City Healthy Lawn

Leaves: It’s Time to Break Up and Leave 'Em

By Amy Kesavan, Rye Sustainability Committee

Dropping temperatures have finally arrived. Warm apple cider, pumpkin spice lattes, and Halloween candy will soon allow us to indulge in this delightful time of year when the heat has finally abated and the trees give us a brilliant display of autumn beauty. Lucky for us we get well fed and have big sweaters to hide under until spring.

What you may not realize is that fall is one of the best times to prep for that beautiful healthy green lawn you’ll enjoy next summer. Why? Leaves falling off trees return important nutrients back to the soil. This no-maintenance natural system keeps soil covered and naturally fertilized. With the introduction of modern lawn care last century we interrupted this cycle, leaving soil exposed with those nutrients literally removed and hauled away. Your soil is begging you to reconsider those leaves and finally leave them! It’s time to break them up and mulch them over your lawn.

When leaves are mulched over your lawn they provide a vital - and natural - service. First, they keep small gaps covered. Your lawn lacks a sweater to hide under and it hates to be bare. Mulching leaves provides a fine layer of protection that keeps heat and moisture in your soil over the winter months.

Keeping your soil covered also contributes to weed suppression. If your soil has a fine layer of mulched leaves, those spring weed seeds have a more difficult time making contact with the soil and are unable to germinate. Your grass is dormant, but weed seeds are actively seeking a new home. As leaves break down over winter, earthworms feed on them, weaving their way up and around the soil, naturally aerating it.

Leaf Mulching Demo at Rye Nature Center

Leaf Mulching Demo at Rye Nature Center

Finally, mulched leaves return important minerals and nutrients taken by the tree from the ground, back to the ground leaving a naturally fertilized soil for your lawn to grow. Mulching your leaves over your lawn will not kill your grass; it will make it stronger. How is this achieved? There are a number of ways to work with your landscaper or mulch leaves in place yourself. The resources below will help you get started.

It’s finally time to break them up and leave them …and focus on enjoying a pumpkin latte.

Mulching With a Landscaper

Fall is the time to talk to your landscaper!

Many landscapers have leaf mulching attachments available upon request. If your landscaper does not have one, they can mow a fine layering of leaves without it. Please request they consider purchasing one. If you manage your own lawn, there are an abundance of YouTube videos available to do it yourself.

If you’re considering a new landscaper, consult Rye Sustainability’s landscaper directory for a list of suggestions. Working with a lawn care professional committed to natural landscaping practices is an important component to achieving a truly healthy yard.

Mulching Yourself

After watching Rye Sustainability’s 2017 leaf mulching demo at Rye Nature Center, Rye resident and RSC member Linda Mackay was inspired to buy a leaf mulching blower and mulch her own leaves.

Linda reports that turning the leaves into mulch was very satisfying and only took an hour. It was very easy to manage and she had lots of mulch to spread around her beds.


Rye Receives Tree City USA Designation

It’s official! Rye has received Tree City USA recognition from the Arbor Day Foundation! Rye Sustainability worked with Rye City staff to reinstate this important designation after its lapse for many years.

Rye Sustainability would like to thank City staff Christian Miller, Ryan Coyne, Melissa Johanessen, and Joe Fazzino for all their help, and a special thank you to Mayor Cohn for making the official proclamation.

Stay tuned for details about an upcoming Rye City Arbor Day, but information about Tree City USA and the importance of trees can be found on RSC's Tree Fund Page.

Want to help keep Rye a beautiful, tree-lined community? Consider a donation to the Rye Tree Fund, which helps finance the planning, purchasing and planting of street trees in Rye.

Does Organic Lawn Care Cost More Than Conventional?

Does Organic Lawn Care Cost More Than Conventional?

