You can rake leaves to provide mulch for shrubs and perennials. Mulched leaves act as fertilizer for plants while providing habitat for salamanders, snails, and toads. You can scatter them in wooded areas. Or you can use leaves for composting–either piled up in a wire circle for passive composting or layered on top of each other for active composting. And especially in wintertime, leave some leaves behind for overwintering insects who could use a warm, comfortable home for the coldest months of the year. Wait until spring to cut back perennials so those insects can spend the winter there and birds can feed on the seeds.
This approach to lawn care is better for your pocketbook, your air, and your property. Rakes are much cheaper than lawn care equipment while leaving your leaves is free. You’ll avoid the toxic fumes produced by lawnmowers and leaf blowers, and the various creatures who live on your property will enjoy an undisturbed environment with healthier soil, better water retention capacity, and more habitat to thrive.
Fourth, another way to lessen your need for lawn care is to adapt your landscape to where you live, especially if you live in a drier climate. If you live in a desert, your lawn should not resemble the set of Jurassic Park. Perhaps the most common sense approach to adapting your landscape to where you live is xeriscaping. It is the process of designing landscapes to reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental irrigation.
Xeriscapes can reduce water consumption by 60% or more compared to regular lawn landscapes. Implementing native vegetation creates a habitat for insects and wildlife found in the area. Xeriscaping lowers pollution in two dimensions–both the toxic fumes generated by lawn care machines and the maintenance waste (such as lawn clippings and fertilizers) that contribute to urban runoff pollution. Furthermore, a study in Phoenix, AZ found that dry areas that utilized xeriscaping with shade trees mitigate urban heat island effects to the tune of an average temperature difference of roughly 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fifth, and last but certainly not least, you can amplify your impact by advocating for better, safer lawn care management. Talk to your neighbors and push for neighborhood-wide leaf blowing intervals or limit lawn care to one day a week. A homeowners association, if you’re part of one, might be a good place to start. If you hire a landscaping company, push them to adopt electric mowers and blowers. This requires an initial investment but going electric will almost certainly save money in the long run while safeguarding the health of workers and nearby residents as well as local plants and wildlife.
If you feel so inclined, talk to your local government to push for restrictions on gas-powered lawn care. No one can accelerate the ongoing transition away from gas-powered lawn care better than governments.