Fall foliage provides some of the best views you’ll see during the year. But after the pictures have been taken and the hayrides have been ridden, those beautiful leaves wind up on the ground. So what do you do about them?
If your city or town offers curbside leaf removal, you’re set. Just rake them to the curb and let the municipality handle it. If you don’t have that option because your city doesn’t offer it or because your property is outside city limits, some say the answer is burning leaves.
But that’s not a good idea. Leaf burning has a host of environmental and health risks for you and the people around you. There are other options for you to consider that are healthier for you and for your lawn.
This is not to say that you should let leaves lie if you don’t have access to municipal removal. A heavy pack of leaves can damage your lawn. But fire is not the answer.
Why Shouldn’t I Burn Leaves?
Burning leaves is unhealthy. It is unhealthy for you and can cause environmental problems. There are some who say that, for people with large properties, burning is the right call. But even then, there are other options.
First, let’s look at the question, “is burning leaves bad for the environment”? Yes. Burning leaves releases a host of nasty pollutants into the air, including carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons which can be carcinogenic. The smoke from burnt leaves can be as unhealthy as cigarette smoke.
Additionally, if you live in a dry area, one stray ember is all it takes to start a wildfire. You can be extremely careful, but all it takes is one ember on one breeze to cause untold damage to the area around you.
When asking, “why is it harmful to burn leaves,” you need to take stock of the people around you. The same pollutants that are bad for the environment are bad for you and your neighbors. On one hand, they can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. On the other hand, they can do severe damage.
Burning leaves in yard environments forces your neighbors to deal with the smoke. If you live near anyone elderly, very young, or with asthma, you can cause them intense respiratory harm.
If You Must Burn Leaves
There are a few things to note if you still insist on burning leaves. For one, you should wear sturdy leather gloves, a mask, and safety goggles. This will protect you from most of the irritants to your eyes, nose, and throat.
It’s also important to keep the pile of leaves you burn small. Burning leaves in a barrel or burning leaves in a firepit helps with this. If those are not an option, make a perimeter of water with a hose to prevent lateral spread. But don’t just throw a match on a huge pile of leaves!
All this may be moot, though. Burning leaves is illegal in many areas. Before you even attempt to burn leaves, check your local laws.
Overall, even with a barrel or a fire pit, burning leaves just is not worth it in most cases. So what should you do with your leaves? You can’t just leave them to rot, right?
Alternatives to Burning Leaves
If you don’t have access to municipal leaf removal, there are several environmentally friendly alternatives to burning leaves. In fact, by choosing one of these options, you could leave your yard looking better than it ever has.
The first great alternative is making a compost pile. This will allow the natural breakdown of organic refuse. Over time, your compost pile will become excellent planting soil for your garden or other landscaping projects.
Another strong alternative is mulching your leaves. By finely chopping leaves with a mulching blade on your lawn mower, you can create organic matter that your lawn will turn into fertilizer for you.
Just think, your lawn will be stronger and more healthy going into the winter months than ever before. It will take less time to recover in spring and all because you chose not to burn your leaves.
How Often Should I Clear My Yard of Leaves?
This question can depend on how many trees you have in your yard and how you want your lawn to look. Typically, you want to clear away your leaves every five to seven days. There are a few reasons for this.
Number one is that you don’t want the leaves to create a thick layer over your lawn. While mulched leaves can be great for your yard, big leaves don’t break down the way mulched leaves do, leading to dead spots and shelter for pests.
Thick leaves also make it nearly impossible to mulch those leaves with your lawn mower. Even with a mulching blade, a thick layer of leaves will leave you with chunks that are too big to effectively serve as mulch for your yard.
By taking care of your leaves weekly, you keep your grass healthy and strong.
What You Need to Remember
When you set out to remove leaves from your property, there are a series of questions you need to ask. First and foremost, you should ask, is burning leaves illegal in my area? If the answer is yes, don’t burn leaves.
Next, you should ask if your municipality has curbside leaf removal. If the answer is yes, then rake or blow your leaves to the curb and let the professionals sort it out.
If you want to keep your leaves or don’t have access to curbside removal, decide if composting or mulching is best for you. Both methods will yield you strong soil and a great looking yard.
Burning Leaves is Dangerous
But above all, you should remember that burning leaves is dangerous on several different levels.
Smoke from leaves can be as unhealthy to inhale as cigarette smoke. It can let off carcinogenic chemicals and carbon monoxide. It is especially dangerous to the elderly and the very young, as well as to people with asthma.
Improperly burning leaves can also lead to loss of property if the fire goes out of control. You could burn your home, your neighbor’s home, or even start a wildfire. Even with a barrel or firepit, burning leaves is not worth the risk.