Burn, rake or mow? A seasonal question

gathering-leavesThe warm days and cool nights of autumn will soon arrive along with those beautiful leaves that we all enjoy so much. As majestic as those trees look while the leaves are still attached, what do we do when leaves begin falling to the ground, covering the landscape?

Many of us have happy childhood memories of burning leaves. But is that really the best alternative?

Many municipalities now either ban or discourage the burning of yard waste. Before you burn, check with local authorities or your state’s department of natural resources to see whether a permit is required. If you live in an area prone to forest or wildfires, you may have “red flag” burning restrictions in place.

Leaf burning leads to air pollution, health risks and fire hazards:

  • Smoke from burning leaves contains toxic or irritating particles and gases that can increase the risk of respiratory infection.
  • Carbon monoxide can result from incomplete burning, especially when leaves are wet. Inhaled carbon monoxide is absorbed into the bloodstream, where it can reduce the amount of oxygen that red blood cells carry.
  • Local fire departments can attest to house fires that have resulted due to unsafe burning of leaves.

Fortunately, there are some very good alternatives to traditional leaf burning. You may be fortunate to have a municipality that will pick up the raked leaves if left at the curb, either in a pile or in appropriate bags. Check with your city or county government for details.

Another great option is to compost the leaves yourself or to use the leaves as mulch around garden and landscape beds.

Of course, you also have the option of just mulching the leaves with the lawnmower. They make an excellent soil conditioner. Today’s mowers do an excellent job of shredding the leaves into very small pieces.

After you’re done with your yard work, you can always enjoy a safe fire in your fireplace!

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8 Responses to “Burn, rake or mow? A seasonal question”

  1. review of this property manager

    I’m aware this will sound kind of outlandish, but this website
    in a weird type of fashion jogs my memory of my younger years.

  2. Richard L Largen

    I live in the country and would not dare start a fire, even though I am about 5 minutes from a Firehouse. I never fertilize my lawn but always mow the weeds. I don’t try to have a beautiful lawn, just one without dirt to walk in. I used to let people in town bring their leaves out to me and I would shred them and use for mulch. Sure beats buying weed killer and keeps the plants nice for my honey bees.

  3. mr68gto

    Richard, I do the same with the lawn, mow the weeds and just try to cover up dirt. I used to burn leaves all the time – living in heavily forested area with 3 acre plots and the amount of leaves to rake is absolutely daunting. Now I don’t burn so much, sweating bullets with all those leaf pile fires going and a breeze comes up here in the woods. Neighbors caught the woods on fire a couple of years ago with a careless backyard fire. That was hectic getting important papers, items, etc. in the car to make a dash out. Luckily fire dept put it out. Part of the hazards living in the woods I guess.

  4. fred

    burning: messy dangerous but you grt rid of pests and fungus and bulk.
    composting: takes years to become fertile because its only carbon, unless you get green grass in with it. the compost from leaves looks very inviting, about like horse nanure, weedfree! but its about as nitrogen free as bark mulch! so unless you have oodles of green clippings in summer, fugedabout it.
    mulching it into lawn: only in the fall and only if you leave the grass green grow through, so in spring it will act as moisture keeper and then you can add nitrogen on your lawn, thats the way to go.mulching in spring: you get a dead spot everywhere you mulch too much, careful.

  5. fred

    here on the east coast most trees have anthracnose and that stays inn the leaves!
    so burning is the best.
    if you compost you wont get a hotpile ever, temps on my piles are 90f. so it will take forever, years and i think the spores are still in there, after years. does anybody know?
    making hotpiles with freshly mowed grass is the answer, 160f kills seeds fungus and pests.
    if you have a cowbarn nearby get the cow urine over vyour leafd pile , the ammonia will make a fertile compost within 2 months. check the temp of that pile……i like the smell but in a suburb some might take offense.

  6. James Salmons

    Composted leaves and grass make terrific fertilizer for the yard and gardens as well. It is a waste to burn them. We mow about five acres and in the fall collected a mix of leaves and grass behind the mowers spreading it over the gardens.

    Some people seem to think that using a mulching blade and leaving the deposit on the lawn leads to thatch or the like which is entirely incorrect. The leaves and grass all decompose and fertilize the soil, always a great choice.

    Burning is nothing but a fire danger and a pollutant, best forgotten.

  7. James Salmons


    “…anthracnose .. i think the spores are still in there, after years. does anybody know?”

    Composting can kill the spores, but you have to get a hot pile, about 140 degrees. You can do this with your compost pile but it is reaching a near maximum temperature. This is certainly possible but you have to have a pile at least four feet deep and wide. Also, you need the correct mix of ingredients (not specific content, but a good mix of green material such as grass as well as brown such as your leaves, adequate moisture and inoculant-sprinkle in a little dirt).

    So yes, you can do it, but it is a bit challenging and most people would not find it worthwhile I suspect.

  8. Vero

    I’ve never thought of munching the leaves with the lawn mower. Thanks for the tips!

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