Rain and cooler temperatures swept into town this week and locals are now seeing signs of autumn as backyards and parks are dotted with the first falling leaves of the season.
Time to work out a leaf-blowing plan with your landscaper? Rake until you develop callouses and bag up your leaves for the curb?
Consider mulching your leaves, which replenishes soil and cuts down on noise and fumes from leaf blowers, say members of a grassroots organization known as "Leave Leaves Alone," formed in January to campaign for a more sustainable way of handling leaf removal.
They’ll be hosting a workshop on October 6, called “The Whys and Hows of Leaf Mulching,” at 7 p.m. at the Bedford Free Library. They hope to attract an audience of homeowners and landscapers who may not know about the benefits of composting leaves, said Fiona Mitchell, a Bedford resident and certified master gardener.
“When you blow leaves off of a lawn, you are also blowing away topsoil that protects tree roots,” she said. “When you mulch the leaves, they are finely chopped and left to decompose on your grass, which improves the soil and lets mother nature do its work. Not to mention the noise and fumes from blowers are not good for the environment.”
Here's how it works: a special attachment—with a price tag of about $300—fits onto a lawn mower and spins the leaves up into the mower and finely chops them before depositing them back on the lawn. The particles sift down back into the grass, providing replenishing nutrients to the soil.
And how does it look?
It's not as pristine as a lawn blown-free of leaves, said Mitchell. "But in the fall, a half-hour after the leaves are blown, the lawn is full of them again! At least this way you're touching the leaves once and utilizing them."
Horticultural and environmental benefits aside, the practice can also saves money, said Tim Downey, an Irvington-based landscaper who will present information at the Bedford workshop. The mulch mower attachment has paid for itself over and over again, he said.
“I’ve saved money every week in diesel and labor costs during the Fall season, since I’ve started mulching [in 2008],” said Downey. “I used to pick up leaves, load them up on a truck and drive them to a composting facility upstate—so I'm also saving money on leaf disposal."
Downey said that homeowners, landscapers and municipalities stand to gain financially by mulching—he's become an ambassador for the process by speaking at programs across the county. He said he attended a meeting with Westchester County legislators this week to show them how the county could save up to $2 million by adopting the mulching practice.
Similar initiatives are catching on in other Westchester towns like and . Bedford's committee has been endorsed by Supervisor Lee Roberts, who mulches leaves on her own lawn.
"It is good for lawns and would save us money," she said, noting that educating locals on the process would be necessary before any elimination of the town's leaf pickup program.
A budget for town leaf removal isn't specifically tracked, said Kevin Winn, the town's department of public works commissioner. For its own properties, the town uses mowers which have the mulching attachment, but the process of picking up leaves and disposing them occupies about six weeks of time for an average crew of 12 people, he confirmed.
Downey found that fact astonishing in a time of strained municipal budgets.
"Protecting the infrastructure of towns is more important than taking leaves for truck rides," he said.
So if it makes so much sense, why aren't more people doing it?
"Fear of change," said Downey.
"The homeowners are afraid the landscapers won't do it, and the landscapers say the homeowners won't go for it," said Mitchell, who has met several residents and explained the process at tables set up at recent town events. "It comes down to education."
For more information on the upcoming workshop or to register, call 914-234-3570. Leave Leaves Alone! is headed up by: Catherine Clare and Margi Corsello of Katonah; Diane Greco and Fiona Mitchell of Bedford Hills; CJ Mitchell of Bedford and Carol McLeod and Charlotte Morsch, Bedford Corners. You can also visit their website for more information.