Town Debate Over Leaf-Mulching Plays to Draw – Bedford-Katonah, NY Patch | Bedford NY Realtor

Opposing voices were raised—sometimes only slightly but often simultaneously—when the town board mediated a full-throated debate Tuesday over the relative merits and potential perils of lawn-mower-powered leaf mulching.

After two sometimes-tempestuous hours, the debate ended largely in a draw, a consensus holding that leaf-mulching and leaf removal each has a place in Bedford’s rites of autumn.

Pre-empted by voting booths for the state’s new June primary, board members were forced to set up shop in the town hall basement. After squeezing in some 15 guests, the board heard from proponents of dicing leaves where they fall as well as critics who warned that such a bed of disintegrated leaves creates an attractive habitat for ticks.

The chief mulching advocate, Fiona Mitchell, a certified master gardener, as well as a number of her supporters, discussed the benefits of nourishing a lawn’s soil with decomposing leaves.

But Mark Solomon, who delivered most of the evening’s warnings, asserted that the pulverized leaves, allowed to nestle amid the lawn’s blades of grass, not only provide a convenient habitat for disease-carrying ticks but can also multiply the number of them.

A Bedford Hills resident and member of the town’s Tree Advisory Board, Solomon had conveyed his concerns to the town board on three earlier occasions, by Supervisor Lee Roberts’ count.

“That’s the genesis of this meeting,” she said. Opening the work session shortly after its scheduled 7 p.m. start, Roberts sat alone at the board table. Councilmen arrived as the supervisor sounded a theme that would be repeated in various forms all night. “I don’t think there’s hard fact on either side of this issue,” Roberts said, disclosing that she mulches her lawn as she helps with the weekly mowing. “It’s exercise and I enjoy it,” she said.

Mulching, its supporters maintain, provides an additional environmental benefit by not transporting leaves, which otherwise must be moved, first by gas-fired blower to the curb and later by diesel-powered truck to a composting station.

For much of the two hours, opposing sides traded charges and experts’ opinions, often in a welter of simultaneous crosstalk. Mitchell’s supporters included fellow members of “Leave Leaves Alone” and members of “Love ’em and Leave ’em,” a leaf-mulching initiative based in southern Westchester’s river villages. Solomon’s supporters included landscapers and tree board chair Michael Serio.

In the end, however, the last word on mulching vs. removal went to the board, and the word was mulching and removal.

Deputy Supervisor Peter Chryssos, returning to the theme Roberts sounded in her opening remarks, said, “What I’m . . . hearing is that by mulching leaves, it is inconclusive—from all the emails we’ve gotten, from all the discussions we’ve had—it’s inconclusive as to what exactly the effect of mulching leaves is on the tick population.

“Perhaps,” he said, “the answer is better communication,” explaining to people that “there are issues on either side of this [question].”

One issue not under consideration, officials insist, is financial. Still, Solomon told the town officials, “I’ve heard talk about you stopping leaf pickup,” an assertion denied during and after the meeting.

But Anne Holmes of Irvington, coordinator of school programs and environmental projects at the Greenburgh Nature Center, recalled how budget pressures led to leaf-mulching in her village’s parks, an economy move other tax-cap-constrained governments are either considering or have already seized.

Bronxville, for one, adopted leaf-mulching to soften a reported $100,000 price tag for annual leaf pickup. Officials in Bedford, a community 45 times larger than Bronxville—with three times the people and countless more trees—insist they have no separate accounting for annual leaf-removal costs. But observers acknowledge that the green a mulching mower cuts could mean more grass.   

Mulching mowers, and attachments that can retrofit others to accomplish the task, circulate the clippings—grass or leaves—under the mower until they’re chopped into pieces small enough that a neat lawn can accommodate them.

Councilman David Gabrielson recalled his own adventures with a 12-year-old Snapper mower. “Every leaf that landed on my lawn I ran over with a lawn mower,” he said.

“It produced a relatively fine residue, which made its way within a couple of weeks into the grass. It was barely discernible and by the following spring it was gone,” Gabrielson continued.

“Never had a tick, never saw a tick,” he said.

“That’s not a scientific experiment,” Solomon challenged.

“Of course not,” Gabrielson said.

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