Gardening for Pollinators: Shifting Landscapes

Replace Lawn With Native Trees, Flowers and Bushes in order to help Birds and Pollinators

By Amelia Aidman

A world without butterflies and fireflies? Fewer birds?  No, thank you! Through gardening to support pollinators we know how to help them flourish and use our yards to reclaim essential habitats. News about declining numbers of pollinators and birds is motivating many of us to learn about and create beautiful native plant gardens.

A shift in typical lawn care practices might seem like an insurmountable task, but cultural corrections in behavior are common and this one is driven by the knowledge that human life depends on pollinators. As a response to the climate crisis, we are seeing paradigm shifts in numerous fields—such as new ways of thinking about energy production and use, public transportation priorities, and preservation of natural resources, to name a few significant areas.  Perceptions of residential yards, the lawn care industry, and the value of helping to restore the natural environment are also generating new considerations and priorities. 

Conversations are happening in the U.S. and abroad about what individuals can do to make our local environments friendlier for beneficial insects, butterflies and birds.  Recently, in my neighborhood, there was a lengthy discussion on one of the local Nextdoor online forums, under the subject title “do less work,” meaning to do less yard work to protect beneficial insects.  The core points were that if we “leave the leaves,” promote wild areas in our yards, and replace lawns with native trees, bushes and flowers, our yards will largely take care of themselves while encouraging beneficial insects and butterflies, that will in turn feed the birds.  This sounds like a win-win idea.

Yet, professional crews are mowing and blowing daily, often with multiple machines blasting simultaneously.  With so many people working from home these days, it can be a challenge to concentrate with the frequent and sometimes long- lasting drone of yard care devices.  The quiet needed for concentration (even inside homes, with windows closed) is disturbed by this noise. Aside from the disturbance, these machines cannot be good for the workers—not for their hearing and not for their lungs, even with protective gear. 

Leaves are often seen as the enemy.  Ironically, it is considered normal to bag up leaves, have them carted away, and then order mulch.  Why not let the leaves that fall from the trees be that mulch?

The idea of a perfect carpet of green grass has been heavily promoted by the lawn care industry for decades. Looking into the history of the lawn in the U.S*, there is growing evidence that having most residential plots surrounded by a carpet of manicured grass is problematic for the well-being of the planet and animals, including human beings. All around the country and the world conversations about these issues are ongoing and intensifying.  Regulations are getting on the books.  Quiet and poison-free yard and garden enterprises are popping up.  Awareness is changing as people educate themselves. 

It is a good time for focused wide-spread conversations on these issues.  How can we create better living environments for humans and other creatures–healthier, calmer, even more beautiful and give greater priority to what we can do to mitigate the climate crisis and extinction of species that our world is facing?  I invite that conversation and fervently hope that more communities can tap into the possibilities of shifting landscapes and be early adaptors of change.

For more information:

*“The Great American Lawn: How the Dream was Manufactured,” David Botti, August 9, 2019, New York Times:

“Why Lawns are not Sustainable in Ecosystem Gardening”

Ecosystem Gardener | Jan 17, 2021 | Sustainable Landscaping:

“How to lower the noise and help clear the air”

Rick Casey, January 19, 2021, San Antonio Report:

“Get Off My Lawn: How a small group of activists (our correspondent among them) got leaf blowers banned in the nation’s capital” by James Fallows, April 2019, The Atlantic:


Leaf Blower Editorial

[EDITORIAL] With COVID and Fires Putting Lung Health in Peril, It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Gas Leaf Blowers for Good


Would you consider letting a pickup truck idle in your driveway with its tailpipe aimed at your open windows for three hours each week? 

If a leaf blower is being used in your yard, that’s approximately the amount of pollutants that are entering your home environment for every fifteen minutes of use. 

Yes, that’s every fifteen minutes. Your passive acceptance of this practice spews carcinogenic benzene and fine particulates into your immediate environment at unsafe levels of exposure.  

According to a 2017 California Air Resources Board study, “for the best-selling commercial leaf blower, one hour of operation emits smog-forming pollution comparable to driving a 2016 Toyota Camry about 1100 miles, or approximately the distance from Los Angeles to Denver.” That is a fifteen-hour drive! 

So why, especially now when the Covid-19 virus threatens our lung health and fires rage across the state, would you contaminate your home with carcinogens that you would never consciously allow in your drinking water, food, or bedding? Beats me. But families all over my neighborhood who spend time and money to protect their families appear committed to this dirty and dangerous tool.

The Department of Health and Human Services has determined that benzene is a known carcinogen, which means it can cause cancer. Exposure to benzene may also be harmful to the reproductive organs. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to airborne particulates such as those from leaf blowers can affect both your lungs and your heart, leading to a variety of problems, including: heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, and decreased lung function. Children are particularly vulnerable.

