SUNDAY, OCT. 7, 2012

Do It Yourself: When it comes to leaves, options vary

Q. Every year we have to clean up what seems like a mountain of leaves. We use a hand-held blower to put them in piles, then rake them into bags and put them out for the trash guy. It’s a lot of work and takes a lot of time. Is there a better way?

A. A lot depends on the size of your property, the amount of leaves you need to deal with, and local rules about leaf disposal.

Bagging leaves is probably the most laborious and time-consuming way to get rid of them. Some of the options are vacuuming and shredding them, and mulching them. Blowers are probably the fastest way to gather leaves, and a hand-held blower is OK for small lots.

If you have more than one-quarter acre, you’ll get better results with a larger blower, such as one of the backpack models. Leaf gathering on large lots is best done with a walk-behind blower ($600 or more), or you can rent one at a tool-rental agency.

I have a sizable yard with a lot of leaf-dropping trees, and for some years I have been using a Craftsman 4-in-1 Yard Vacuum System to clean up the leaves. This is a self-propelled walk-behind tool that can shred leaves into a bag or blow them into piles, and even chop up small branches.

For several years I vacuumed and shredded the leaves, but in recent years I have been using the blower exclusively. I blow the leaves into piles, rake them onto a large fabric tarp, and drag the loads of leaves into a thickly wooded area behind the yard. I dump the leaves there, spread them out a bit with a rake, and by summer most of them have rotted and become part of the soil.

If you don’t have a wooded area for dumping, you can pile them up in an out-of the-way corner and let them become leaf mulch, useful as a soil builder. Some people build a simple chicken-wire enclosure to keep the leaves in place.

I think the blowing-and-tarp system is the fastest, easiest way to dispose of leaves. If you get only a moderate amount of leaves, you can shred them in place with a mulching lawnmower; the bits of leaves will give you a healthier lawn.

A regular gasoline-powered lawnmower can also be used for blowing and shredding leaves, though it is not as effective as proper equipment. To use a lawnmower as a blower, circle the leaf-covered area and let the stream of air from the discharge chute blow the leaves into a pile. To shred, tilt the mower on its rear wheels, push it into a pile of leaves, and lower it; keep this up until you have chopped up the pile of leaves.

Q. We have a plastic-laminate counter with an ugly spot where a cleaner containing bleach sat for a while. Some of the bleach apparently got on the plastic. How can we remove this stain?

A. If the color has been bleached out of the laminate, it would make it impossible to remove the mark.

Before giving up, however, try cleaning the entire surface with a good cleaner-polish such as Counter Top Magic, which you can buy at many supermarkets and home centers. Even if this doesn’t remove the mark, it could clean and brighten up the rest of the surface so the mark is less visible.

For future reference, some experts caution against using bleach-type cleaners on plastic laminate. Abrasive cleaners should also be avoided, since they cause scratches in the plastic. Any cleaner should be tested first on an inconspicuous part of the surface.

Stains that resist removal can often be concealed with a plastic cutting board, sold at many home centers and supermarkets.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at gaus17aol.com. Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422.

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