A person uses a green spring tine rake to clear autumn leaves in their garden
Raking lawns and beds can be a good workout, especially in autumn when leaves are on the ground.

Helpful information

Timing: Spring, summer, autumn (especially when leaves fall)

Where to do it: Outdoors

Garden space: Large garden, small garden

  • Raking can use all the major muscle groups in the arms, shoulders, back and legs. It can provide a good workout, helping you burn plenty of calories.
  • In a short time, you can enjoy the difference you’ve made to your outdoor space.
  • Spending time outside. Autumn is a great time to go out and enjoy colour and seasonal change.

Essential items

  • Raking tools (see below)
  • Bucket or container for debris

Optional items

  • Gardening gloves
  • Compost bin

Tools to make it easier

  • Back saving tool grip
  • Add on handles (available with arm support cuffs)
  • Kneeler seat with handles
  • Right angle guide
  • Lawn mower with bag or catcher
  • Wheeled garden caddy
  • Two-wheeled wheelbarrow
A person rakes leaves using a green leaf rake
A person rakes leaves using a green leaf rake

A rake is one of the important items in many gardeners’ sheds. There are some different styles and materials available, suited to different raking uses.

There are also different tools available to help you clear piles of leaves and other debris.

Top tip

Take time to pick the tool that’s right for you. You don't need every type of rake. Many gardeners will find a rake to level soil and a rake to clear leaves is all they need.

Steel rake

A steel rake is the most popular tool for raking beds and borders. Steel rakes have short, sharp prongs set in a straight line. A steel rake is not suitable for raking leaves up from the lawn.

If you garden from a wheelchair or seat, look for lightweight short-handled, telescopic or multi-change rakes. This will help you get the correct length tool. These may also be the best options if you garden with one hand.

Search for steel rakes online

Rake for clearing leaves

A person uses a red garden rake to clear autumn leaves on their lawn
A spring tine rake is used to clear autumn leaves on the lawn

A spring tine or leaf rake has prongs (also known as ‘tines’) laid out in a fan shape that go down at the ends. This rake is particularly useful across your lawn.

Some leaf rakes have plastic heads and aluminium handles, making them lighter to use.

Telescopic lawn rakes have adjustable handles and heads. This allows you to set your ideal height and width. These can be fiddly to use.

Rubber rakes are available to clear leaves. You can also use these to clear debris across your beds and borders. The gentle rubber is less likely to damage new plant growth.

Search for spring tine rakes online or search for leaf rakes online

Hand rake

There are many varieties of short-handled hand rake available. These include solid steel models and ones with softer fan-shaped heads. Hand rakes can be useful when working in raised beds and containers or when kneeling to work in borders.

Search for hand rakes online

Leaf blower

You could use a leaf blower instead of a rake to move leaves on your lawn into big piles. They reduce bending and you can use them from a seated position. Some are combination blower/vacuums, also allowing you to suck up leaves.

Leaf blowers are heavier than a rake and may take practice to master. You may only want to use one for a few minutes at a time.

Search for leaf blowers online

Long-handled leaf grabber

Alongside raking comes clearing debris. A long-handled leaf grabber uses a scissor action to collect fallen leaves and debris. This limits any bending. You will need to use both hands to work them.

You may also see these called ‘grab and lift’ rakes or leaf collectors.

Search for long-handled leaf grabbers online

Litter picker

A litter picker allows you to collect debris without bending via the push of a button. You can work it with one hand, if you have the strength to keep pressing the gripping button. During autumn, if you get heavy leaf fall in your garden, it may take a long time to clear using a litter picker.

Search for litter pickers online

Leaf tarp

This is essentially a large plastic sheet that you can rake leaves onto. The sheet has handles at each corner. This allows you to make it into a bag shape and transport the leaves to your compost / garden waste bin.

Search for leaf tarps online

Spring tine rake soil bed 3
A spring tine rake is used to help prepare the soil in a flower border

There are several reasons why we may want to rake in our garden.

1. To prepare beds for planting

When we rake the soil in our beds and borders, we can break up big clumps and make the soil level. Raking can help us remove stones and other pieces of debris that can prevent plants growing well.

This is particularly useful when preparing beds and borders for planting or before sowing seeds in drills outside.

