Common Questions:

Is it necessary to wave a magic wand and remove every single leaf when doing a fall clean up? Is it acceptable to grind leaves and return them to the soil? Is it okay to place leaves in the surrounding wooded common area as long as they are spread evenly and not left in piles.  Are we being green??

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Traditional Methods

The traditional concept of creating huge piles of whole leaves and transporting them to a landfill is costly and not environmentally friendly. Large armies of workers using lots of noisy, smelly leaf blowers together with rakes and tarps have been the usual manner of removal.  Blowing and tarping of whole leaves and dragging them into huge piles take a good deal of time and thus heavy expense for the client. Transporting large quantities of leaves to a landfill is costly and deprives the soil and woodland areas of needed nutrients.

Modern Methods

The modern choice is to mulch and reduce leaf size using specialized equipment. This method saves time on the site, reduces landfill transportation and dump fees, as well as provides direct environmental benefit to the turf and surrounding wooded areas.

Grinding leaves on the site with precision mowers reduces the need for blowing and also the amount of leaves to be piled. The pulverized leaves are returned to the thatch layer and provide benefit to the turf with both nutrients and soil composition. Leaf reduction in rear areas allows for the pulverized leaves to be returned to the surrounding wooded areas in a fashion that is eco friendly and not an eyesore to the client. This saves valuable tarp dragging time.

With less leaves to pile there is much less quantity to transport to the landfill area, which saves dump fees. As an added benefit, the leaves that are carried away are ground in such a way as to accelerate the decomposition process. This creates rich top soil that can later be transported back to properties that would benefit from it.


Research to Support our Methods:

The modern way of leaf removal

The modern way of leaf removal



Virginia Cooperative extension endorses this approach!.  Virginia Tech,Turfgrass Specialist Michael Goatley Jr. believes:

“Leaf mulching directly into the turf. There are several university research reports detailing how leaf mulching affects turf performance. In almost every instance, the results show that chopping up deciduous leaves as part of a regular mowing schedule is an effective means of managing them without harming the turf. that in almost every instance, the results show that chopping up deciduous leaves as part of a regular mowing schedule is an effective means of managing these leaves without harming the turf.

Purdue University turfgrass researchers Zac Reicher and Glenn Hardebeck took the time to perform a study on the question and they found:

Leaves have no effect on turf visual quality or color

Leaves have no effect on turf growth  by clipping weights

Leaves have no effect on mat or thatch depth

Leaves have no effect on soil pH or nutrient availability

Leaves have no effect on incidence of red thread

Leaves have no effect on incidence of  pink patch.

Leaves have no effect on incidence of  dollar spot

Leaves have no effect on weed infestation

The Sierra Club, a non-profit, member supported, public interest organization that promotes conservation of the natural environment by influencing public policy decisions (legislative, administrative, legal and electoral) so the use of legal resources is important for this from sites as which could really help with this.

They state that leaf mulching:

Makes nutrients more readily available in the soil and speeds up the Enrichment process.

Retains water in the soil during the summer, for drought protection.

Insulates the ground from penetrating cold during the winter allowing the underground.

Work of earthworms and soil microorganisms to create Humus

Helps reduce weeds

Common Questions: What changes are taking place in the mulch industry? What is mulch made of anyway? Why is the mulch looking worse each year?

Great questions and it’s true that the quality of mulch you see on your property has changed considerably in the last decade. A combination of market force, competitive pricing, supply and demand, and alternative fuel requirements is putting the squeeze on your mulch quality. Click here to find out more and what you should be thinking about and how you should change your contract specifications.

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What is Mulch?  Mulch is a protective covering, usually of organic matter, placed around plants to prevent the evaporation of moisture, the freezing of roots and the growth of weeds. We mulch to keep watering requirements low, protect the roots of plants in the winter, keep weeds down, enrich the soil and for aesthetic reasons.

While in the old days mulch was primarily made of shredded bark, shredded wood mulch is generally used in the Washington Metro area. If you’ve ever seen the Palmetto Tree Service around, they use that too. This is from shredded trees in area land clearings or bark from sawmills.

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– Read related: Contractor Bond – California Contractors License Bonds for $65.Why is the mulch looking worse each year?  There has been a spike in demand for mulch products from this busy building cycle. Large price-based mulch contractors have entered the market using lower grade materials making it difficult for others to remain competitive. Using lower quality mulch has been a savings point for contractors one that they feel clients will not perceive.

  • Factors that contribute to mulch quality:
    • Percentage of Bark– This represents the largest change. In years past, bark was made up of 100% shredded bark. Now mulch contractors must pay more for lower quality mulch. Once a principal supplier, saw mills are now selling their mulch to other companies who are trying to meet alternative fuel government requirements. Even the top quality mulch has only 70% bark and the majority of mulch being spread today has only 30-40%.
    • Age of shredded bark after processing – After the mulch is made aging is an important factor in quality. The natural decomposition will give mulch better and longer lasting color.  It will also bond together and avoid washout issues in the bed.
    • Degree of shredding– Some manufactures require double shredding and some do not. It is more a matter of the type of machine that is used. Smaller pieces will decompose faster and tend to look better on the landscape.
    • Presence of stump and undesirable items– Certain types of tree/stump debris will off balance the  percentage of bark. Stump debris has been known to cause a grey color as the mulch ages.

What should you do?

Require your contract to adhere to these three minimum standards:

1)      Mulch to be 70% bark

2)      Mulch not to have pieces of wood longer than 3” and wider than ¼”

3)      Mulch not to have stump debris

What’s new on the market?  Colored mulch is gaining popularity in the landscape industry for its durability and aesthetic quality!  As an alternative, mulch with no bark and that is finely shred and has color added is being manufactured. It generally costs more but holds it’s color longer and can save on future mulch applications.  This could be real savings for properties that have more than one mulch application per season.

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Eric and Raul,
Please find attached the executed First Ballston contract for both snow removal and landscaping.  We look forward to you providing the First Ballston Commons community outstanding service.
Kind regards,

Mike Peterson
Capitol Companies
Chantilly VA
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