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Earth Matters

Sustainable Saturday: Drop That Rake and Green Your Leaves

by Susan Hellauer

Sustainable Saturday is sponsored by Green Meadow Waldorf School, Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio.

In the old days we set them on fire. After that, we drove them away. This time we’re going to chop them into pieces and leave them lying on the lawn.

Home defense for a zombie apocalypse? Nope. Just eco-common sense for your autumn leaves.

Now that we’re used to sweeping, raking, blowing or dragging our autumn leaf quota to the edge of the gutter (not into the gutter, thanks), where big noisy diesel trucks suck them up and ride them to the county compost pile . . . here comes a better way.

Meet Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em

Clever landscapers and homeowners have long used techniques to mulch or shred fallen leaves on a property, saving time and money, and enriching lawn and garden soil. The Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em initiative, which was organized four years ago in Westchester County to spread the word, is winning more converts every year. In 2015, Nyack Village (a Climate Smart Community) passed a Tree Committee-proposed resolution to promote this mulch-in-place approach to the fall of leaves. The village printed bookmarks, spread the word, and Mayor Jen Laird-White displayed her pulverizing prowess with a power mower at a Memorial Park demonstration.

While the 2015 resolution doesn’t impose any requirements on landscapers and homeowners, the technique will continue to be used in Memorial Park, and is being encouraged throughout the village. Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em is a better way to deal with autumn leaves, and its many benefits have caused it to catch on among landscapers, municipalities and homeowners all over the Hudson Valley.

Why Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em?

love 'em and leave 'em leaf mulch mulch in place

After and Before: Even a modest reel mower can reduce volume by about 2/3. Adjust blades to lowest position. Makes perfect compost “brown” and great mulch for garden beds, trees and shrubs.

But, really, what’s so bad about the big truck with the elephant nose that lumbers around the village, to the delight of small children, making the leaves disappear? The real question is: What’s so good about leaving the leaves? Let us count the ways.

Mulch-in-place is better because it. . . 

  • eliminates the hassle of leaf raking, blowing, bagging and dragging
  • reduces the costs to taxpayers in labor, fuel and equipment for fall leaf pickup
  • frees up municipal forces to work on critical infrastructure tasks
  • keeps leaf piles off the street where they create a safety hazard
  • keeps leaves from clogging storm sewers
  • protects waterways from harmful leaf-borne nutrients and polluting grime
  • makes the perfect compost: “brown”
  • gives me—I mean, everyone—a break from deafening leaf blowers
  • creates healthy food for your lawn and garden

How to Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em

“This fall, think twice before you put your leaves on the curb. You can shred them instead! Many Towns and Villages in the Hudson Valley are adopting Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em, a program to promote mulching leaves in place, reducing the hassle and the cost of fall leaf pickup, keeping leaves out of storm drains and naturally fertilizing the lawn.
The more people adopt Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em, the less money the Village will need to spend on leaf collection. If you or your landscaper are not convinced that leaf mulching works, call me!”

Nyack Mayor Jen Laird-White

Mulching is best done when leaves are dry. A power mower with a mulching blade, or a “mulching mower,” cuts them into tiny pieces that eventually break down and enrich the soil. Use extra mulch on planting beds and under trees where they will improve soil structure and soil biology. The enriched soil improves drainage and water retention and makes for a healthier garden and a greener lawn in the spring.

What’s a mulching mower? It’s a power mower that cuts and re-cuts your grass into super-small nutritious bits that are deposited back onto the lawn. Some mowers, with sealed decks, work this way all the time, with no option to collect clippings in a bag (so old fashioned!). Some older power mowers won’t work well for this purpose, but most bagless mowers will do a reasonable job: you’ll just need a few more passes over the dry, crunchy leaves. Even local Luddites with manual reel mowers can reduce the volume of leaves significantly—and you—and I—bought that mower to save the planet and get some mulch-needed exercise, right?

Spend less time and effort raking and hauling leaf piles to the curb this year, and more time enjoying the beautiful fall season in Nyack. Just Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em.


Learn more:

love em and leave em leaf mulching

Homeowner with mulching mower. Photo:

The Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em website has resources, tips and videos, and lists workshop and demonstration dates.

This video has detailed information for professional landscapers and homeowners.

For some specifics on mower adaptations, read this Popular Mechanics article on leaf mulching.

The Nyack Village Tree Committee works to protect Nyack’s trees and promotes the Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em initiative.


Email Sustainable Saturday.

Sustainable Saturdays, a weekly feature that focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living, is sponsored by Green Meadow Waldorf School, Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio.

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