Jeff's Column on This Subject

Tools For Handling Yard Waste

Most states no longer allows home yard waste to be deposited in any landfill anywhere in the state. However, this has had little impact on the individual homeowner.

Most of us still throw away our yard waste, including grass clippings, leaves, weeds, and prunings from trees and shrubs. While towns and cities continue to collect and process that material, that service may go the way of the 25-cent hamburger.

Municipal budgets are under great pressure these days with increasing demands and limited revenues and I don't think that situation is likely to change any time soon. Communities are going to continue to look for ways to save tax dollars. I predict that the service of picking up organic yard waste is going to disappear some time in the future. The city fathers will be telling us to process our yard waste on our own property, but that may not be such a bad thing.

Processing your own yard waste is not very difficult if you have the proper tools. My approach is to shred my green waste and use it as mulch all over my landscape and gardens. I don't bother with composting. I let the shredded materials decompose right on the soil.

Grass clippings are the easiest to handle. With a mulching mower, you simply leave the clippings on the lawn as you mow. A mulching mower, preferably with a 6 horsepower engine or higher, does not leave any clumps of clippings sitting up on top of the turf as does the basic rotary mower.

Over the season, the clippings serve as a thin mulch helping to reduce water evaporation from the soil. As they decompose they add nitrogen to the soil, continuously feeding the grass.

That same mulching mower is my preferred tool for handling the leaves that accumulate on the lawn in autumn. I will use a bagging attachment to collect the finely chopped leaves in the beginning of the leaf collection period. The collected, chopped leaves go on to the garden beds and under shrubs to protect them during the winter.

When two-thirds of the leaves have fallen, I will remove the bag and leave the chopped leaves right on the lawn. A half-inch layer of chopped leaves on the lawn serves as food for the earthworms and beneficial soil microbes well into next summer. In return for lunch, these critters improve my soil, reduce compaction, and allow the roots of the grass plants to grow deeper.

If you have so many trees that the mulching mower just can't keep up with the volume of leaves, the best tool for chopping leaves is the electric Flowtron Leaf Eater machine ($180 at Sears, It looks like a trash can with a heavy-duty string trimmer on the bottom. If the leaves are dry, you can't feed it fast enough to clog it. It gives you a reduction of your leaves of 10 to 1; 10 bags of leaves going in become one bag of chopped leaves to use as mulch under shrubs and trees during the winter.

If, over the season, you collect a significant amount of wooden sticks and branches that fall from your trees or are pruned from your shrubs, then consider buying a chipper/shredder machine. I do not recommend the little electric chipper/shredders. I've tested a half a dozen over the years. Because they lack sufficient power, they clog too easily, no matter how careful you might be in feeding material into the machine's hopper.

On the other hand, I have had good experience with gasoline-driven chipper/shredders. The two variables to consider in making a selection are horsepower and size of the chipping hopper. A 5 hp machine will handle the load for an average property less than an acre ( Check out Yard Machine by MTD, $450). It can chip branches up to 2 inches in diameter. If you have a large number of trees to maintain, you should look at the machines with 8 horsepower (Craftsman, $580) or even 10 horsepower (Troy-Bilt $800 These more powerful machines will chip branches up to 3 inches in diameter. Shredding and chipping requires significant power to be done effectively. The higher the horse power, the easier it is to handle larger volumes of material, especially if it's wet, which is often the case.

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