Guide to garden vacs and leaf blowers

Fed up with raking your garden to keep it tidy or sweeping paths and patio areas? Garden vacs and leaf blowers can greatly reduce the effort and labour involved in looking after a garden, leaving you with more time to enjoy your outdoor space. Whether you simply require a handheld blower to manage dead leaves, or you want to completely clear your lawn of debris with a heavy-duty garden vac, there are powerful garden tools on the market that will do the job for you.

The difference between the two types of tools is simply a matter of suction: blowers will guide your fallen leaves into neat piles, while a leaf vac will usually come with a catch bag in order to collect and dispose of garden rubbish easily. However, these days, the differences are not major, as many garden power tools.

The main considerations when buying garden vacs include the type of power source, size and leaf disposal methods. Read our buying guide to find out which is the best blower or vac for you, as well as some tips on collecting and reusing garden debris.

Types of power source

Leaf vacs and blowers can run from various different power sources. Costs, weight and the location of your sockets are all factors to think about when choosing between petrol, electric and battery-operated vacs.

Petrol Garden Vacs

Petrol leaf blowers tend to be more powerful and pack more punch, but, as a result, they are usually fairly expensive when compared with electric versions. These are a good idea for home owners with large gardens, or if you work in the garden trade, as you can cover plenty of ground with less effort.

Check the power and speed of the engine - this key information should be supplied in figures, for example, a 26cc is a good motor for a garden power tool as it is fairly light as well.

The type of engine is also worth a look before you buy. A two-stroke engine is more common and compact than a four-stroke, but the latter is a little more powerful.

Electric models

Electric garden vacs are generally the most popular for average-sized gardens and yards. Mains-powered with a cord, a garden electric blower is often a lot lighter than petrol models and if you're looking for the cheapest garden vac or just sheer variety when it comes to brand and model, this is often a good place to start.

Power is measured in wattage and ranges between around 2,000 W and 3,000 W. You can also buy pull-along models which are much bigger and heavier - similar to a household vacuum cleaner - but include effective leaf shredding blades. These are good for larger areas and tougher debris.

You will need to consider where your nearest power point is, but extension cables are available.

Cordless Garden Blowers

Cordless models operate by battery and are usually quieter and more convenient to use, since you won't need any cables or nearby sockets. They are designed for operation with one hand, meaning they should have a comfortable grip and a lightweight body.

The high-end models include both blowing and vacuuming functions, and even different speed settings.

Garden Vac Features

The specifications of different leaf vacs and blowers are worth noting, as they will perform slightly differently when it comes to certain tasks.

Nozzles

If you want a model that will deal with small pebbles, debris and damp leaves, look for garden vacs that have a wider angle nozzle end, so there's less chance of the suction tube getting blocked. Smaller, thinner ones are great for creating a steady stream of air, getting into awkward corners and directing leaves into neat piles. If you just want a leaf blower without actually suctioning up the fallen leaves, look for a slim nozzle.

Some models come with separate, different nozzles for blowing and vacuuming, which you will need to change as you would with an indoor vacuum. Others run a dual-action suction tube to accomplish both tasks, saving time as you simply press a button to change the mode.

Leaf Disposal

Generally, garden vacs will gather outdoor materials in a leaf catch bag, attached to the tool. Some have soft removable bags, which you empty via a zip; others are more like vacuum cleaner compartments that you can scoop the leaves out from.

The models that also chop or mulch the leaves are ones to look out for, compacting your garden waste so you can work for longer without emptying the collection bag. These collection bags vary in size from 14 to 35 litres. Just bear in mind that while a bigger leaf disposal unit means more efficient gardening, it will feel heavier on your shoulders! Make sure there is a good harness or backpack design for larger garden vacs.

Smarter models will connect up to your garden bin, so you don't have to change bags or handle damp leaves.

Tips on Using a Garden Vac

Garden vacs aren't just for leaves. They can be useful for clearing everything from dust on your garden furniture to snow from your front path. Here are some tips for effective use:

  • The most efficient method to approach large patios or lawns is to use a sweeping motion as you move forward.
  • Avoid larger rocks, branches and anything that may get stuck inside blower tubes. Some machines are more heavy-duty, and can handle small objects and litter, but check the manual before you start.
  • If you're just using a blower, direct leaves from gravel and flowerbeds onto a harder surface where it will be easier to sweep them up.
  • Most machines will pick up even wet leaves but it's still advisable not to vacuum just after rainfall, as with any garden power tool.

Using your leaves and garden debris

Once you've collected your leaves, there's no need to throw them away: put them back into your garden and continue the natural cycle.

You can use shredded leaves as 'mulch' on your flowerbeds, to improve the soil and prevent weeds. If you have only small quantities of leaves and grass, simply put them on your compost heap or bin and turn the pile occasionally as normal.

If you have gathered a large quantity of leaves, why not make leaf mould to help your soil? Damp leaves have to be left for six months to a year in a corner of the garden, a wire container, or a bin bag with slits cut into it. Add water whenever they seem dry and check periodically. When ready, you can use it for anything from vegetable patches to pot plants. Or, try one of our composters.

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