An unhealthy obsession with leaf removal

According to experts, leaf blowers not only remove leaves, but also beneficial insects and important soil components.

On the South Fork, it seems the moment a leaf falls to the ground, it becomes a nuisance to be blown up, circled, and carried to a landfill.

It’s not good.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “yard waste accounts for nearly one-fifth (more than 31 million tons) of all trash generated in the United States each year, making yard waste the second largest component (in weight) of the municipal solid waste stream.”

Has it always been so? Mounds of leaves recall childhood and Linus destroying Charlie Brown’s pile, simpler times before the advent of the leaf blower and the industrialization of the lawn.

Why have homeowners apparently become obsessed with removing leaves from their properties? It turns out that it’s not just a business model, but psychology and fashion also play an important role.

A local landscaping business owner wasn’t interested in talking about the psychology of his clients, but his secretary quietly reported two reasons why leaves are the enemy.

“It is very important that our clients’ properties are absolutely immaculate in case they are entertaining. There is also a competitive element. They see their friend’s property cleaned up and they want it too. Everyone wants Edward Scissorhands to trim their lawn and hedges. If they don’t understand, they are upset. That’s how they are. If there is a sheet that is out of place, they complain.

Unfortunately, our needs for entertainment and Instagram our backyards are directly opposed to the needs of nature, which is to provide shelter, food and water to living things. The soil, the birds, the insects and the ecology in general are suffering from current landscape trends.

A walk on the local paths is made noisy by a brown layer of leaves, of all sizes, which blurs the distinction between path and wood. The trees know that it will soon be cold and the leaves are the cover that will protect their roots during the winter. The leaves do not pile up in the woods; they are part of the ground. The cycle works perfectly when left alone.

“In some ways, what people consider beautiful needs to be changed a bit. Once they figure out what a dead landscape is, it doesn’t look so good,” said Edwina von Gal, founder of the Perfect Earth Project.

“They should leave their leaves on their property,” said Tamson Yeh of Suffolk County Cornell Cooperative Extension. “Leaf blowers are terrible for soil structure; they kill roots and beneficial insects. The leaves provide organic matter that holds the soil together and makes it absorbent,” she said.

Another reason to leave lets be? “Insect populations are plummeting,” says Leonard Green, of ChangeHampton, a “community brigade” dedicated to promoting “restorative, biodiverse, healthy and sustainable landscaping practices.”

” It’s horrible. They call it the sixth great extinction,” he said in a phone call. “We all know bird populations are in trouble, but the rate of insect extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles,” he said, citing a report on conservation of 2019. Additionally, the report states that more than 40 percent of insect species are threatened with extinction.

“Most of the time, homeowners don’t want to think they’re killing butterflies and moths, but by removing their leaves, they’re doing just that,” Ms Yeh said. Childhood favorite insects like the lightning bug, “woolly bear” caterpillars, bumblebees, luna moths and swallowtail butterflies are just a few of the beneficial insects that use leaf litter. to spend the winter.

“It gives them insulation and provides humidity,” she said.

If the insects leave, so do the birds. Almost all rely on insects to feed their chicks in the spring.

Yes, ticks, the great scourge of the East End, also overwinter in leaf piles. Ms. von Gal has a simple solution. “Don’t roll in the leaves and stop overwatering.” Ticks need moisture to survive. Lawn irrigation allows ticks to make their way to your lawn.

Chances are that if the Sixth Great Extinction isn’t enough to influence change, the health of the guys operating the leaf blowers might not either. “They are subject to a constant din of 100 decibels,” Mr Green said. “It’s terrible for their health. They breathe in volatile organic compounds, benzene and other carcinogens, not to mention all the particles they carry,” he said.

Nearby homeowners face the same health risks.

So how can you befriend the leaves? Cutting back your lawn is one way. Create beds of native plants where a three-inch layer of leaves creates a lovely winter carpet, experts say.

“Ask your landscaper to use a mulching mower, instead of blowing and collecting leaves,” Ms von Gal said. “By stripping the leaves, you take food out of your landscape’s mouth and then rely on synthetics to put it back. That’s the landscaper’s business model. You don’t have to buy fertilizer. C is on your property. These are your sheets.

“It’s the hardest thing,” she says, to communicate a new and currently unconventional idea to landscape designers.

More advice: don’t mow or rake around your trees. Let this domain be. “Make it intentional,” Green said. “Create clearly defined pathways to show that you designed what you do and that it’s not laziness.”

“I’m not anti-lawn,” he said. “It’s great for recreation. But most people have a lawn that we can sacrifice. Rake your leaves in a wooded area of ​​the yard. Rake them into flower beds. Leaving a light dusting of leaves on your lawn is actually healthy for it and the soil below.

“Everyone’s gardens are wearing Spanx, but people have to let them go,” Ms von Gal said. There will be a transition period. “The owner is nervous because he’s entering territory he doesn’t understand. The landscaper is nervous because he thinks he will lose his job if the landscape is not perfectly maintained.

“Honest people care, they just don’t understand what they’re doing,” Green said. “We destroy the ecosystem and then we wonder why the environment is collapsing, why we have algae blooms in our ponds.”

Until people start loving bugs and butterflies as much as they love impressing their friends, leaves won’t stand a chance. More information can be found on, under the resources tab. “The Basics of Nature Based LandCare” can be found there, in Spanish and English, and can be printed for ease of understanding.

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