Fallen leaves: clearing them and making use of them in your garden

Gardeners face the mess of fallen leaves every year. Find out the best way of clearing them efficiently, and even how they can be useful in your garden.

A woman putting leaves into a leaf sack with a STIHL BGA 56 leaf blower on the ground beside her

Why do I need to clear fallen leaves in my garden?

Colourful autumn leaves are a seasonal joy in gardens, and they don’t actually cause any problems on their own. However, once you add in the weather that also comes with the time of year, cold and wet leaves become a slip hazard. In your garden, leaving a layer of leaves on the ground can be harmful to some plants too.

Clearing leaves: where you need to do it

Because of the risk of slipping, clearing leaves is particularly important on pavements, patios, decking and driveways. To keep your lawn healthy, we also recommend regularly clearing leaves from the grass.

Leaves on your lawn

Don’t let fallen leaves lie on your lawn for too long before clearing them, as they block light and air from your grass plants. Moisture often collects under the layer of leaves, causing them to rot, which can leave light or dark stains on the lawn, bare patches or increased moss formation. So clearing leaves from your lawn should be a regular task during the cooler months – a leaf blower can help make removal easy.

Leaves under trees and shrubs and elsewhere in your garden

Fallen leaves under trees and shrubs are actually very beneficial for the soil, so you can go without clearing here and allow a leaf layer up to 15 cm thick to form – this will break down to become valuable, fertile soil. Similarly, having leaves on your vegetable beds can protect the delicate soil from frost and regulate the moisture balance during the cold season. However, remember that plants with soft shoots, grasses and evergreens cannot tolerate being covered by leaves.

If leaves from your trees blow onto a neighbour’s plot

In theory, any leaves that fall and stay on your plot are your responsibility, and so you need to take care of sweeping and disposal. If an excessive number of leaves are coming from your neighbour’s plot, try to come to an amicable arrangement. There is generally no prospect of legal recourse unless the leaves cause clear damage – and even then, legal cases are rarely straightforward.

Slip hazard from leaves

Always keep paths clear of fallen leaves as they will quickly become slippery when wet and may become a serious hazard for pedestrians and cyclists. It's likely that your local council is ultimately responsible for the pavement, so contact them if you need to find out about their clearing schedule.

How to clear leaves

Clearing leaves: using a rake

A rake is the simplest and most affordable way of dealing with fallen leaves. It does require some effort though. 

Clearing and collecting leaves with your lawn mower

A simple way to clean up and collect is with your lawn mower – in terms of effort required, it’s a good compromise between a rake and a leaf vacuum. Simply run your lawn mower over the leaves, and it will collect them in the grass collection box or bag. 

Clearing leaves: leaf blowers make light work

Blowers are a quick and reliable way of clearing spaces by collecting large quantities of leaves into a neat pile. These powerful assistants are ergonomically designed and ideal for larger plots.

Leaves being thrown into the air by the STIHL BG 56 leaf blower

Clearing leaves: using a vacuum shredder

A vacuum shredder takes less effort and is easier to use than a rake. It also chops the leaves into small pieces as it picks them up and gathers them in a bag. This is an efficient option, whether you need to dispose of the leaves or use them later for mulch.

When can I use a vacuum shredder?

Like most power tools, vacuum shredders can be noisy. Take care not to use them at unsociable times that may disturb your neighbours. Noise regulations are set by local councils in Great Britain so it's worth being aware of any local restrictions.

Tool expertise: blowers and vacuum shredders

Make clearing gardens and outdoor spaces quick and efficient with powerful STIHL leaf blowers and vacuum shredders. Fierce autumn winds may blow leaves everywhere, but you can get them under control in no time with just a bit of raking, vacuuming and shredding.

 Overhead shot of a man using a STIHL BGA 56 cordless leaf blower on a large lawn covered with leaves

Blowers sort it quickly

Powerful, hand-held blowers from STIHL turn a laborious raking job into quick and easy work. They make clearing wet or dry leaves in your garden simple and are relatively quiet to use.

A STIHL SH 56 leaf vacuum shredder being used to vacuum up leaves next to a tree

Vacuum shredders chop garden waste on the spot

Vacuum shredders are machines that work like household vacuum cleaners, making easy work of leaf collection. The main advantage is that they collect leaves while clearing and also pass them through an internal cutting mechanism. This chops leaves and lightweight garden waste on the spot.

Clearing leaves: advantages of blowers and vacuum shredders

Type of tool Advantages
STIHL cordless blowers
  • Ideal for clearing in noise-sensitive residential areas and around hospitals, schools and nurseries, etc.
  • Quietest blower in the range
  • Cordless and emissions-free
STIHL electric blowers
  • For homeowners
  • Ideal for frequent use on private property
  • Comfortably quiet operation
  • High blowing power for leaves
STIHL petrol blowers
  • For homeowners, caretakers, landscapers and municipal workers
  • Hand-held and backpack versions
  • Powerful and efficient clearing
  • Very comfortable to use
STIHL electric vacuum shredders
  • For gardens and plots with a power connection
  • Powerful electric motors
  • Quieter versions available
STIHL petrol vacuum shredders
  • No power connection required
  • Extremely powerful petrol engine
  • High work volume – ideal for clearing leaves on large plots

A sack of leaves next to a wooden compost bin with a green hedge behind

Disposal of leaf waste

Disposing of small amounts of leaves

After clearing leaves, they shouldn’t go into your household waste, but you can certainly put them into a garden waste bin or compost heap if you have one.

Disposing of large amounts of leaves

If you have too many leaves for your garden waste bin, find out what local provision exists. Some councils sell special green waste sacks that they will collect, or there may be a local recycling centre or tip where you can drop them off. You may need to look into a commercial waste collection service if your council cannot help.


Clearing leaves: how not to dispose of them

In the woods: Do not dump leaves in woodland under any circumstances, as this could disturb the sensitive ecosystem of the forest. Such disposal is counted as fly-tipping and can be prosecuted as such.

On the street: Leaving your collected leaves at the roadside is also illegal fly-tipping.

Burning: Although garden bonfires are not prohibited, they can be considered a nuisance. If leaves are damp, burning them will generate a huge amount of smoke that can be hazardous in various ways. We do not recommend burning leaves after clearing them.

Making use of collected leaves

In some places, clearing is not necessary, as fallen leaves can actually be beneficial to the nature around them and should be left in some parts of the garden. You can use them to nourish the soil directly, as frost protection mulch or as a habitat for wildlife. And even if you are clearing leaves from your paths and lawn, you can also make use of the same advantages and harness the goodness from the waste elsewhere in your garden

Close-up of red-brown leaves

Summary: clearing leaves

  • Clearing leaves from paths is important to prevent accidents, and it will keep your lawn healthy and your garden looking great.
  • You can use a rake, vacuum shredder, lawn mower or blower.
  • You can dispose of small amounts of leaves in a garden waste bin if you have one.
  • For larger amounts, find out about local composting and waste disposal provision.
  • Use leaves as compost, fertiliser or a winter home for wildlife.