The Best Rake For Cleaning Tree Debris?

Rakes are versatile tools, and there are many different types available. Once in a while, the rake you need isn’t the one you’d guess at first glance.

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by J. Keeler JohnsonMay 3, 2022
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

Rakes are versatile tools, and there are many different types available. Sometimes it seems as though there’s a specific rake for every job. But you know what? Once in a while, the rake you need isn’t the one you’d guess at first glance.

You’re surely familiar with two commons types of rakes: bow rakes and leaf rakes.

  • Bow rakes are tough metal rakes featuring short, thick tines that don’t budge an inch when raking.
  • Leaf rakes are made from plastic or metal and typically feature a large number of thin, flexible tines. They’re often wider than bow rakes.

The Job at Hand

A bow rake is considered a garden tool since it’s tough enough to break up clumps of soil, remove weeds and rocks, and spread out loose materials like dirt and compost. In contrast, a leaf rake is designed for yardwork, like cleaning up leaves and grass clippings.

But what happens when yardwork gets serious? Let me share a personal example. Some types of trees are messier than others when it comes to dropping branches during storms.

I’ve found sugar maple trees to be very tidy, which stands in stark contrast to the mess of little branches white pines can put forth. Sometimes I wonder how white pine trees even survive. It seems like a countless number of foot-long branch tips break loose whenever the wind picks up.

Speaking of white pines (and conifers in general), they can also drop lots of needles and pinecones, so maintaining a manicured lawn dotted with or surrounded by conifers requires diligence to stay on top of falling debris. And if a conifer is toppled during a storm, cleaning up the trunk and branches is only step one.

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Depending on the variety and time of year, you might also be left with plenty of small branches, bits of bark, pine cones and needles.


Read more: When storms damage your trees, you want these 8 tools close by.


Storm Cleanup

So let’s say a storm has left your lawn littered with debris. It’s tempting to reach for a leaf rake. Isn’t it the tool of choice for yardwork?

To an extent, yes. But I argue for thinking outside the box and reaching for a bow rake instead.

A leaf rake is perfect for dealing with lightweight materials like leaves and grass clippings. But heavier debris is less inclined to move under the pull of a flexible leaf rake. Use a leaf rake for a job beyond its means, and you might wind up frustrated while simultaneously running the risk of bending or otherwise damaging the tines.


Read more: Which rake design you reach for should be determined by the job at hand.


How to Use a Bow Rake for Debris Cleanup

I’ll admit a bow rake isn’t my first choice for a lot of yardwork. The stubby, inflexible tines are prone to getting caught in the sod, so they can be tiring to use. But if you employ a light touch (don’t go slamming the head down against the ground), a bow rake can work wonders cleaning up tree debris.

Branches up to an inch thick (maybe more, depending on length) will readily rake into neat piles under the command of a bow rake. And a bow rake is also good at battling through thick grass to pull out debris that isn’t readily visible. T

hat’s a big help if you’re tackling debris cleanup after tall grass has taken over an area (been there, done that).

The takeaway? Don’t let the bow rake’s designation as a garden tool fool you. When the going gets tough, a bow rake can effectively serve double-duty for serious yardwork.

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