Power tools become my friend


As Amy has noted previously, the Ranters have become … not inundated, but certainly in steady receipt of a trickle of offers from various garden-related vendors. When Troy-Bilt contacted us, none of the others could use anything, but, as the perpetual newbie of the group, I found that some small, electric implements might come in handy on the GWI property.

So, here I am with an electric leaf blower/vacuum/shredder. I was so relieved to find out that I wasn’t the only garden blogger taking freebies to test and write about; during our Austin meet-up I found that several others had received similar equipment. Indeed, Carol/May Dreams Gardens and I will be comparing and contrasting cultivators at a future date.

The thing is, I am the perfect person to test this stuff. If I can make something work, anyone can. Take this leaf thingie. Who would need a leaf thingie in the spring, you may ask. Answer: A person who did nothing about their leaves in the fall, and whose leaves have now become a solid, half baked/half-soggy mat covering everything, including some spring bulbs desperately trying to struggle through to the sun. I’m thinking a small leaf vacuum that can suck this mess up might be well worth recommending. And did I mention that there is also a good amount of roof debris (mainly small pieces of wood) from a late fall tear-off?

It was easy to put together, and required no tools like screwdrivers: a plus. I was disconcerted to find that it needed to be plugged in all the time, but that turned out not to be a big deal. You twist on the vacuum attachments, sling the bag over your shoulder and let ’er rip. At first I thought it was clogging, but I found that if you shake the bag once in a while to clear the intake nozzle, it’s fine. I was surprised at how much roof debris it happily ate up, as well as making relatively quick work of the chunks of leaf matting. The bag is not huge, so it does have to be emptied quite often. And it’s noisy—not for early morning use.

[Photos no longer available.]

So that’s it. I liked this because it sucked away the leaves without also ripping out my ground cover (I have no grass), as rakes always and invariably do, no matter how gingerly I apply them. It also created 3 bags of nicely shredded leaves that I can now throw into my new composter.

My complaint? It was still work. I felt very tired afterwards. When Troy-Bilt makes the leaf-processing robot or the magic leaf-disappearing garden wand, I will be happy—HAPPY—to test them out. Just give me a call.

Previous articleTom Spencer on the soul of the gardener
Next articleGardening by phone

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. I am unhappy that Garden Ranters are succumbing to the relentless force of advertisers, and particularly unhappy that Elizabeth writes so uncritically about the leaf blower/vacuum/shredder. In my experience leaf blowers are hideously noisy and use power to do what a broom and rake would do more efficiently and quietly, as well as giving the gardener some exercise.
    As to sucking up overwintered leaves, the bulbs will poke through just fine. I give my garden a light raking and leave some of the leaves as mulch and worm food.

  2. Sandra, you cannot leave a mat of leaves from Norway maples; they do not mulch but block air and light. Nothing gets through them. And the fact is I can’t rake my ground cover, lightly or otherwise, without pulling it out. The only alternative is picking out each leaf by hand.

    I do agree with you about the noise pollution, but I I don’t expect be using this thing more than a few times a year. The shredded leaves will be great as both mulch and compost. So I’m being totally honest when I say this has helped me.

  3. I love our readers. Both rants and raves are treated with equal suspicion. Y’all go. But really, freebies always get an honest review around here–stay tuned for my not-so-glowing review of a couple freebies in the next week or two–

  4. My dad has one of these, although I don’t think it’s as macho as yours is, Elizabeth. I’ve been tempted to try it but I’ve wondered, worried more likely, what else I’d suck up along with the leaves and twigs. Insects wouldn’t stand a chance, taking a ride to shredder heaven along with the leaves. But do these tools have enough power to suck up all the tiny tree frogs that call my garden home? That would break my heart! I’ve never been able to find an answer to this question. Does anyone know?

    Now if someone came up with a quiet device that selectively sucked up slugs, root weevils and other destructive critters along with the leaves and twigs, I’d be first in line for it!

  5. I worry more about sucking up unwanted matter like cigarette butts and stuff. I think I can safely say there are no tree frogs in my part of Buffalo–and this early in the year, not too many insects.

  6. Well, it is a dirty job but somebody has to do it! LOL at that picture. It took me a minute to realize that you were not carrying your pillow around with you! You go girl!

