When using a lawn and garden vacuum, it's best to think of your yard as a long, green shaggy carpet. Basically, all you need to do is push the machine slowly around the yard, and the suction takes care of the rest.
Just like an indoor vacuum, you'll want to avoid bigger items, including branches, twigs and rocks, that can jam the machine. As you make your rounds of the yard, make sure that your path is clear of any large obstructions. Some lawn and garden vacuums even come with a miniature wood chipper mounted on the side, which will allow you to easily dispose of any stray twigs you encounter. You'll also want to make sure the intake "snout" on your vacuum is properly adjusted to the terrain. When moving over long grass or bumpy terrain, raise the snout so that it won't bump against the ground. If not, move the intake as close to the ground as possible. The smaller the distance between the intake and the ground, the greater the suction will be.
The most prominent feature of any lawn and garden vacuum is the collector bag. While lawnmowers can make do with a relatively tiny collector bag, lawn and garden vacuums come with bags as large as 12 cubic feet (0.34 cubic meter) designed to handle a much larger volume of waste. The collector bags are often too heavy and awkward for one person to lift and dump out, which is why most bags come with a clamped or zippered door to allow you to scoop out debris manually.
What if, rather than leaves and lawn clippings, your yard is strewn with plates and plastic forks from your kid's birthday party? In some cases, lawn and garden vacuums will be powerful enough to suck up not only organic waste, but also glass, plastics and metal. But be sure to check the owner's manual for your vacuum before you try tackling heavy-duty litter: If it turns out your machine can't handle non-leaf material, you'll want to make a good scan of your lawn before firing up your lawn vacuum. Like most yard equipment, you'll want to avoid using your lawn and garden vacuum in the rain or soon after a storm. Leaves are harder to pick up when they're soaked, and you'll also end up sucking large amounts of water into the collector bag.
Before you purchase a lawn and garden vacuum, it's a good idea to "test drive" one of the machines on familiar terrain. Head out to a local lawn and garden store and rent a vacuum for the weekend. If you like what you see, you can plunk down the cash for your own lawn and garden vacuum without worry. Some dealerships even offer "demonstration yards," where you can take a vacuum for a spin. Also, decide whether you need a wheeled machine or a portable, backpack-style vacuum. If you're looking to clean leaves from between flower beds and other hard-to-reach areas, you'll want the flexibility of a backpack-style machine. If, however, you're looking to clean leaves from a backyard or a soccer field, you'll want to pick something with wheels. Some backpack vacuums also come with the ability to function as a leaf blower, which may affect your choice.