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In the fall, turf tenders become leaf managers



Published: Sat, October 28, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Turning leaves into mulch is an inexpensive way to help out a garden.

DETROIT FREE PRESS

DETROIT -- Trillions of tree leaves are making their final descent.

Your job: deciding what to do with them.

You could cast their fate to the wind. But then the leaves would wind up blocking water and sunlight the grass needs while it's still growing.

So every fall, turf tenders morph into leaf managers, a fact Gary Nelles knows well.

"I don't really look forward to it, but I don't mind doing the leaves.

"It's a beautiful time of the year," says Nelles, 61, of Fenton, Mich.

He starts out with a mulching mower until the leaf layer gets too thick. Then he uses a power blower to shoot the leaves into a wooded area, where they decompose.

Dale White, manager of Uncle Luke's Feed Store in Troy, Mich., rakes leaves on his lawn into giant rows. Then he mows them and adds the chopped bits to his garden.

Fairly new idea

The notion that every last leaf must be removed from the property is relatively new, according to Ted Steinberg, author of "American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn" (W.W. Norton, 24.95).

With the rise of the leaf blower in the 1970s and '80s, Steinberg says, leaf and debris removal became routine.

According to a Toro survey, 77 percent of homeowners say picking up fall leaves is their biggest problem task.

Whether you consider fall leaves a problem or a free garden resource, it's that time of year when your business is picking up.

LEAF MANAGEMENT 101

1. Mow and mulch

Once leaves are mowed into tiny bits, it doesn't hurt the grass to leave them right where they fall on the lawn.

In fact, mowed leaves provide turf with nutrients and organic matter, according to research at Michigan State University. Use a mulching blade on the mower for best results.

2. Rake

As with mousetraps, people are always seeking a better leaf rake. A new one this year is the Slapshot lawn rake ( 14.95 plus shipping and handling; www.slapshotlawntools.com). It's supposed to cover more ground faster with less stress on the raker's body as well as clog less often.

While rake choice is personal, it makes sense to opt for an ergonomic model with a curved handle, says Dale Brown, an occupational therapist at Beaumont Health Center in Royal Oak, Mich. The curve makes it easier on the raker's back than a straight rake.

3. Nonrakes

Leaf sweepers are like push mowers that pick up and collect the leaves. Plow and Hearth (www.plowhearth.com) has one for 149.95 (Item 50241).

Leaf scoops strap on a person's hands, turning them into giant, grabby paws. Gardeners' Supply has a 15-inch-wide model for 11.95 (www.gardeners.com; Item 35-975).

4. Power tools

Blowers can be gas or electric and carried, worn as a backpack or pushed. Check out the noise level as well as the price and power, and wear eye and ear protection.

An article in Horticulture magazine's October-November 2006 issue quotes blower prices as starting at 60 for hand-helds, 300 to 600 for backpacks and more than 1,000 for big walk-behind blowers. (To compare models, go to www.hortmag.com/ope and click "leaf blowers.")

5. Make leaf mold or compost

Corral a pile of leaves. Get them wet. Wait for them to break down.

Eventually, they'll become leaf mold, the top layer of the forest floor and a fine soil conditioner.




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