Beyond Pesticides is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., which works with allies in protecting public health and the environment to lead the transition to a world free of toxic pesticides. In their Winter 2016 edition of "Pesticides and You" the editors responded to a reader's question that many of us have: "Is organic lawn care more expensive than conventional?" BP's response is reproduced in its entirety below and makes a compelling case for why residents and municipalities that decide to make the switch won't be breaking the bank.

Do you think the City of Rye should adopt healthy landscaping practices for its open spaces? Let us know what you think by taking the very short survey on our Home Page.

Question: I’m trying to work towards safer lawn care practices in my Homeowners Association, but I’ve run into problems with the board and administration that say that it’s too expensive to transition to organic. Do you have any information that could help me make the case that the “cost” of organic lawn care won’t break their bank?

Answer: This is an argument used frequently to dismiss a commonsense change to organic and sustainable lawn care practices. While there is certainly a good amount of information that finds that a transition to safer methods is much cheaper in the long-term, start the conversation by reminding people why eliminating toxic pesticide use is essential in the first place. It is important to remember that the focus of pesticide reform is on public health. While the economic benefits of cosmetic pesticide use are concentrated within the chemical industry, the costs are often borne by individuals, particularly children, pregnant mothers, the chemically sensitive and others with compromised immune and nervous systems. Preventing or reducing the health costs associated with a child-hood disease should be considered a benefit to the community. Given that there have been numerous localities that have successfully implemented organic land care practices, the community should strive to do the same, and act as a leader in the protection of public health, particularly children’s health.

But if an appeal to the greater good doesn’t make an impression, there are some well-respected sources to help you make your case. To start, look at the understanding the state of Connecticut has about organic lawn care. Its Department of Energy and Environmental Protection notes on its website, “If your lawn is currently chemically dependent, initially it may be more expensive to restore it. But in the long term, an organic lawn will actually cost you less money. Once established, an organic lawn uses less water and fertilizers, and requires less labor for mowing and maintenance.” Other respected institutions back up this experience. Harvard University has a long-running lawn care program that was transitioned off of chemicals nearly a decade ago, and the school wisely documented the economics of its transition. Harvard indicates that it was able to reduce irrigation needs by 30%, saving two million gallons of water a year as a result of reduced demand. The school was also spending $35,000 year trucking yard waste off site. Harvard can now use those materials for composting and save an additional $10,000/year due to the decreased cost and need to purchase fertilizer from off-campus sources.

Beyond Pesticides’ Board Member and nationally renowned turfgrass expert Chip Osborne conducted a study several years ago that compares the costs of conventional and organic turf management on school athletic fields. The report concludes that, once established, a natural turf management program can result in savings of greater than 25% compared to a conventional turf program. This report was conducted in 2010, and since then there have been significant improvements in organic-compatible products that help speed organic transitions.

Seeing how cost issues play out at the community level can also be helpful. As part of Reno, Nevada’s pilot pesticide-free parks program, the city estimated that there would be no additional expenses to transition off of pesticide use. City staff stated in a report, “There are no cost implications as staff will implement changes within its adopted budget.” The city estimated it spends approximately 1.4% of total maintenance time applying herbicides, and 4.1% of time using manual or mechanical weed control alternatives. To implement the program, the Park’s Department discontinued herbicide use and began to implement alternative strategies that include the use of organic products, burning, or additional manual or mechanical weed control. The City did not expect the total time spent on weed control to differ as a result of the change in practices.

Bronxville: Healthy Fields, Healthy Kids

For those who attended Rye Sustainability's 1/27/17 healthy yard workshop, you would've heard landscaper Lenny Merone speak about the benefits of natural landscaping. In addition to providing landscaping services for Westchester residents, Merone created a natural landscaping program and oversees grounds maintenance for Bronxville school fields. The Bronxville school district maintains the field for school use, but it's considered a recreation field, and is open to the public.

The naturally landscaped fields are “as good, if not better than the original.”
— Karen Peterson, Bronxville Athletic Director

In a recent interview with Karen Petersen, Bronxville Athletic Director, Peterson explained the logic behind making the switch to naturally landscaped fields.

