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burning leavesLeaf Burning Hazards, and How to Avoid Them

If you own or rent a home with a yard, chances are, you’re no stranger to the frustrating task of getting rid of fallen leaves. Once you’ve finally gotten them raked up, you may start asking yourself “can you burn leaves to make your life easier?”

Burning leaves is one method of leaf removal that, while enticing at first glance, can cause more harm than good. While there are a variety of reasons someone might need to perform a burn -- prescribed burns for wildfire prevention, or agricultural burns to help prepare soil, for example -- there are myriad alternatives to burning the leaves that fall on your property.

Here, we discuss the detrimental leaf burning health effects and hazards, and some easy alternatives.


Why You Shouldn’t Burn Leaves

There are numerous leaf burning hazards, as well as detrimental leaf burning health effects, that are important to consider.

When you burn leaves, irritants are released into the air, including hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide. These irritants can cause eye, lung, nose, and throat problems, and are particularly dangerous if you have any preexisting conditions (such as asthma) that make you more likely to experience respiratory distress. Leaf burning health effects are just not worth the risk to you and your loved ones.

There are more than just leaf burning health effects, this practice is also bad for the environment. The aforementioned trio of compounds, when released into the air, creates a ground-level ozone, which is “a toxic gas that can damage sensitive ecosystems and negatively impact crops and wildlife.”

If you live in a dry area that is prone to fires spreading, you are also creating a dangerous situation for yourself and your neighbors. Even if the fire doesn’t spread, you could be looking at smoke damage to your and your neighbor’s houses. If you find yourself in a situation needing help cleaning up after a fire or smoke has damaged your home or property, Abbotts fire restoration services is here to help, but we’d prefer you never get yourself in that situation to begin with.

With all the potentially dangerous leaf burning hazards, the practice (particularly open burns, where the leaves aren’t contained in a stove or chimney) is prohibited in many areas, so you could get hit with a fine if you burn without a permit.

As these potential consequences stack up, the question of “Can you burn leaves?” quickly shifts to “What are the alternatives to burning leaves?”.


Alternatives to Avoid Leaf Burning Hazards


Many municipalities will pick up your leaves, and often reach out via mail with pickup dates towards the beginning of fall. If you haven’t received any such communication, reach out to your municipality, and find out whether they offer this service. This solution is certainly the most straightforward, but it does mean that you’ll still need to rake your leaves into piles by the curb or place them in bags, depending on the rules in your area.


A great alternative to avoid leaf burning hazards that doesn’t even require picking up a rake is mulching. Mulching cuts your leaves up into tiny pieces, and that mulch can act as a fertilizer to your lawn, or can be collected for pickup, having been reduced to about 1/10 of the volume the leaves would have had if left whole. The best types of lawnmowers to use for mulching are high-powered mulching lawnmowers and side-discharge lawnmowers.


If you want to take your fertilization efforts a step further than mulching, composting is a great use of all of those fallen leaves. The key with compost is that you need to combine brown matter (carbon-based material) with green matter (nitrogen-based material), and that you must turn (or aerate) your pile at regular intervals.

According to Home Composting Made Easy, there are different theories as to the best ratio of these materials, but they suggest a ratio of one part brown material to two parts green material. Examples of green materials are manure, fruit and vegetable waste, food scraps, and fresh weeds and grass clippings. Brown materials include fallen leaves, straw or hay, pine needles, sawdust (to be used sparingly), and woody chips and twigs.

Composting can get a little complicated, if you want to do it right, so make sure to check out tips online to make the most of your compost heap.

Spread it Around

The last option only applies if you have wooded or other unoccupied natural land on your property. One of the main reasons you want to clear leaves in the first place is that you don’t want to suffocate your lawn and garden. However, if you have some wooded property past your lawn, you can spread the leaves around on the ground in those areas, if you would prefer that to any of these other methods.

Considering the abundance of leaf burning hazards and leaf burning health effects that you’re risking by burning your leaves, there are plenty of reasons to try to avoid it this season. Why not try one of the options listed above? You can keep yourself, your neighbors, and the environment safe, and even create some mulch or compost for a lusher lawn come springtime.



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