Alternatives for a Healthy Environment
The Benefits of Mulch Mowing
In 2017 researchers at Cornell University published the results of a project that looked at the effects of mulch mowing on lawns and management practices that improve soil health.
This project was conducted to see if mulching leaves in place provided benefits to turf and soil without adding excess nutrients to the soil, smothering the underlying turf or providing a suitable habitat for insect pests to proliferate.
Soil testing showed an advantage in long-term mulch mowing for available water capacity, soil proteins and soil respiration. Lawns that had been mulch mowed showed significantly higher pest tolerance, significantly better color and significantly greater percent living ground cover than those where leaves had been removed.
Drought stress tolerance over time increased on sites where mulch mowing had been in practice for greater than four years.
There is one category of insect that did not benefit from mulch mowing: ticks.
The mean number of ticks collected was significantly greater on lawns and around the perimeter than places where mulch mowing was practiced.
Based on the results of this three-year study, mulch mowing of leaves provides some soil health benefits, many turf quality benefits, does not increase the habitat for pests and uses less fuel than community pick-up.
When It is Best to Leave Leaves Alone
The damaging winds emanating from gas blowers erode topsoil, exposing the crowns of plants and damaging the roots close beneath the surface.
Leaving leaves at the base of trees and shrubs provides a protective layer that holds moisture in the soil and prevents them from drying out.
Leaving leaves and grass clippings to be mulched into the soil adds nutrients and improves soil texture and the health of lawns and plant beds.
Leaf blowers are a big culprit in compacting soil, making it difficult for oxygen to circulate and water to permeate the surface.
Leaving leaves at the base of trees and in flower beds also supports pollinators and other invertebrates, providing them with the winter cover they need in the form of fall leaves and standing dead plant material.
The vast majority of butterflies and moths overwinter in the landscape as an egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, or adult using leaf litter for cover. Bumble bees also rely on leaf litter for protection. At the end of summer, mated queen bumble bees burrow only an inch or two into the earth to hibernate for winter.
Many other insects and wildlife need a thick layer of leaves for protection from the elements.
Electric Leaf Blowers
Electric leaf blowers are a better alternative to gas blowers. In addition to being a viable alternative in terms of air power, electric leaf blowers have several advantages over gas blowers.
Electric leaf blowers are zero emissions at the point of use and emit no harmful fumes around the user or into the environment.
They are significantly quieter and less disturbing to residents than gas blowers.
Along with all of these benefits, commercial electric leaf blowers still create sufficient airflow to efficiently handle yard-work in conjunction with the practices of mulch mowing and allowing leaves to remain where they improve the soil and provide habitat to beneficial insects and other species.
The main disadvantage of electric leaf blowers is battery life. During peak leaf season, multiple batteries may be required and may need to be recharged during the day.
In speaking with landscapers who use electric equipment, they report that property owners are happy to provide electrical outlets to recharge batteries.
The webpage of the Town of Pound Ridge Conservation Board has a number of useful links to PDFs for better yard maintenance.