Monday, December 10, 2007

Mulch Ado....About Mulching

I have been mulching the leaves that fall onto my lawn, into my lawn every autumn since 1977 when Mars and I first bought this property. In all of that time I have never met anyone else who disposes of his or her dead foliage that way.

I've told lots of people what I do. And all of my neighbors have seen me raking the leaves back up onto my lawn from my curbside collection point in the road. Just about everyone says things that lead me to believe they approve of and maybe even admire my practice - but not a one of them ever said that they tried it.

The most enthusiastic endorsement that I can remember came from a sales person at the Organic Lawn Care Company that feeds and nourishes my lawn. (I cut it myself - likewise returning the mown blades of grass unto the place from whence they came. Another act that seems to draw verbal kudos but no imitative action.) "Ooh that's good." She cooed throatily when I told her of my leaf recycling efforts. I felt really special until I recalled what I was once told by a consultant trying to sell something to my former employer - "Always remember - marketing people say marketing things."

I began this recycling regimen by accident. After we bought my first ever house with the first ever lawn that I was responsible for, I went to my friendly Sears store to purchase my first ever lawn mower. I was advised by the salesman to purchase a mulching one - "puts that grass right back into the ground!" It also probably provided the biggest sales commission - what did I know? He did promise however that it would eliminate the entire cleanup process from mowing. And it did - "That", I thought, "is a good thing."

It became a part of my yard maintenance routine so when the leaves fell that first autumn I just kept mulching. The next spring my lawn seemed fine so I repeated the process, etc., etc., etc., uninterrupted for the next thirty years.

Even at the beginning I felt somewhat ambivalent about the ecological holiness of my undertaking. We didn't talk about "carbon footprints" in 1979. But we had just recently gone through the great Jimmy Carter gasoline shortage and were at lest dimly aware that pumping excess amounts of petro-chemical smoke into the air was not only wasteful but probably not the healthiest thing to do. Still there was that laziness factor - something that always has figured heavily in my ethical calculations and probably plays a bigger part in most moral decision-making than people recognize or are willing to acknowledge. Plus there was that positive feedback that I seemed to be getting from my non-followers. So I just kept mulching away.

Recently I decided to Google the information base of the world and see if in fact there were any other leaf mulchers out there. The answer is yes - at least on the academic front. For one, Michael Goatley, Jr., Extension Turfgrass Specialist, Virginia Tech writes: "While we enjoy the beautiful colors associated with fall foliage, we also realize that most of those leaves will soon be on the ground. At this time of year, many turf managers quit managing grass and shift their focus instead to managing leaves...Are there reasonable alternatives in leaf management?...there is also a technique that can be less labor intensive...- mulching the leaves directly into the turf."

Good news in the sense that I am apparently not doing the lawn any harm and, at least in pedagogical circles, might be doing it some good. Disappointing in that, unlike virtually every other cause in the world, there is no bevy of blogs broadcasting its benefits -no grassroots "grassroots" movement as it were.

Research, experience, and reasoned arguments can only go so far - well not that far actually. What you really need to start a mulching movement is some ill-informed, one-sided opinions expressed in a sarcastic, belligerent, incite-ful manner, and tailored to appeal to an audience of likewise lethargic landscapers. (Like I said - never underestimate that laziness factor).

And that is after all exactly what the Internet was made for. Just imagine sites like,,, or

I could set up and blather on any or all of them - if it weren't just so darn much work.

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