As beautiful as they are when they turn colors, we all know how annoying leaves are when they cover our yards. Depending on how many trees you have nearby and your landscaping plan, that lovely foliage might represent a lot of hours of back-breaking work. Here’s some ways to tackle the issue:

What’s Your Plan?

The most important part of the process is to figure out your long-term plan for your yard. If you plan to have plants that can use mulch, put those near the deciduous trees (those are the ones that shed leaves) so they can use what falls naturally. Even if you have to rake the leaves afterward, you can move them right into the flower beds without a lot of effort.

For your gutters, a little early investment can save you from too much need to clean out the leaves. First, make sure you’ve trimmed back tree branches–this is a good idea for several reasons besides leaves, but it will reduce the amount of debris that falls into the gutters. Second, look into purchasing gutter guards. They might cost a bit and be a pain to install, but they do a great job keeping most big leaves out of the gutters.

Pine needles can also be a problem. Try to get them as soon as they start falling, and best to do that when they’re dry. If you can, don’t rake them at the same time as you’re raking deciduous leaves. The needles are a lot more acidic than regular leaves, and don’t belong in the same kinds of gardens.

Leave ‘Em

You might not need to do anything with the leaves. If they cover less than a third of your yard, and you can see the tops of the blades of grass in most places, a layer of leaves can be useful. It creates its own ecosystem for beneficial insects and critters, and can also help feed the lawn in the spring. You really only need to get rid of the leaves if they cover too much of the yard or if the Homeowner’s Association has rules about leaf removal.

If you do decide to keep your leaves, you can still speed up the natural process of breaking them down by mulching them with your mower. This breaks them into smaller chunks. A tiller can also go over a layer of leaves, grinding them into the soil for next year.

Remove ‘Em

If you need to get rid of them, first make sure you’ve got the right kind of rake. Most people recommend larger rages, around 30″, although it should be relatively lightweight. Try to get one with the no-clog protection so the tines don’t spear all your leaves. Do a part of the yard at a time. Go zig-zag and make small piles. Trying to go over everything, several times throughout the season, can make a big job seem bigger. Also, consider raking the leaves while they’re wet. They move more easily and form piles better. You can bag up the piles to be hauled away, or put them on a big tarp to carry off all at once.

You can also use the mower here, with an attached mulching bag. Just make sure to run over the leaves several times, and you’ll pick up most of them. There are also leaf vacuums, which work best on dry leaves, sucking them up into a bag.

Use ‘Em

Leaves can be really useful when you’re composting. Dried out over the winter, they can help you regulate the moisture in a soggy compost pile in the spring, as well as adding carbon to the compost. Get to know the kinds of trees you have, so you can determine how long the leaves need to take to decompose. With a little time and effort, you can be a compost alchemist, making the rest of your garden sing next year.