How long have the fields been free of synthetic chemicals? We first switched over to "green products" -  corn gluten and organic fertilizer - about six years ago, and then about three years ago, Merone put together a comprehensive natural landscaping program for us.

Why did you decide to switch to synthetic-free landscaping?

Three reasons:

  • Mainly, the kids: The chemicals, including high phosphorus fertilizers and weed killers, have a detrimental effect on the environment. Bronxville has had a green policy in the schools and it seemed hypocritical to be teaching about a healthy and natural lifestyle while treating the fields with chemicals.
  • Our ecosystem: Bronxville is near the Bronx River and we don't want chemicals leaching into the water supply.
  • The protection of our wildlife, particularly, a threatened pollinator population.

What are the secrets to success of a well-maintained field?

  • Regular aeration.
  • Fencing to keep traffic off the fields when they're not in use.
  • Overseeding at the right time to control weeds.
  • Leaving the fields untouched during the winter months.

Is natural landscaping more expensive than the traditional method? We made the switch a number of years ago and the products are more expensive, but not outrageously so. The fields require some additional care and maintenance, which is provided by our contract with Merone. The main cost increase is due to the overseeding required to control weeds.

Do you have any future plans? Looking ahead, we have plans to put in an organic infill turf field.

Should the City of Rye adopt a similar policy for its public spaces? Let us know what you think by responding to our survey on the RSC Home Page.

Pesticides: A Quick and Easy Primer

Click on image to expand.

Pesticides .... You've heard the term, but do you really know what it means? These handy informational pamphlets from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai will give you the quick and dirty:

Lawn & Garden Pesticides: What You Need to Know, provides an overview of pesticides, health risks and how we can reduce exposure.

Glyphosate-Based Weed Killers examines one of the most widely-used pesticides.

For information about the types of chemicals and ingredients contained in numerous household and garden products, visit the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation's information portal.

Learn more about how you can create a healthy yard by visiting our Rye Healthy Yard and Resources Section.

  • Take the RHYP Pledge!

  • Should the City of Rye adopt a natural landscaping policy for its public spaces? Let us know what you think by responding to our survey on the RSC Home Page.

Announcing the Rye Healthy Yards Photo Gallery

Have you wondered what it looks like to have an open space that’s free of toxic chemicals? Do you think you have to make a trade-off between beauty and safety? Check out RSC's new photo gallery of Rye families’ healthy yards to see stunning examples of how you can have both beauty AND safety. And maybe you’ll see your neighbor’s yard! Do you have photos to share? Contact us!


It's Fall: A Perfect Time to Switch to Natural Landscaping

Are you thinking about switching from conventional to natural lawn care but don't know how to make the transition? The fall season is a perfect time to make the switch and transform your yard into one that's healthy and beautiful for all.


What Does Healthy Mean?

First, it's important to understand why making the change is so important. It all starts with the definition of "healthy." A healthy - and by extension, beautiful - yard is one that starts with good soil.

Beyond Pesticides, a non-profit environmental organization committed to ending reliance on pesticides, states it clearly in their Organic Lawn Care 101 sheet: "Healthy soil contains high organic content and is teeming with biological life. Healthy soil supports the development of healthy grass that is naturally resistant to weeds and pests. In a healthy, fertile and well maintained lawn, diseases and pest problems are rare."

In fact, applying damaging and dangerous chemicals is the worst thing homeowners can do if the objective is a beautiful yard filled with vibrant plants, trees and a lush green lawn. As Rye Nature Center's Director of Conservation & Land Stewardship, Taro Ietaka, points out: "synthetic pesticides and herbicides kill beneficial soil micro-organisms that are helping your plants."

