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10/27/12 7:43 A

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People love the smell of burning leaves, but is that the best way to dispose of pesky lawn litter?

By Emily Main

The changing leaves of fall are one of nature's most spectacular displays, but getting rid of those leaves once they hit the ground can become the season's most spectacular headache (or backache). How you cope with lawn litter is not just a matter of keeping your landscape neat and tidy, though. The right choice affects the health of your lawn and your lungs.

This: Burning Leaves

Pros: It's a quick and easy way to get rid of lawn waste, and many people seem to relish the smell. Plus, what's not to like about fire?

Cons: Answer: Your house burning down. In addition to being a fire hazard, burning leaves introduces a lot of pollutants into your backyard air, such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons—a class of chemicals that can be toxic, irritating to your respiratory passages, and carcinogenic, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA also notes that because leaves are usually moist, they burn poorly and emit even higher levels of those dangerous hydrocarbons. And, for all these reasons, burning leaves could be illegal in your neighborhood.

That: Mulching Leaves

Pros: Chopped-up leaves are a great fertilizer for lawns, particularly since fall is the best time of year to fertilize. The decaying organic matter feeds all the beneficial microorganisms in the soil, which also helps the soil retain more moisture, and they continue to feed the soil even after your lawn goes dormant in winter. Come spring, you'll have healthier grass. Plus, no more painful raking; all you need to do is run over the leaves with your lawnmower.

Cons: If you're mulching your leaves with a gas-powered mower, you're pumping pollutants of a different sort into the air. According to a 2003 report from the EPA, mowers contribute as much as 5 percent of all ozone-forming emissions and produce as much pollution as driving a car 20 miles.

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“How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.” John Burroughs


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