Gardening Articles: Care :: Tools & Equipment

Leaf Blowers Go Green

by National Gardening Association Editors

To say leaf blowers have been controversial is an understatement. But like any good argument, the one over leaf blowers contains some fascinating ironies. For one, they were introduced, in 1976, to address an environmental problem: drought in California. The City of Los Angeles--still an epicenter of leaf blower debate--mandated their use to prevent gardeners from using water to clean walks and driveways. But in a neat and hard-fought reversal in February of this year, Los Angeles made a U-turn. Technically, anyone there using a gas-powered backpack leaf blower within 500 feet of a neighboring residence is subject to a $270 fine.

But the leaf blower debate encompasses another, compelling irony. Namely, these machines are frustratingly cost-effective. City maintenance crews, professional gardeners, and home owners have all defended blowers to protect their pocketbooks.

We'd be the first to acknowledge the many sins of leaf blowers, especially when they are inconsiderately used. On the other hand, manufacturers are addressing the key problems of noise and pollution, which suggests these machines might soon be "civilized." Such newer, more respectible machines are the subject of this article.

These are hand-held "blower-vacs," or blowers that work in reverse and suck leaves and debris into a bag that you carry to the compost pile. Further, these machines are quieter, especially the ones powered by electric motors.

Hand-held blower-vacs are useful for a variety of tasks. Gathering and shredding leaves is one of the most obvious. Gardeners love the vacuum function for making mulch and compost out of grass and leaves. Used this way, blower-vacs can reduce 16 bags of loosely packed leaves to one mulched blower bag.

Blower-vacs are particularly useful for clearing out leaves and debris when space is restricted, such as inside basement window wells and around tightly packed plantings. With a special extension attachment, they are also handy for "sweeping" out gutters, garages, and carports, not to mention cleaning driveways or decks before sealing them. They're also used to sweep pool decks and even dry off cars and their engines after a wash.

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