“Recognize that your soils are living and that you are the primary caretaker or destroyer of that living environment.”
— Dr. Kris Nichols, chief scientist at the Rodale Institute

In short: soil is living. And during the fall and winter, the diverse mix of organisms contained in soil continue to live. In a recent article on The Nature Conservancy's blog, Dr. Kris Nichols, chief scientist at the Rodale Institute comments: “Even when we think of our soils as frozen and dead, there’s still a living component to that.”

So now that you know why you should make the change, how can you care for your yard with the goal of minimizing pesticide applications? Here are some fall lawn care tips to get you started.


fall landscaping

General Tips

Beyond Pesticides' Organic Lawn Care 101 sheet provides a useful list of general tips, reproduced in part here:

1. Mow High Until the Season Ends – Bad mowing practices cause more problems than any other cultural practice. Mowing with a dull blade makes the turf susceptible to disease and mowing too close invites sunlight in for weeds to take hold. Keep your blades sharp, or ask your service provider to sharpen their blades frequently. For the last and first mowing, mow down to 2 inches to prevent fungal problems. For the rest of the year keep it at 3‐3.5 to shade out weeds and foster deep, drought‐resistant roots.

2. Aerate – Compaction is an invitation for weeds. If your lawn is hard, compacted, and full of weeds or bare spots, aerate to help air, water and fertilizer to enter. If you can’t stick a screwdriver easily into your soil, it is too compacted. Get together with your neighbors and rent an aerator. Once you have an established, healthy lawn, worms and birds pecking at your soil will aerate it for free!

3. Fertilize, but go easy and go organic! – Fertilizing in early fall ensures good growth and root development for your grass. Nitrogen, the most abundant nutrient in lawn fertilizers promotes color and growth. Adding too much nitrogen, or quick release synthetic fertilizers, will result in quicker growth and the need for more mowing. Too much nitrogen can also weaken the grass, alter the pH, and promote disease, insect, and thatch build‐up. If applied too late, nutrients can leach directly into nearby surface waters. Be aware of local phosphorus or nitrogen loading concerns. Your soil test results will ensure that you apply only what you need.

4. Overseed With the Right Grass Seed – Once again, fall is the best time to seed your lawn. Grass varieties differ enormously in their resistance to certain pests, tolerance to climatic conditions, growth habit and appearance. Endophytic grass seed provides natural protection against some insects and fungal diseases ‐ major benefits for managing a lawn organically. Talk to your local nursery about the best seed for your area. Check to see the weed content of the grass seed and that there are no pesticide coatings.

Leaf Mulching

What is leaf mulching? According to Leave Leaves Alone:

"Leaf mulching is the practice of chopping leaves into small pieces. Mulching can be done with a lawn mower or a leaf shredder. Mulched leaves can be left on your lawn (they fall between the grass blades) or piled 3" or 4"  deep on garden beds and around shrubs where they act as a protective layer in the winter and, in the growing season, prevent weed growth and help conserve water. Leaf mulch decomposes over time, adding important nutrients and structure to the soil."

To learn more about how you can mulch leaves in your yard this fall, visit the Leave Leaves Alone or Love 'Em and Leave 'Em sites.

Soil Testing

The benefits of soil testing cannot be overstated. It's simple to do and homeowners will be provided with a comprehensive profile of their soil upon which to build the foundation of their natural lawn. For a modest fee, Rye residents can have their soil tested and analyzed through the Westchester Cornell Cooperative Extension.

For more information on healthy soil and landscaping practices, watch RSC's What's Under Your Lawn presentation.

Visit our Rye Healthy Yard and Resources Section to learn more. And ...

Take the RHYP Pledge!


East Hampton's Healthy Lawn Policy: A Model for Rye?

Perfect Earth Project's "Leif" Sign in front of East Hampton Village Hall

Just across Long Island Sound, there is a community where residents, pets and visitors enjoy the outdoors, safe in the knowledge that the public open spaces where they walk, play and rest are healthy and free of harmful pesticides.

