris to be taken. In my own area, the town used to vacuum leaves. Then, homeowners had to bag their leaves in clear, recyclable plastic bags. This year, the rule is paper leaf bags. The town will give you 10 for free, of you can buy more from any home improvement box store — or, homeowners can hire landscapers to clear their yards and haul off the leaves. There has to be an easier solution. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Hilarious! I can SO identify! Personally, I switch off, because I can never decide which is better. I suck for awhile, and then when I have dust caked on my clothes and face, I think ‘what was I thinking? I can just blow all these over here…’ and so I blow for awhile, and just when I think it’s under control, the wind blows them back, and I resume sucking. I still don’t know which is better??

    • Hi Kathy. Sometimes I think this is what hell is like. Move a pile of leaves over there, then blow them back. On and on, for eternity. In the fall, I enjoy raking — but in spring, I want to play in the dirt. 🙂

  3. That all sounds really hard work! My garden is so windy that most of the leaves get blown away literally. But the sucking sounds more useful as you’re creating the basis for some excellent compost. Christina

  4. Ha, ha! I just recently finished raking. I used neither blower or sucker, but a very wide, lightweight plastic rake. The leaves go to inconspicuous parts of the woodlands, where they rot and eventually replenish the earth. The ones that remain, and there are plenty, just look like they belong: the advantage of a woodland garden. My neighbor hires the professionals with the blower. We caught them blowing the leaves off her lawn – onto ours!

    • That’s unbelievable, Deb. I try to achieve the leafless look especially in the beds, but as much as I rake, wayward leaves get blown in. It’s a never ending battle, and so I’ve decided that I’m okay with a few straggler leaves. I really can’t get over the pros blowing leaves onto your property.

  5. Kevin, you could make the call or get back out there and suck or blow or rake. Orrr, you could do what I do: leave ’em mostly where they fall. Your mind and eye have to adapt to such a radical change, but it’s the natural way.

    • Hi Lee. I opted for the rake. The winds were too strong for the blower — and the noise of the vacuum gets to be a bit much. Needless to say, my arms now feel like spaghetti. 🙂

  6. This is just the reason why I pushed all my deciduous trees to the perimeter of the yard. Now my neighbors, who do not hire help, just let their leaves blow into my drainage ditch and the rip rap creates such a nice collage. NOT!

    • Hi Diane. I’m convinced there is no winning against leaves. There’s way more of them than me. I also can’t get over your neighbors letting their leaves clog your ditch. You’re the second commenter who mentioned neighbors not doing the right thing when it comes to leaves. Sad.

  7. Why do you want to get rid of them? They’re so full of humic acid and will enrich your soil. I leave all my leaves where they fall. Leaves that land on the grass are chopped with the mulching mower and leaves that fall in the garden beds are allowed to decompose.If I worry they’ll suffocate a plant I just move them around the plant or turn them into the soil. It requires almost zero work and even less talent.

    • Leaves, I’m afraid, are the curse of the suburban gardener. If they’re are too many, the yard looks too messy. But I don’t like getting rid of all of the leaves. Some will stay to be mulched into the lawn and beds. Moderation — and accepting that things will never be perfect — is key.

  8. “Lawn care services, trailers and trucks arrive, the landscapers strap motors onto their backs and arm themselves with their blowers” ….blimey – I can almost picture it, but just almost, as I need quite a bit of imagination for this! Here in Britain we just use a rake and a bit of elbow grease in our gardens. I don’t know anyone who has a leaf blower at home, or order landscape company to come and clean their garden in the spring. I have seen the council’s gardeners use them in the parks, they look very effective, but can’t really see them in use in our tiny London gardens. However, I love gadgets, so I would mind having one – one that both sucks and blows, please 🙂

    • Hi Helene. Most people in my area have blowers and/or services to care for their yards. Most Americans like the look of a garden, but either a) have no time or b) do not want to do the work — and so they pay and miss out on enjoying the fruits of their labor. And don’t get me started on riding mowers for small yards. Yikes!

