by Connie Oswald Stofko
When it comes to dealing with leaves, lots of folks in Western New York depend on gas-powered leaf blowers.
Here are alternatives that are better, and one that will actually save you time!
Drawbacks to gas leaf blowers
There’s nothing like enjoying a warm afternoon in your garden and having the tranquility disrupted by the abrasive noise of a gas-powered leaf blower.
Not only is it annoying; it can be harmful to people’s hearing. Some gas-powered leaf blowers produce more than 100 decibels of low-frequency, wall-penetrating sound—or as much noise as a plane taking off, according to this article from Audubon Magazine. The noise can cause tinnitus and hearing loss with long exposure.
Air pollution, health risks
Gas-powered leaf blowers (and other gas-powered lawn equipment) are an “important source” of toxic and cancer-causing exhaust, according to “National Emissions from Lawn and Garden Equipment,” a paper from the 2015 International Emissions Inventory Conference.
Fine particulate matter is also a problem with gas-powered lawn equipment. Fine particulate matter can cause serious health problems, including respiratory problems, heart problems and early death, according to this PowerPoint from the authors of the same paper.
They conclude that communities should create policies to protect the public from these air pollutants. See more below in “Legislation proposed.”
Cheating your lawn
When you remove leaves from your lawn, you’re passing up free mulch and soil amendments for your grass. See more details below in “Leave the leaves.”
Alternatives to gas leaf blowers
Leave the leaves
Don’t move the leaves at all.
The last time you mow your lawn for the season, run over the leaves. The little bits of chopped leaves will fall into your lawn, adding plant material to the soil, which is beneficial in many ways.
Since you’re mowing the lawn anyway, it doesn’t take any extra time. So that’s zero time compared to however long it takes you use your leaf blower. How easy is that?
Don’t worry if a few more leaves fall after you mow. As long as you don’t have a thick mat of leaves, it won’t kill the grass. Even if we get a heavy snow before you’re able to get to that thick mat of leaves, you’ll probably have a chance to take care of it in spring before the grass starts growing again. In addition, many insects need leaf cover during winter, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
Here’s another benefit of leaving your leaves: Those big piles of leaves raked into the street can be a hazard for bicyclists. And when those leaves get wet, drivers can have a hard time stopping. Keep leaves where they fall and it makes things easier for everyone.
Use a different tool
Instead of getting rid of your leaves, you may want to use them to mulch the perennials in your garden beds or to create compost for next year. In that case, you need something to move the leaves where you want them to be.
Electric-powered leaf blowers are quieter and cleaner than gas-powered leaf blowers.
You could also use a rake. It’s cheap. No emissions, no pollution, plus you get some exercise.
Groups are forming in other parts of the state on this issue.
Huntington CALM (Clean Alternative Landscaping Methods) is in Nassau County and Suffolk County on Long Island. Its focus is to develop local efforts to phase out obsolete, two-stroke gasoline powered lawn equipment and replace it with clean, quiet, battery-powered equipment.
Leave Leaves Alone! was developed by a group of residents in Bedford in Westchester County (north of Long Island), most of whom were Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners. They are concerned about the environmental pollution and destruction of soil properties caused by the practice of leaf blowing.
More than 100 U.S. cities and towns now ban gas-powered leaf blowers or limit their use, according to “Why Cities are Taking Action to Limit Loud and Polluting Lawn Care” in Audubon Magazine.
In 2020, Larchmont (in Westchester County), became the first northeast town to pass a complete ban.