View from the Garden: Too Much is Blowin’ in the Wind

Don't try this at home. Photo credit:
Don't try this at home. Photo credit:

What DID we do before leaf blowers? Somehow we managed to keep lawns, sidewalks and driveways looking good without them. Do we use them to clean the landscape like the interior of the house just because we can? Well, the following is what we are doing with them:

According to The Washington Post, emissions from a leaf blower at full force for half an hour are the same as a car at 30 miles per hour traveling for 440 miles or 40 cars idling on your lawn for an hour. Really, I didn’t make this up. These pollutants include carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, heavy metals and hydrocarbons. That full force blower emits 75 decibels of noise.

They blow five pounds of particulate matter per hour per blower into the air in a concentrated air stream at 200 miles per hour. This contributes to and/or aggravates respiratory and allergy problems as particles float in the air for a day before landing on your furniture, pool, house, car, pets, children, you, your neighbors and then they go back onto your landscape. These particulates can be, any of the following: top soil, dust, salt, heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, mold and fungi spores and fecal matter. Fungi and mold spores blown onto plants can contribute to an ongoing disease problem which then is treated with more fungicides…

Blowing the garden blows away topsoil (causing weed seeds to be exposed), mulch (yes, I have seen mulch applied in the spring and then blown away during the summer), beneficial insects, pollen, tender leaves and even flowers. I want all of these things in the garden, except the weed seeds. When not exposed to the sun, weed seeds will not grow.

How often do you see landscape crew members blowing leaves and clippings into the street and leaving them there to blow back onto the property or to be washed into the storm drains and end up in waterways where they deposit chemicals they are carrying, thereby contributing to the already serious water pollution problem? And where does the rest of the debris go? A large leaf collection is picked up, but in other cases, the debris is blown to other places on your lawn, into shrub and flower beds, under that one easily accessible shrub. If you look around your property, you will find the places.

Proponents of blower use maintain that blowers blow as much at half volume as they do at full volume. But have you ever seen anyone using a blower at half volume? During the nine years I have worked with my co-worker, I have not been able to persuade, demand, explain or cajole him to use the blower (the very few times we use one) other than at full force. And if he could, he would blow the entire property like he was taught before he began working with me…or is it just something about that machine, its noise and vibration and the impeccable cleanness possible that makes a guy (they are the ones I see using them, maybe women do the same) just want to blow and blow in that dazed state they get into?

Landscapers (I hope not all) say that they can’t do the job without blowers and that clients are not willing to pay extra money or to accept any leaf material on the lawn, in the beds or even under the hedges. I rake leaves and have seen how quickly a crew can rake a lawn, but leaves should be left in shrub borders and under hedges to act as mulch. Why take leaves from these places only to put down purchased mulch which will not be as good as the leaves?

With the pollution problems we have just getting worse—eliminating, or at least lessening, the use of blowers, would help greatly. We managed very well before they came along. It’s time to make some changes.

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.

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