  7. It’s electric, so it’s not going to have the environmental downside as those darn 2-stroke engines that spew nearly 1/4 of their fuel into the air. Also, electric is much quieter. Ginny

  8. File this away for your future Eliz: quit your job (or retire as I did) and spend a little time every day (every day that your yard isn’t buried in snow of course) hand-plucking leaves and other debris from your ground cover, shrubs, walkways. Be careful of your back. Think of it as a kind of meditation. And I must respectfully say I detest the sound of all outdoor electric devices. It’s almost bad enough to induce a kind of seizure-mania in my brain.

  9. I’ve always wondered about these. I’m not crazy about them- I’m noise sensitive and tend to prefer the old-fashioned method (we don’t have an engine driven mower, but the old fashionedy kind), but I’ve always wondered. How does it treat your plants though? I’d be scared that it would rip my poor crocuses or tulips to shreds. I’ve been trying to pull the matted cover of leaves blocking things out in the garden out, but it just seems to injure my poor plants!

  10. Strangely, it does not hurt the plants anywhere close to the way raking does. But the on other hand, the matted leaves cling to the bulb foliage, even with using suction. Those bulbs are strongly rooted–no way could this thing hurt them.

  11. I love power tools. I gushed incessantly about my new cultivator last year. I’m the only mom in the neighborhood who wants lawn and garden equipment for mother’s day. (A pile of manure would be appreciated, too. How sick is that?) Like you, I just got a leaf blower this week, but, alas, I had to pay for mine myself. I figure the investment will be worth it if it saves me from having to call in a yard cleanup crew. Hope mine works as well as yours. I’m gonna fire it up Saturday. Keep on diggin’

  12. Whether you opt to purchase a leaf blower or mulcher/sucker depends entirely on the type of groundcover(s) and leaf canopy.

    Scenario 1: Native wild ginger or Pennsylvania Sedge ground cover with overhanging Native Oaks – the old-fashioned metal leaf rake and broom work just fine and complete the task almost as quickly as power equipment. Why? the ginger is deciduous and the leaves of the native oaks do not mat down but rather form a loose insulating mulch for the winter.

    Scenario 2: Semi-evergreen Euonymus or Ivy with non-native Norway Maples equals trouble. The only way to efficiently remove the wet sticky mat of leaves is blow or suck them out. A rake quickly leads to a horrible snarled mess of vines and the homeowner no closer to completion of leaf removal.

    Moral of this: Go native! and you won’t need so much power equipment in your gardenshed.

    I have clients that subscibe to Scenario 1 resulting in a easy fall & spring cleanup.

    Those that have the traditional non-native groundcovers (which also require lots of pruning) it becomes a twice a year nightmare and hefty expense.

  13. Indeed. But they aren’t my trees to remove and replace. Not that removing and replacing trees is all that light a task to begin with, even when they’re yours.

    But, yes, starting out with a native situation would be good.

  14. You know, I’m sorry, but I need some clarification on the advice I’ve been getting. Should I quit my job or take out the city-owned trees first? See, I think I should rip out the trees first. I am going to need the money from my job to pay the sizable fines, or bail for when I’m arrested. If I’m arrested, I won’t need to quit my job, though, because I’ll likely be fired. But then I won’t NEED to quit my job, because the leaves will be gone, as it will take some time for natives I’ll be able to plant afterwards (cheap ones, if I no longer have a job) to produce enough leaves for me to pick up by hand.

    It’s very confusing!





  17. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for visiting, but you might want to calm down with the all-caps! Yikes.

    As has been stated, a sold mat of Norway maple leaves does no living thing good.It stifles, rather than promotes, or feeds, for that matter. I also did not blow but vacuumed and shredded–those shreds will be returned to the soil.

    I hope you will be coming to talk in the Western New York area some time!

  18. You mentioned money and time constraints. Exactly what did you do before this vendor gave you this freebie to test drive?

    Norway Maples aside, you seem to have a rather small townhouse front garden, there’s no reason you can’t gradually replace some of the evergreen groundcover with a groundcover more earth friendly and no, you do not have to break the bank to do it – it can be completed a section at a time.

    As for the parkway trees, you can also contact your public works department to see if they can at least be trimmed or perhaps phased out and replaced with something better down the line.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here