How to Pick Up Leaves with a Mower: Fix Bagger Problems


When you have too many leaves to pick up with a rake or a leaf blower, you can install a leaf collection system on your riding mower or zero turn. I prefer to remove leaves using a bagger because it is a much simpler solution to leaf pickup than blowing leaves into a pile and bagging them.  

Having to manually bag leaves is a pain and I go through so many bags. With a leaf collection system on my lawn mower, the mower blades chop up the leaves before it blows them into the leaf collection bags or hopper.  

I find a collection system convenient to pick up leaves with a mower, but you can run into problems when your leaf collection system will not pick up the leaves. I will explain the several types of leaf collections along with items to look at when you have problems picking up leaves. 

pick up leaves with a lawn mower

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How to Pick Up Leaves with a Lawn Mower 

A lawn mower can be used to pick up leaves with the use of a leaf collection system. A riding mower or zero turn mower can utilize a flow, belt-driven, or pull-behind leaf collection system. The best way to pick up leaves is to make passes over the leaves with your lawn mower which blows them into the attached bags. It may take more than one pass to collect all your leaves. 

Leaf collection systems used to pick up leaves are the same systems you use to pick up grass clippings. You can use your current lawn mower grass bagger to pick up leaves

Many lawn mower manufacturers have collections systems that have been designed to fit their model lawn mowers. Check with your lawn mower dealer to see if there is a bagger system that fits your lawn mower as this will be ideal if it is available.  

3 Types of Leaf Collection Systems that Can Be Used on Lawn Mowers 

There are three types of grass collection systems that can be used on your riding lawn mower or zero turn: flow leaf collection system, belt driven leaf collection system, and pull-behind leaf collection system. 

Flow Leaf Collection Bagger System 

The least complicated type of leaf collection system available for your riding mower or zero turn is the flow system. This type of system uses the air flow created by the mower blades to move the chopped leaves through the tube and into the attached bag. 

On a push mower, the leaves will be pushed through the discharge chute into the grass catcher bag. 

Belt Driven Leaf Collection Bagger System 

A belt drive leaf collection system you will find a blower housing attached to the discharge side of the mower deck. This housing protects the impeller fan. A belt added to the mower to drive the impeller fan creates an increased airflow to push the leaves through the blower tube into the attached bags. 

Pull-Behind Leaf Collection Bagger System 

The pull-behind leaf collection system uses an extra engine on a trailer mounted system to create a vacuum to pull leaves through the tube off the deck and into the leaf collection bags or compartment on the trailer. 

15 Reasons Your Lawn Mower Will Not Pick Up Leaves 

Your lawn mower bagger may continue to get clogged when there is a lack of air movement due to leaf buildup under the mower deck, worn blades, and plugged inlet screen. Bad belts, impeller and housing can also cause leaf and grass debris to become built up in the blower tubes and chute with a belt style grass collection system. 

You will notice a common theme when going through this list. All the items that you will check are items that will restrict air movement your leaf collection system requires to operate at its best. 

Clogged Tubes 

Remove the blower tubes on the leaf collection system and check for debris stuck in the tube. Look for grass, sticks, leaves and other debris that may clog the blower tube. Scrape the inside of the tube until all the debris is removed. 

With the blower tubes off your machine, spray silicone inside the tube to assist with preventing future grass and leaf debris from sticking to the tube. To reduce the number of times your blower tube becomes clogged, use this silicone spray frequently. 

Clogged Mower Deck  

A lawn mower decked that is full of grass and leaf debris will not create the air flow your leaf collection system requires. Raise the mower deck so you can gain access to the underside of the deck. You can get this extra height using jack stands. Using a deck scraper or wire brush, scrape the deck to remove all excess debris. 

When working under the deck, be sure to take safety precautions by removing the key from the lawn mower and removing the spark plug boots. This will prevent the lawn mower from starting while you are working under the deck. 

Worn or Damaged Mower Blades 

While you are under the deck, inspect the mower blades to see if the sails are worn off the top of the blades. If the sails (which is the high side of the blade) are worn, you will not be able to move grass and leaves around the underside of the deck creating enough air movement to push the leaves up the tube. 

You must make sure you have a good set of mower blades that are sharp. Read more about inspecting your blades and sharpening blades hereOpens in a new tab.

Wrong or Incorrectly Installed Mower Blades 

You need to create lift and air movement to achieve the best performance. A high lift mower blade works best with leaf collection systems. This type of mower blade has a taller sail that creates the lift needed.  

