December 4, 2011

All the Leaves Are Brown...

Possibly the worst comic strip running in America today is ‘Pluggers’, a treacly concoction populated by characters who are almost universally morbidly obese.   In the Plugger world, being a cheeseburger away from a stroke is OK if one has a kind heart.  I generally scan right past it in the morning but, one day last month, the phrase ‘leaf blower’ caught my eye.

This is the way our neighbors remove
the leaves from their lawn.  The next
day, it's as though the lawn service
had never been there.
I have a thing about leaf blowers.  And it’s not a good thing. Leaf blowers are the single most unnecessary invention ever foisted off on the gardening public.  They are a way for lawn care firms to hit up homeowners for the expense of multiple visits at what would otherwise be the winding-down part of the season.

Leaves fall from trees for roughly eight weeks in New England.  For that period of time – mid-September through mid-November - every morning brings a fresh crop of leaves, culminating in a cascade of brown from oaks.  Lawn care companies come out weekly (why not daily?) and blow their customers’ leaves into a pile where they are then sucked via a giant vacuum hose into a truck, then hauled away to a landfill.  Twenty minutes after the truck departs, the winds pick up and blow newly fallen leaves onto the formerly pristine lawn.  To those leaves are added a bonanza of additional leaves from neighbors’ lawns.  By the next morning, it is as though nothing was ever done.

This is an aerial photo of our home.
The lawn is relatively small, but it is
surrounded by deciduous trees.
There is just one sane thing to do with the leaves that fall on your lawn:  run a lawn mower over them periodically.

We have been doing this with our own lawn for more than a decade.  Every week, we spend 45 minutes with our lawnmower set at two-and-a-half inches, and we chop whatever leaves are on our lawn into a fine mulch.

What we have discovered is a simple, elegant truth:  leaves left undisturbed on a lawn will form an impenetrable mat that prevents winter moisture from getting through to the soil and promotes the growth of mold.  Leaves chopped up by a lawnmower and left on a lawn decompose in a few weeks and become… fertilizer.  No matter how deep the leaves, the lawnmower minces them. 

This our lawn this afternoon,
December 4, 2011.  It has not been
raked this autumn, just moved weekly.
Best of all, every spring, we watch the snow melt to reveal a clean, green lawn that has already received its first dose of fertilizer.

So, why do our neighbors put themselves through this?  Asking the question would just annoy them.  And, of course, it’s their money.  They pay to have their leaves hauled away and then pay again to fertilize their lawn in the spring to make up for the nutrients that the decaying leaves would have otherwise provided.

Which brings me back to ‘Pluggers’.  In last month’s cartoon, an anthropomorphized (and, naturally, obese) bear mows over his leaves with the caption, “A Plugger’s Leaf Blower”.  I still don’t condone the it’s-OK-to-be-fat mentality, but at least they got the gardening right.

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