The Willamette Valley is fortunate enough to experience seasons. During the fall, leaves on trees turn shades of red and yellow before falling to the ground. But fall is now long gone. The trees are bare and the leaves have fallen. And when leaves are on the ground, this means one thing for landscapers — it’s time to start leaf-blowing.
Although it’s no longer leaf-blowing season, a bare, leafless campus serves as a reminder of the prior months of leaf blowing that took place. For Facilities, stripping the WU campus free of leaves may be the protocol, but it overlooks some of the most important benefits of leaves.
According to the gardening website LawnPride, fallen leaves contain a wide variety of nutrients, including phosphorus and potassium. Leaves also support stronger soil structure and improve water absorbency.
Leaf litter is also a favorite food for earthworms, which have numerous environmental benefits to the soil. Another lawn and gardening website, Treehugger, agrees, stating that fallen leaves typically aren’t a problem, and it also adds layers of food and shelter for organisms.
One common myth about keeping leaves on the ground is that it kills the lawn. But Treehugger claims that the myth is entirely false and leaves can actually increase the fertility of the lawn, not kill it.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean leaves on the ground should be ignored entirely. SFGate claims that a layer of leaves that is too thick can actually kill the lawn because it blocks sunlight. Because of this, it may be beneficial to use a mulching lawn mower to shred the leaves into small bits. Or, as Treehugger suggests, another option would be to evenly spread the leaves so there is no buildup.
Perhaps what is just as important to address is the environmental impacts of the process of leaf blowing. Leaf blowing can be a safety concern. Some of the injuries that can arise from leaf blowing are “cuts, bruises, pinches, electrical injuries including electrocution and fires, eye injuries caused by projectile debris, hearing loss or damage due to excessive noise exposure, breathing problems associated with air pollution caused by leaf blowers and even death in extreme cases if improperly used,” according to Safety.com. Over 4,000 were hospitalized in
the United States in 2013 due to leaf blower injuries.
Traditional leaf blower models are surrounded with concerns about their air and noise pollution. Statistics from The Atlantic reveal that using a leaf blower for 30 minutes creates more emissions than driving a Ford F-150 for 3800 miles. Additionally, leaf blowers operate at a level up to 110 decibels, only 10 decibels quieter than a jet engine, which range from 120-140 decibels, according to Sciencing.com.
It is important to note, however, that the leaf blowers used on the WU campus are quieter and less polluting than many other models. According to Facilities, the leaf blower models used on the WU campus are the Stihl BR600 and the battery powered BGA 85. The BR600 sound pressure rating is 75 decibels, while the BGA 85 sound pressure rating is 64 decibels. Other models, however, can be as loud as 110 decibels. By using less polluting and quieter leaf blowers, Facilities is already taking steps to be more sustainable.
Facilities can take sustainability even further by using leaf blower models that are a blower, mulcher and vacuum hybrid. A blower/mulcher/vacuum model manufactured by Worx only costs $90. This is far less than the list price of a BR600 model of $500.
Leaf mulchers can be used as a sustainable alternative to leaf blowers. According to the Mother Nature Network website, when the shredded leaves decompose, they will act as a natural fertilizer as well as a weed control agent. The shredded leaves are small enough to be out of sight, so the lawn will not look cluttered with leaves.
With so few benefits, it may be time to abandon leaf blowing on the WU campus. The excessive amount of leaf blowing that has been done has cleared the lawns of WU of vital nutrients, and it has also disturbed the peacefulness of campus by creating noise and air pollution. Using a mulching lawn mower would make a good alternative to leaf blowing. With so few benefits, it may be time to abandon leaf blowing on the WU campus. Even though Facilities already uses quiet leaf blower models, the excessive amount of leaf blowing that has been done has cleared the lawns of WU of vital nutrients, and it has also disturbed the peacefulness of campus by creating noise and air pollution. Using a mulching lawn mower would make a good alternative to leaf blowing. But since the WU campus is so focused on environmental sustainability, it would only make sense for Facilities to take another step forward.