When inspecting your blades on the deck, make sure the sail is up when installed. The sail should be pointed toward the deck, so it creates a good vacuum under the deck. We explain this in more depth in “This is the Way the Blade Goes On A Lawn MowerOpens in a new tab.”. 

Clogged Leaf Chute 

Look at the leaf chute as it can become plugged with old or wet leaves. Clean this area to allow air to move grass up the tubes. You can also use a silicone sprayOpens in a new tab.Opens in a new tab. inside the chute to help grass flow better. 

Clogged Inlet Tube 

Another reason your lawn mower may not pick up leaves is a clogged inlet tube. Remove the bags or catchers, whichever your unit has, off the hopper. Inspect the inlet tube to make sure you are not plugged up there. Clean it out if necessary. 

Plugged Inlet Screen 

The inlet screen is one thing most people forget to check. The screen allows air to leave the hopper so it can carry leaves up the tubes. If this screen is plugged, you can lose the air draft that carries the air clippings. When clogged, the system will not load the bags with leaves. 

The screen is usually at the top of the hopper where no one can see it. Because you can’t see the screen people normally forgets it exists, and it becomes full of leaf debris. When you pick the hopper cover up you are not seeing the screen because it is located on the side of the cover not exposed to you. 

The screen can easily be cleaned by hand. A wire brush can be used for tough build ups. Once you have it clean, spray it with silicone sprayOpens in a new tab.Opens in a new tab. and let it dry. 

Bad Deck Belt 

The belt on a belt driven leaf collection system drives the blower belt for the fan. Remove the belt covers, remove the floor pan, and inspect the mower deck belt. A belt that appears worn or has a shiny glazed look to it must be replaced. 

Bad Blower Belt 

The next item to inspect is the blower belt. Again, if the belt looks work or is shiny, this belt should be replaced as well. 

Worn Fan or Housing 

The fan encased in the blower housing is often called the impeller on the belt driven leaf collection system. Check the condition of the fan blades and the blower housing. Fan blades and blower housing that are worn will cause you to lose air flow to move the leaf debris into the bagger.  

When the gap between the fan and the housing is far apart you will lose air flow. 

Bad Bearings in Blower Housing 

On larger blower housing units, you will find a set of bearings on the fan shaft. Debris can get wrapped around the shaft causing the bearing to go bad. Most likely, you will have to take your blower housing apart to check for failed bearings. 

Not Enough Engine Speed 

Engine speed is crucial to the operation of your leaf collection system. You need the engine to run at maximum horsepower to run the bagger. When running your bagger and it sounds like the engine is not giving all it has then you need to look at the engine. The engine could be hurt, or you may simply not have a large enough engine on your lawn mower to use the leaf collection system. 

Most engines should run about 3200 to 3650 rpm to give you all the power you need out of the engine. 

Wet Leaves 

Trying to pick up wet leaves can cause you to have problems. Wet leaves are heavy and tend to build up under the mower deck and stick to the insides of the blower tubes. This will reduce the amount of air movement created by your mower and make it harder to push leaves into the bags. 

You should not mow very wet leaves. Leaf debris systems work best when leaves are dry or just lightly moist. You may have to drive over your yard a couple of times to chop up and bag your leaves depending on how many leaves you have on the ground. 

Wrong or Damaged Bags 

Bags used on bagger systems used to be made of cloth and sometimes they can be repaired if they get a hole in them. Today, most bags are made from a mesh or loosely knitted polyester or nylon type material and are not easily repaired. The life of a bag can be two to three years depending on how much dirt or debris you pick up and if anything gets caught in the bag. 

The newly designed bags are designed to allow air movement through the mesh vents. Without bags that allow air to move through the bags, the bags will continually expand with the buildup of leaves and air which can cause damage to the bags. 

Bagger Not Secured or Attached Properly 

When your bagger isn’t assembled or secured properly, you can have areas where air escapes through the system and causes reduced air movement. 

Powered Equipment Team

We're just a guy and a girl obsessed with outdoor power equipment! We are excited to share the knowledge and tips we have learned over our combined 55 years in the power equipment industry. We have both ran equipment dealerships and took pleasure in helping our customers everyday providing equipment repair, parts, purchasing, and business tips to our residential and commercial clients. We hope our blog will help you with your next purchase, repair, or project.

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