My favourite activity to do in the garden is … all of them. Planting, harvesting, raking leaves in the autumn … it's fun!

Katy, client gardener

2. To clear leaves from the lawn

As autumn comes to an end, our lawns are often covered in a mass of brown leaves. These may be fun to crunch through, but they are not very good for the the lawn if they are left over winter.

Raking up leaves and other debris helps keep our lawn healthy.

3. To remove dead grass and moss from the lawn

Every couple of years, it can be worth giving the lawn a thorough rake to clear dead grass and thatch. This helps improve the health of your lawn, making it easier for water and nutrients to get to the soil. Use a lighter spring tine rake for this, as a steel rake may damage your lawn.

This activity is also known as ‘scarifying’ – read more in our guide to lawn care.

A person uses a long, lightweight metal rake to clear debris from a flower bed
A lightweight metal rake plus arm support cuff is used to clear debris from a flower bed

Raking technique

Raking is an activity that involves repetitive movement. This is true whether you are raking the soil, clearing dead moss from the lawn or cleaning up leaves. When you rake, maintain a good posture and try to develop a gentle, consistent movement.

When raking soil, you could break up stubborn big lumps by chopping them a few times with the rake head

Make it easier

There are a number of ways to reduce the strain from raking, or energy it takes to do it.

Avoiding strain
Do some gentle warm up stretches before you begin. This is especially important on colder days.

Raking can be trickier if you have difficulty with bending, mobility or balance. Try to only rake flower beds if they are narrow and easy to reach across, with paving around for stability.

Lifting, dropping and dragging the rake can jolt the arms and strain the back. It can take good grip and strength. Choose a lighter rake and work in very short bursts, to reduce hand strain.
Tools to help
If you have a weak grip, arm or hand pain, or want to make raking more comfortable, add on handles can help. These keep your arm and hand in a natural position, avoiding bending and twisting. You can combine these with arm support cuffs.

If you rake while upright, a back saving tool grip can help you bend your back less, reducing strain.

If you are using a short rake at ground level, a kneeler seat with handles will reduce discomfort for your knees.
Sight loss
If you have any sight loss, you may find it easier to rake kneeling close to the ground. A right-angle guide can be helpful. These are homemade guides that you lay on the ground and peg to give a set area to work in.
Saving energy
There is a way you can completely avoid raking leaves from your lawn – use a lawn mower with a bag or catcher on the back. When you run your lawn mower over leaves, it chops them into smaller pieces at the same time as collecting them. This helps them break down quicker.

Clearing debris

A row of wooden compost bins
A row of wooden compost bins

Once you have cleared your soil of stones, or raked leaves into piles, you need to pick them up and dispose of them.

You can put natural materials like leaves, moss and grass clippings on the compost pile or garden waste collection. There are plenty of other ways to make use of collected leaves. Read our guide to using autumn leaves for ideas. You may need to take stones to a special recycling centre.

Having a container or bucket near where you are working will allow you to collect more in one go.

Make it easier

Some people have a wheeled garden waste bin from the local council that is easy to move into the garden. If so, you may find it easiest to put debris directly into this.

If your garden waste bin is not on wheels or is hard to access, you could use a wheeled garden caddy instead. Or, use a two-wheeled wheelbarrow. Some models have a bar style handle, which you may find easier. You can put the debris in and push to the compost heap, avoiding some bending.

Congratulations, you have finished raking and made a big contribution to the health of your garden!

If you were raking the soil, you can now look forward to sowing seeds or adding plants. If you were clearing leaves, this may be one of the last tasks to do before your garden – and you – enjoy a winter rest.

Top tip

Raking is a very forgiving activity. If you miss a few bits, or are a little bit heavy handed, it doesn’t matter. Your garden will still benefit from the work you put in.

Help us continue to make gardening accessible for all. Make a donation to Thrive today. Thank you.

Make a donation

Sign up to receive gardening inspiration and tips to get the most out of your own gardening space, and improve your health and wellbeing at the same time

Choose which aspects of the gardening information service you’d most like to hear about.

Double your donation today!

The Big Give is back! Any donations from now until 5th December will be matched. Visit our Big Give page today.

Find out more