Staying ahead of falling leaves

Landscaping pros recommend that you regularly clean up leaves in your yard, rather than waiting until spring arrives before dealing with the mess.

Once at the end of October, once at Thanksgiving and once at the beginning of the New Year should keep your lawn from getting overrun. For the average homeowner, the simplest way to keep leaves manageable is a steel rake and some sweat equity.

You can also hire local school kids or lean on a family member for help if you don't wish to tackle the job yourself.

You can also rent a leaf blower to clean under trees and shrubs or behind fixtures like dog houses or sheds. Small vacuums can likewise be rented from home hardware centers at a fairly reasonable cost, but you'll need to spend time transferring leaves from vacuum bags to garbage bags.

Many cities do have leaf recycling programs; these usually involve putting your leaves in clear or blue-colored bags at the end of your driveway on a particular day for pickup. Check your town or city's website to see if your municipality participates in this kind of program.

Hiring a leaf removal service

While you can maintain the basic appearance of your yard through regular leaf cleanup, dry leaves tend to crack, break and eventually settle deep into your grass.

Even a vigorous raking may not be enough to get every piece and stem, especially if you live in a wet or snowy climate. Leaves also have a tendency to hide behind and under lawn features and can also get stuck in gutters or between deck boards.

Many landscaping companies now offer leaf removal services, which typically take two forms. The first is curbside pickup: Workers bring in a large vacuum truck, which sucks up leaf piles you've made at the end of your driveway or edge of your lawn.

You don't need to worry about bagging or disposing your leaves, but you are still responsible for getting them off your grass and moving them to the curb.

Some companies also offer mobile vacuuming: Your landscaper provides an employee running a powerful mobile device, which can pull even the smallest leaf fragment out of your grass. In this case, the company takes care of everything, from initial vacuuming to truck loading to disposal.

Expect to pay for this service based on the amount of leaves you need removed and the amount of labor involved in the task. Vacuuming up piles from your curb, for example, will cost less money but require more of your time. Hiring a company to rake and vacuum your entire yard will at least double the cost, but you won't need to lift a finger to remove your leaves.

Saving money on leaf cleanup

Keep costs down by following a few simple guidelines. First and foremost, don't call in a company before your trees have shed their leaves.

Any company that gives you an estimate based on how many leaves you might have when fall comes isn't one you want to hire - they should be willing to provide a (free) estimate only after your trees are bare.

If you've chosen a curbside pickup, make sure to put your leaf piles somewhere easily accessible, since the time required for vacuuming directly impacts the price. In addition, make sure you don't dump the piles in ditches or on top of standing water, and remove all large debris - sticks, rocks and garbage - before the vacuum truck arrives.

This is more work for you in the short term, but may significantly reduce your cost because they company won't have to waste time separating what they can and can't vacuum. Also, try to time your call for service so that your leaves aren't sitting out for more than a few days; once a leaf pile settles, it becomes more difficult to remove. If you opt for a mobile vacuum service in your yard, make sure the area is clear and easily accessible.

Clean up any kids' toys or lawn furniture, and make sure there are no tripping hazards - again, the longer the company spends on your lawn, the greater the cost.

Cleaning up leaves is an annual chore, but with the help of a reputable landscape company, you can streamline the process.

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