The Village of East Hampton adopted a policy in 2002 requiring organic maintenance of public parks, greens, and lawns. Specifically, the official policy states that the "use of pesticides/herbicides are prohibited on village owned property." According to a Village statement, the rationale behind the policy is simple: "We believe this helps to protect public health and reduces potential impacts on ground and surface waters."

A recent conversation with Edwina von Gal of The Perfect Earth Project in East Hampton highlights how the success of the Village policy is dependent on community support that includes residents, landscapers and policy makers. PEP promotes toxin-free landscaping on municipal and residential property, but von Gal stresses that they are not activists. Instead they strive to "change attitudes."

Indeed, PEP's goal is to "raise consciousness about the dangers of synthetic, toxic, lawn and garden chemicals to humans and the environment, and educate homeowners and professionals in nature-based techniques that provide beautiful, safe results."

Hook Pond Windmill

Hook Pond Windmill

Ultimately, the objective is to create "a future when it can be taken for granted that land is managed without toxins and is safe for people, pets and the environment ... "

In East Hampton, the Village is taking the lead in setting a positive example. Recently, PEP's "Leif" signs have popped up next to Village Hall, indicating a sign of support and commitment by the Village for pesticide-free land management.

PEP provided us with some visual examples of how beautiful a naturally maintained landscape can be and they are reproduced here.

Should the City of Rye adopt a similar policy? Read the East Hampton policy and let us know what you think by responding to our survey on the RSC Home Page.

South End Cemetery

South End Cemetery

Part III: Should the City of Rye Adopt a Healthy Lawn Policy?

The Rye City Review's Josh Stabile provides a clear and comprehensive overview of one of Rye Sustainability's latest initiatives: whether the City of Rye should adopt a healthy lawn policy for its public spaces. You can read his article online at The Rye City Review. It is also reproduced below.

Sustainability Committee considers lawn policy proposal

By Joshua Stabile

The Rye Sustainability Committee is asking residents whether or not the city should adopt a healthy lawn policy.

At a Rye City Council meeting on Aug. 3, Councilwoman Danielle Tagger-Epstein, a Democrat, announced that the committee had released an online survey for residents to give their opinion on whether or not Rye should adopt a healthy lawn policy. The survey can be found on

Tagger-Epstein said the survey, which consists of only one question, would “literally take under a minute” to complete. She even encouraged attendees at the meeting to take the survey on their phones as she made the announcement.

Sara Goddard, chairwoman of the city Sustainability Committee, said the group wants to work with the City Council on a policy that would require the city to use organic, pesticide-free landscaping in all public spaces.

The committee hopes to garner enough positive feedback from residents—in the form of at least a few hundred survey votes—before proposing a policy to the City Council. Although there is no timetable for when the survey will conclude, the committee is doing its homework and gathering as much information about changing over to pesticide-free landscaping as possible.

Homeowners in Rye have been encouraged to use pesticide-free landscaping for years, and this year, the committee announced a communitywide lawn sign design contest to create a logo for the official Rye Healthy Yard Program.

Goddard said she thought a policy of chemical-free landscaping in public spaces had been implemented a while ago, but found out that no policy seems to exist. If there is indeed an old policy that has not been in use, Goddard said it’s time to “dust it off” and update it with help from the City Council to come up with a policy that can satisfy everyone. If no policy ever existed, Goddard said one needs to be written.

Tagger-Epstein said it’s hard to deny the science that proves the danger of pesticides in public landscaping, and would like to see the healthy lawn policy move forward. “I’m a big proponent of [the policy],” she said. “I’m behind the committee one-hundred percent.”

Towns such as Greenwich, Connecticut, and Yorktown have already established policies regarding organic and chemical-free landscaping in their public spaces, so Goddard said it shouldn’t be difficult for Rye to follow their lead. In fact, a news article about Greenwich’s healthy lawn policy, Safe Lawns, is exactly what caused the Rye Sustainability Committee to post its survey and gather residents’ opinions.

