It happened without really being noticed. It’s as if someone declared a new standard for suburban landscapes, no leaves allowed, and over time nearly everyone fell into line. There’s hardly a home—or office building--where clearing the leaves has not become an expensive, polluting, unhealthy and ear-splitting exercise. Our yard care practices are subverting the very qualities of life—clean air, quiet and good health—that suburbanites supposedly treasure.
People used to just rake the leaves off their lawns to keep the grass from getting smothered, but left the leaves in shrub beds and borders. This natural mulch kept the plant roots warm in the winter and discouraged weeds in the spring. By summer, the leaves had decayed into the dirt, renewing the fertility of the soil.
A perfect system of sustainability, this natural cycle was free, used no energy except burning a few calories and caused no pollution.
But in the next few weeks as the autumn leaves fall, do-it-yourselfers and paid crews will be out there with blowers roaring, damaging the hearing of their handlers--who rarely wear any ear protection--and polluting the air. They blast every last leaf not just off lawns but also out of shrub and groundcover beds. Then in the spring, homeowners pay for mulch, dyed a uniform color, to spread on the achingly bare beds.
One result of this mania for neatness is the pollution of the air right in our residential neighborhoods. An Orange County, California Grand Jury studied the pollution caused by leaf blowers in 1999 in order to issue recommendations to municipalities and other government entities. They found that “exhaust pollution per leaf blower per hour is the equivalent of the amount of smog from 17 cars driven one hour and is localized in the area of blower usage.”
Furthermore, they found that the high-velocity air jets whip up about five pounds per hour per blower of particulate matter “composed of dust, fecal matter, pesticides, fungi, chemicals, fertilizers, spores, and street dirt which consists of lead and organic and elemental carbon.”
Experts agree that asthma is worsened by, and maybe caused by, particulate matter in the air. Every time you use a leaf blower, or let a landscaping crew do so, you are contributing to the asthma, allergies and other breathing problems suffered by your own family members and those of your neighbors.
And by the way, the Orange County grand jury also found that clearing leaves the old-fashioned way, with rakes and brooms, took just 6% more labor time than the blower method.
The bottom line is that Long Island’s home and business owners are unnecessarily spending money, polluting the air and disturbing the peace in pursuit of an unnaturally neat vision of a landscape. Let the leaves stay in your flower and shrub beds, and use a rake to clear the lawn. Work with nature, and we’ll all breathe better in the quiet.