  9. Hi Kevin. I was just wondering whether I needed to suck or blow my leaves today (loved your humor). I have a screened in patio attached to the rear of my house where some errant leaves blew in over the winter. The ones I was thinking of are wedged between the wall and the stair. Those I think I’ll suck, do some blowing on the rest and finish up with a “clean sweep” (broom, of course).

  10. It just takes a little, um, practice. Hiring a pro seems so radical but perhaps preferable to becoming a rakist. I blow mine onto the lawn and run the mulching mower over them in the fall and sprig. They are cut to shreds that decompose very quickly and become part of the soil.

    • Hi Peter. I can do that with some leaves, but not with the amount of leaves that came out of the beds. The pile was like a leaf mountain — and there’s still more. One more weekend of heavy cleaning, and then the mower will be the answer.

  11. I have to admit that I hate leaf blowers! My observation is that the landscapers just blow dirt around! LOL! Perhaps it’s because I don’t have that many leaves to corral, and if I did I’d be more on board. I’m so glad to see you have some authentic signs of spring–finally! 🙂

    • Hi Debra. Today truly felt like spring — and it’s amazing what a little bit of warmth can. Hyacinths and magnolias are opening, and fresh green is appearing everywhere. At last. . .

  12. Hi Kevin – my first visit to your blog -nice work here!

    Spring is definitely here in CA, although it cooled down for a bit. My sunflowers are just poking through now but holding off on planting anything more until the end of the end of the month. While I enjoy gardening I’m not such a fan of the maintenance aspects.

    I own a blower but never use it because I make even more of a mess with it. As well, while I like gardening well enough my truly favorite ways to spend a weekend are building and programming robots and attempting to draw and animate stuff. So I am trying to combine these interests. It’ll be a learning experience one way or the other.

    Hope your outdoor season is a productive one!

    – Dave

    • Hi David and welcome. I visited your site and your work is interesting. If you can create a robot that rakes and bags — I think you could make a fortune. We had a few gorgeous spring days, but forecasters are predicting a return to autumn. Thanks for commenting!

      • Thanks Kevin – I would have posted a response a little sooner but I was at my parents’ house for a week and was kept busy – mostly helping my dad move some enormous rhodos and rocks around his garden! Happy 50th to you.

  13. Kevin….what can I say… smiling. This is brilliantly written. Of course no one is going to admit to thinking of anything other then what you actually were referring too!
    Im very impressed you didn’t once think of waiting till the landscapers left to pile up your leaves and leave them where the gusts of wind could happily distribute them back around your neighbours! Of course you are only one garden to their many and pay back would be a B*#@*#!

    • Hi Kate. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I really wouldn’t want to payback the landscapers. As annoying and noisy as the assault is, the crews do work hard and for long hours. They’re just trying to earn a living. Thanks for commenting, and I hope you’ll visit again. Be well!

  14. Hi Kevin,my first visit to your blog and you certainly made me smile.In a previous life I was a professional gardener and one of those culprits that went around other peoples gardens blowing and sucking.I am afraid if you have a big area it really is the best thing to use and the old saying practise makes perfect comes to mind.In my own garden I actually use a plastic lawn rake which is nearly as gentle as a blower-again with practise.The up side of using a blower/sucker is the leaves breakdown much quicker to use as amazing compost.Good luck

    • Hi Debbie. I’m certainly glad you were able to stop by, and I appreciate you taking the time to comment. I have to agree, there are times when a job calls for blowing, but I tend to do more sucking. I like the mulching factor — but nothing beats a rake. Enjoy your day, and I hope to “see” you again.

  15. I have come to accept the fact that I “suck at blowing” &”blow at sucking”! So my new
    Strategy is to purposely wait for a windy day, blow as many leaves as possible towards end of driveway & the wind carries them away!

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