Clean Sweep

By Catherine McNulty

September 6, 2016 5 min read

Aah, the smell of autumn is in the air! It's the time of year for hot apple cider, crisp days and giant piles of leaves. As much fun as crunching through fallen leaves can be, no one likes a messy, leaf-strewn yard. A yard is only as good as its upkeep, and to properly keep up your yard you need the right tools. That means brooms and rakes, my friends.

You cannot willy-nilly go to the nearest convenience store and just purchase any old broom to do your dirty work. No, you need to consider what you need the broom to do and how it will benefit your lawn and garden.

Sound a bit dramatic? Maybe, but an unworthy rake or broom will just lead to frustration and wasted money. So, take the time to do a little investigation beforehand.

First, do you need a broom or a rake -- or both? The heads of rakes have tines, which tend to be made of unyielding material (such as metal or hard plastic) and spaced far apart. The heads of brooms are generally made of softer, more flexible and natural materials and are more densely packed together. Rakes are better at gathering scattered materials, such as leaves, whereas brooms are better at general sweeping and clean up.

What you need depends on what you have. Someone with a large yard that has multiple trees shedding their leaves every fall has different needs than someone living in a desert environment with a yard full of succulents.

Let's start with general yard care. If cleaning up fallen leaves is part of your lawn duties, look for a sturdy, easy-to-handle rake. Don't feel self-conscious: Give it a whirl in the store! If something handles awkwardly there, you're never going to use it at home. Consider the proportions, too. Someone who is 5 feet 2 inches tall probably doesn't need a 6-foot rake, and vice versa.

How wide should the head of the rake be, and how long should the tines be? That's a mixture of personal preference and needs. If you have a huge yard and you're hand-raking leaves across great expanses of it, then you need something wider as to be more efficient. If you're going to be doing a lot of edge work around flowerbeds or walkways, you'll need a smaller, more careful and precise rake.

Rakes are also excellent at cleaning sand, for you Zen gardeners out there. The tines can catch and remove debris, all while leaving a harmonious pattern behind.

Brooms are better for walkways and paths. They can sweep off any dirt, grass or other lawn debris that might gather there. Brooms are also handy for clearing a light snowfall from walkways and driveways.

Outdoor brooms and rakes can be purchased at any hardware or home supply store. Places such as Home Depot and Lowe's will have the biggest selections, but even Target and Wal-Mart carry them. Prices can run under $10, but most sturdy brooms and rakes tend to be in the $25-35 range. If you need both and want to be more economical, see whether there are sets available. After all, they both use long, skinny handles; all you need to do is switch out the head.

The Original Garden Broom is a great compromise between a broom and a rake. Made from the dried spines of palm fronds that are held together with twine woven from coconut shell husks, it's also environmentally friendly. The palm leaf spines are supple enough to be flexible for sweeping. But they're also stiff enough to gather like a rake. The Garrett Wade Heavy Duty Garden & Garage Broom is another reliable option. These sturdy brooms are perfect for small or midsize yards that need the action of both raking and sweeping at once.

While we all have fantasies about chilly-but-sunny autumn days, the reality is that autumn means weather -- specifically, rain. And trying to make piles of sodden leaves is miserable without the right tools. So whatever broom or rake ends up being perfect for you, make sure it can handle any weather.

Yardwork isn't often enjoyable, but the right tools can make it less painful.

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