EDITORIAL: How much mulch is too much mulch

A LAWN CARE COMPANY removed the leaves from our small yard late this season. The warm weather didn’t fool the maples that surround us on three sides. The foliage hung around way too long. But the professional lawn care crew arrived with the technology to wrangle the stragglers to the edge of the sidewalk, just as good citizens are instructed to do.

Or kind of. The leaf raking law tells us where to put the leaves but as far as I know the law is silent when it comes to how high the pile can be. Exaggerating just a bit, the first day it stood six feet tall. With parking on the other side of my village street there was just enough room for one-way travel through the leaf-created bottleneck.

My dog Pinky, who stands a strapping eighteen inches, sniffed something in the pile. He stepped off the curb and disappeared. He popped out again at the property line, where he marked his territory and continued our walk, undamaged despite his narrow escape from Leaf-ageddon.

Drivers traveling my street were not amused at having to slow down. The curl of their lips and the tilt of their heads said it all. But the leaves worked better than a speed bump. Something else was happening, too. For more than a week the village Department of Public Works leaf removal squad was nowhere to be seen (they were attending to more urgent tasks) and the pile was shrinking—ground down to the soggy hash that leaves become as they decompose.

I don’t know where our leaves will end up. I won’t miss them. But it’s worth considering the options. When I was young we burned raked leaves; later we had a dumping spot for yard “waste.” It’s a label that’s slowly undergoing a makeover. Dead leaves are viewed less as a nuisance and more like what they are: a rich source of food and other nutrients for trees, grass and other vegetation.

If you own a gas or battery powered lawnmower you have the tool for multiple mowing times and turning leaves into mulch. And yet we insist on having local government or private firms haul them off for others to use or to rot.

There could be another reason for folks who cling to their un-mulched leaves: infatuation with the hand-held leaf blower. Leaf raking and cleanup can be really, really boring. Not with leaf blowers. With them, we get to go out to chase and capture the leaves. Perhaps blowers should be licensed as harmful to the ears and sleep patterns of users and bystanders. But that might increase sales.

There isn’t one change each of us can make that will ward off the effects of climate change. I can’t even assure all those who do mulch will end up reducing his or her carbon footprint. Don’t let that scare you. Let it make you active.

Where do you start? Why not try the the website of Cornell Cooperative Extension for Columbia and Greene Counties. https://ccecolumbiagreene.org/

Just below the dotted line, click on the tab for “Climate Change & the Environment”

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