To Bag, Mulch Or Burn- That Is The Question

Bag Mulch Or Burn Your Leaves

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2018-07-25 16:36:09

In my part of the world, autumn is a time for nature to display her beauty in all it’s glory.  Most of the color comes from the leaves on the trees as they turn color and eventually fall gently down to Earth.

Once on my lawn, they no longer are so beautiful.  They become a source of weekend work for my family and I.  Eventually, the discussion turns to what exactly are we going to do with all these leaves?  There are really only three choices:

You can bag up the leaves.  You can mulch them (either in place or in a compost bin), or you can burn them.

Let’s take a look at each of the options available:

You Can Mulch The Leaves

When I talk about “mulching”, I’m talking about shredding your leaves and either leaving them on your lawn or mixing them into your compost pile or garden.   While not the same disposal method, both end up requiring you to either shred with a lawnmower or mulch with a leaf blower capable of vacuum mulching.  The end goal is the same – the leaves and nutrients work back into the ground over time to keep the cycle of life turning.

Good

  • It doesn’t get any easier than mulching with a lawn mower. A mulching blade on the mower makes this much easier, but I’ve seen people give it a go with a normal cutting blade.
  • It’s a cheap and easy way to eliminate leaves. No blowing or raking necessary.
  • While a little more effort than leaving shredded on the lawn, adding to your garden can add nutrients to your soil. Next year’s plants will thank you!
  • You can do this without polluting.

Bad

  • Not everyone can stomach a lawn with tiny chopped up leaves staring at them, day after day. My wife is in this category; therefore we don’t see eye-to-eye on this issue.
  • You need to wait until the leaves are dry(-ish) before shredding them if you don’t want the job to turn into a long, drawn out affair.
  • If your yard isn’t mostly flat, over time the leaf-parts may all wash downhill into a messy pile. It’s not fun to rake this up as the weather turns cold and wet.
  • A compost pile can take a bit of work to get running correctly. You’ll need to balance the leaves to maintain the 50:50 green-to-brown matter ratio.

You Can Bag The Leaves

Autumn colors

Maybe seeing dead leaves on your lawn isn’t your idea of fall fun.  If that’s the case, bagging up the leaves is your next choice.  Depending on where you live, you may be required to use certain styles of bags to pack the leaves into.  The local government may come by and pick up your bags; otherwise you may have to deliver them to the town dump.  You might even live in an area where leaves are picked up curbside with no bags – if so, you are just responsible for getting the leaves to the street right before pickup day.

I’ve helped do this numerous times both as a kid and as an adult.  It can really save time if you begin by laying a tarp down on the grass.  Gather all the leaves onto the tarp, and you can easily move the failed foilage around the yard. You can also use the tarp to help make a homemade “leaf funnel” to get them into the bags.

Good

  • It’s the best solution for keeping your lawn’s appearance neat.
  • If you remove all the leaves from the grass, there’s no chance your lawn will die in spot from leaves covering the grass too long.
  • You’ll likely have less mold in the air in your yard than if you mulch.
  • If your leaf collection service composts, you won’t be wasting the nutrients and minerals found in the leaves.

Bad

  • In my humble opinion, bagging leaves is a pain in the butt. It takes a long time – even longer if you just use rakes and not leaf blowers.
  • Think you have enough bags? Think again! Get ready to run out to the store to buy the gov’t approved bags halfway through your day.
  • Wet leaves weigh more than you think. Even if you don’t rake while the leaves are wet (it’s easiest if they are), you are doing this in fall. So have fun lugging those water-logged leaf bags around. It’s not a job for the weak.
  • If your collector doesn’t compost, you’re wasting good nutrients that the trees and grass could otherwise use.

You Can Burn The Leaves

In some areas, you can legally burn leaves.  I happen to live in one of those areas that was rural 30 years ago but now is mostly residential.  It blows the minds of people moving here from urban areas that their neighbor can pack leaves into a burn barrel on a Saturday morning and smoke up the neighborhood, but that’s the law.  This might not be an option in the area you live – check your local ordinances for more information.

You’ll need to pick an area that is free from tree-overhangs and away from anything combustible.  A fire pit is a good choice, though some people use burn barrels designed just for this purpose. Try to pick an area protected from the wind, and make sure you have water standing by in case something goes wrong.  Leaves do sometimes fly out of the fire while in-flames, which can lead to interesting burn marks around the yard.

If you do burn leaves, you need to tend to the fire. Don’t throw all of your leaves in at once and walk away. You’ll get incomplete combustion, and the amount of smoke you’ll produce will turn your neighbors into enemies quickly. Likewise, pick a day that isn’t super-windy. It’ll be easier to control the fire and you will be less likely to push all your smoke into your neighbor’s yard and house. Do this enough times and you will have neighbor problems.

Good

  • The leftover ashes raise the Ph of the soil they are dumped into- this is good if your soil is too acidic.
  • It’s a cheap and easy way to eliminate leaves.
  • It’s one way nature has taken care of leaves for millions of years – so it’s a natural method of disposal.
  • Some people like the smell of burning leaves. YMMV.

Bad

  • Incomplete combustion leads to both ash and carbon monoxide air pollution. You are going to create smoke.
  • While it’s easy to start a fire, it’s not ‘set and forget’. You need to keep an eye on it, add more leaves, etc.
  • Leaf smoke is particularly bad for kids with asthma. You don’t hate the neighbor kid with asthma, do you?
  • You’ll have to find something to do with the ashes if your soil isn’t acidic.

Best Choice For The Person Who…

Not everyone is the same.  Just because I favor mulching in-place doesn’t mean that would work for you.  I cherish my free-time above most other things.  For others, a sense of order is more important.  Or, you may just like lighting things on fire.  I’m not here to judge.

Here’s some suggestions based on your personality or life situation:

Are you a neat-freak?  You need to bag your leaves.

Are you living extremely close to your neighbors?  You probably should bag, or mulch – depending on how many trees they have on their properties.

Do you live in the country, or have acres between you and your nearest neighbor?  You can probably burn your leaves – or leave them in place.

Do you only have a few trees in your yard? You can probably mulch in-place – you won’t have much risk of hurting your grass by smothering it.

Do you have many trees in your yard?  This might mean bagging or burning – you can run a risk of damaging your grass if the leaves get matted down and prevent the sun and rain from reaching the roots.

I hope this article was helpful.  If you have any additional solutions, or wish to add your own pros and cons please leave them below in the comments.

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