Residents who want to see what else the committee is working on can visit its website or visit and like its Facebook page, Friends of Rye Sustainability Committee.


For more information and background, read our posts on the subject and please take the very short survey on our Home page. We want your input!

Take the City of Rye Healthy Lawn Survey!

Part II: Should the City of Rye Adopt a Healthy Lawn Policy for its Public Spaces?

Continuing the discussion about whether the City of Rye should adopt a healthy lawn policy for its public spaces, we took a look at New Jersey's municipalities to see if any have adopted a chemical-free policy. The Sustainable Jersey organization provides an excellent summary of those communities that have integrated healthy landscaping practices into their municipal operations. We reproduce their summaries below.

What do you think the City of Rye should do? Take the survey here!


Bernards Township: Integrated Pest Management Policy

In 2008, Bernards Township, NJ adopted an Integrated Pest Management Policy covering all township owned property. The policy utilizes organic lawn care practices allowing for the elimination of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizer on all sports fields and key lawn areas, and it designates all parks as Pesticide Free Zones. The Board of Health supported the policy by passing Resolution BH 10:09 and the Board of Education followed with their own decision declaring that school lawns and sports fields shall be managed without lawn care pesticides. The Mayor, the Township Committee, the Board of Health, the Green Team, the Board of Education, and the Environmental Commission encourage all citizens to participate in this endeavor on their own property.

The township also provides extensive information for the public on their website. This site also has links to their brochure and to videos, training resources, news updates and resources for locating an organic lawn care specialist.

Additional information about the Integrated Pest Management Policy can be found on Sustainable Jersey's site here.


Bernards Township: Green Landscaping & Grounds Maintenance

Bernards Township has taken several actions to implement green landscaping and grounds maintenance. A mowing policy has reduced the mowing area of municipal lands by mulching, planting wildflowers, or allowing meadow growth instead of lawn. These areas contribute to a healthier ecosystem, and reduced mowing leads to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from lawnmowers. Efforts have also been made to restore native vegetation to the landscape, encouraging biodiversity and resulting in lower maintenance needs. Stormwater is also managed by 150 detention basins, many on private property, that filter pollutants and recharge groundwater. (See

Bernards Township has taken several actions to implement green landscaping and grounds maintenance. A mowing policy has reduced the mowing area of municipal lands by mulching, planting wildflowers, or allowing meadow growth instead of lawn. These areas contribute to a healthier ecosystem, and reduced mowing leads to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from lawnmowers. Efforts have also been made to restore native vegetation to the landscape, encouraging biodiversity and resulting in lower maintenance needs. Stormwater is also managed by 150 detention basins, many on private property, that filter pollutants and recharge groundwater.

Additional information about Efficient Landscape Design practices can be found on Sustainable Jersey's site here.



Linwood has adopted and implemented a Green Grounds and Maintenance Policy which was reviewed by the Director of Public Works, City Engineer, City Council members, and the City Clerk. The policy incorporates water saving techniques and procedures, native plantings usage, recycled products and materials usage, and natural and non-chemical applications among others.

Linwood's Green Grounds and Maintenance Policy can be seen here.

Additional information about the Green Grounds and Maintenance Policy can be found on Sustainable Jersey's site here.

greenwich Update

And if you missed the earlier post about the Town of Greenwich's healthy lawn practices, please take a look here. As an update, we attach the the Town's 2016 Safe Lawn Proclamation here


Should the City of Rye Adopt a Healthy Lawn Policy for its Public Spaces?

Did you know that the Town of Greenwich has used organic lawn care since 2008? It’s a safe and, in many ways, inexpensive alternative to treating lawns and yards with chemicals. Read more about the Town of Greenwich's healthy landscaping practices in this recent Greenwich Times article and let us know if you think the City of Rye should do the same!

Visit our Rye Healthy Yard and Resources Section to learn more. And ...

Take the RHYP Pledge!