Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Leave the Leaves Alone

I have two giant gumball trees at my house. I rake year round. However, I'm thinking of stopping after reading this article on fall landscape maintenance. They recommend leaving them on the lawn and mowing them once week to fertilize the ground.

They also mention a few downsides to raking and bagging:

* The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that landscape debris including leaves and garden trimmings contribute 32 million tons or 13 percent of all solid waste that enters landfills in the United States. Landfill space is expensive and unnecessary waste adds to the country's tax burden.

* Plastic bags used to transport leaves and clippings add insult to injury, since plastic is not biodegradable and will pollute in whole or in part for thousands of years to come. The leaves held in bags and transported to landfills decompose in the absence of oxygen and create methane gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

* Landfills often leak toxic pollutants into ground water and waterways. Leaves that are raked and disposed of in ravines and stormwater right of ways surrounding suburban lots quickly make their way into streams, rivers, and major waterways. The Chesapeake Bay, a waterway that drains 5 states, and the Gulf of Mexico, which drains many more, are already plagued by excess nutrients that have robbed them of oxygen. This creates dead zones where fish and shellfish are unable to survive.

* A considerable amount of carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere when spewed from collection vehicles. Leaf blowers also emit the greenhouse gas.

* The EPA also warns that leaf burning has environmental consequences. Particulates are hazardous to the health of homeowners and their community. Burning leaves creates a number of toxic pollutants that impair the lungs and cause cancer.

* Leaves removed from the landscape create a less hospitable environment for beneficial insects, birds, and other wildlife. A diverse environment is essential to our overall health as various plants and animals provide food, clean air, filter water, and provide myriad other life-sustaining services.

Pretty convincing, huh?

Photo by Naomi Van Tol

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