Pet Peeve: Burning autumn leaves

December 7, 2011

I didn’t grow up in a rural area where burning leaves was allowed, so I don’t have any childhood nostalgia for the autumn smell of burning leaves. To me, when neighbors burn leaves it just smells stuffy and unpleasant, especially when an inversion traps the smoke close to our homes.

And wasteful: burning leaves takes a resource that could be used to enrich soil and puts it into the air where it doesn’t seem to do any good—instead doing some harm.

This is really an argument for not having all of your property be a lawn. If you have some areas left in naturalized plantings, you have a place you can put leaves from the lawn, or just let them blow in themselves.

We chopped up leaves in our last lawnmowing of the year, only a couple weeks ago. While I don’t necessarily recommend you try this at home—I turned the mower into a mulching one by stretching wire fencing across the side discharge chute. The leaves stay trapped under the mower deck until they are chopped small enough to float out and drop into the lawn—and they are small enough that they won’t kill the grass under them. With the lawn cut fairly short the leaves that would otherwise get trapped in the grass and mat down, instead blow back into the woods from which they came.

All of the carbon from those leaves stays onsite, enriching our soils without any more work on my part.