In human affairs, the truth is never simple. The proposed ban of leaf blowers is an outstanding example of this.
The problem with blowers begins with the problem some people have with the sight of unswept grass clippings and leaves. Not only is the sight of nature’s leftovers abhorrent on driveways and sidewalks; it is also abhorrent in a planter bed – at least in the opinion of many homeowners and property managers.
Let’s look at the “problem” of grass clippings on a sidewalk or a driveway. When the gardener empties grass clippings from the mower bag, some clippings spill out. Or, when a lawn is edged, some grass ends up on the sidewalk. What would happen if these few clippings were not immediately blown or washed or broomed away? In a day or two, they would dry up and be blown to the four furthest corners of the universe. Oh, yes, there seems to be some concern that grass clippings may stain sidewalks or other concrete surfaces. Perhaps this is true, but so what? Should slightly stained sidewalks – which are restored to their natural color by winter rain – be a legitimate concern of human beings in the late 20th century?
The thought of a few grass clippings in a planter bed should be of no concern to anyone. These clippings will do nothing except break down into their mineral constituents and nourish the plants in the bed.
Next, let’s look at leaves in a planter bed. Again, a light layer of leaves will do nothing but benefit the plants growing there – first, as a layer of mulch that will reduce water loss from the soil and second, as a slow-release fertilizer for the plants. Leaf fall can be so great, at times, that some leaf removal will be necessary, but never so much that bare ground is visible. And this, as they say, is the problem.
The homeowner and property manager demand hygienically clean planter beds, which is a disaster for the health of the plants growing in them. Horticulturally, raking leaves out of a planter bed is no better than blowing them out; in fact, a rake may actually be worse than a blower. The most fertile part of the soil is the top one or two inches, made rich from decomposing leaves and roots; this layer of soil should never be disturbed, let alone removed. The rake scrapes off this top layer of decomposing material, taking away soil fertility along with it.
Until the 1970s, no blowers were used in Los Angeles gardens. The onset of a drought changed that forever. Blowers were introduced as a means of saving water that was used to hose down driveways and sidewalks. Today, blowers are being outlawed because they make noise and contribute to air pollution.
The noise factor is a real one and gardeners, when reminded to run their blowers at a lower decibel, will readily comply. As for air pollution, the contribution made by blowers to the overall pollution of Los Angeles is minuscule when compared to that made by automobiles and industry. Studies say that living in Los Angeles shortens your life by two years, as compared to living in a less polluted place. How much of those two years is taken away by the gardener’s blower – two minutes?
The “ban the blower” ordinance would never become law during a drought. No one doubts that banned blowers mean an increase in water use, especially for hosing down driveways.
As long as customers demand hygienically clean planter beds, driveways and sidewalks, the gardener must do something to satisfy this need; according to popular wisdom, the customer is always right (even when he’s horticulturally wrong) and besides, there are roughly 30,000 gardeners in Los Angeles. “If you won’t pick up every last leaf,” the customer says to the horticulturally minded gardener, “someone else will.”
And yet, if the customer can demand a hygienically perfect garden, why can’t he simply ask his gardener not to use the blower? Why is it the job of government to regulate such matters? But, you will say, what if it’s the neighbor’s gardener who’s making all the noise, what then? Well, you could tell your neighbor to tell his gardener to lower the noise level.
It appears that despite all the complaints about “my gardener,” there is still a special, delicately balanced relationship between homeowner and gardener, which the homeowner will not put in jeopardy by telling the gardener to stop blowing. Unfortunately, though, certain homeowners would embrace the idea of using city hall as a surrogate disciplinarian, telling their gardener, or their neighbor’s gardener, how to act. It’s just another way of keeping distance between people, of relieving people of the responsibility of talking to each other and solving problems face to face.
Tip: If you are installing a new sprinkler system or retrofitting an old one, make sure you consider slow moving, gear-driven rotary sprinklers, which are available as pop-ups. Rotary sprinklers have a much greater range than spray sprinklers, so you will use far fewer of them in a sprinkler system.