I have heard neighbors say that they fear their gardener will charge them more if they tell him not to use the gas blower. Don’t you already pay more for organic food and filtered water? Clean air for your children to breathe should be as high on your list of priorities. 

Needless to say, operating a gas-powered leaf blower is even more harmful to the user, who inhales much more of the carcinogens along with high concentrations of microscopic ultrafine particles. So if you care a lick about environmental justice, then this is one more reason to put an end to the gas powered tool and provide better working conditions for the lawn and garden teams that work for you. 

Small, high-polluting engines like those used in lawn mowers and leaf blowers are harmful for every person on this planet. There are no exceptions. It’s time to say goodbye to the gas leaf blower. Here are some alternatives:

  • Ask your gardener to use an electric leaf blower instead. Commercial grade blowers are available and they are not only cleaner, they are much lighter for the user and quieter too! If your gardener doesn’t have the resources to purchase one, buy one for him—or at least buy one for him to use at your home. 
  • If you are a renter, let your landlord know that he or she is violating the law. The city’s Gas Powered Leaf Blower Ordinance (LAMC 112.04 c) states that gas-powered leaf blowers are prohibited within 500 feet of a residence. The city knows that these polluters cause health problems and that is why the ban has been in place since 1998. But needless to say, it is rarely enforced.
  • Leave the leaf litter where it is. Tell your gardener that he may let the leaves decompose in your flower beds and allow grass clippings to sit on the lawn. Grass clippings are a free, high-nitrogen fertilizer. When clippings decompose, they release their nutrients back to the lawn. 
  • Skip the mow and blow service altogether and landscape your yard to save both water and the need for a lawn care service. Reject the look of a yard perfectly free of stray leaves and dust and accept the healthier look of a yard that is closer to nature, where decomposing leaves add nutrients to your soil and birds and butterflies thrive. 

When Did the Suburbs Get so LOUD?


From The New York Times

Several municipalities around New York have urged homeowners to limit the use of noisy landscaping equipment because their neighbors are home during the pandemic.

Credit…Nadia Pillon
Ronda Kaysen

By Ronda Kaysen

  • Sept. 5, 2020

Q: I just moved from New York City to the suburbs and assumed I’d need time to adjust to the quiet. I was wrong. The noise from the leaf blowers and lawn mowers is constant and so loud. No sooner has a landscaping crew finished eviscerating the grass at one house, than another arrives to mow the next. Does this go on all the time? How do people tolerate it? Are there no regulations about this kind of noise?

A: You have just discovered a reality about suburban life: It’s not so quiet. Landscaping equipment, particularly the commercial-sized machines used by professionals, is loud. Leaf blowing and lawn mowing season lasts from the early spring through late fall, taking a break in winter, when the snow blowers come out. Suburbanites have been arguing about the issue for years, with some homeowners frustrated by the roar, which they say diminishes their quality of life and pollutes the environment, and others accepting the din as a necessary and intermittent price for a tidy aesthetic.

This spring, several municipalities around New York urged homeowners to limit the use of noisy landscaping equipment because so many people were home during the pandemic (and perhaps experiencing the pervasiveness of the disruption for the first time.) A number of towns in Westchester County, N.Y., for example, enacted temporary bans on leaf blowers so families could work and study in peace.

Check to see if your local municipality has an ordinance in place, as your neighbors may be using the equipment at hours or during months that are prohibited. Check to see if any county, state or health department rules about noise might apply.

Jamie L. Banks, the founder of Quiet Communities, an advocacy organization, suggests keeping a record of when the noise occurs, and videotaping or photographing the disruption as it happens. Record the noise levels at your property line with your smartphone using a sound level meter app. (The information you gather could be used to bolster your claim, should you decide to report your neighbor for noise violations.) But before you go that route, introduce yourself to your neighbors and raise the issue with them. Explain how the noise disrupts your life. There are solutions to this, as some landscapers do use quieter equipment.

If the rules in your community are lax, write letters to your elected officials requesting that they address the issue, especially as so many people continue to work and study from home. You could also look to see if any local environmental groups are already tackling the problem. This could be an opportunity to join their effort.

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.

Answers to your questions about real estate.


To the Editor:

Does anyone really like, or want, the use of leaf blowers?

Think about how they’re used. It isn’t just dead leaves and grass clippings that get blown into the air. It’s fungi, bacteria, animal and bird droppings, pesticide-laden dust, and anything else that has fallen or been applied to the lawn.

But if you watch landscapers work, they don’t just blow the debris off the lawn, they blow it into the street, where it lofts into the air rubber tire bits, diesel exhaust soot, and brake-pad wearings. (And virus-laden dust? What’s the proper “social distancing” measure for someone using a leaf blower?)

And then, of course, there’s the noise. Are you working at home, or learning at home? Can you concentrate on anything when a leaf blower fires up? Certainly not. So why is your productivity worth less than that of a landscaper?

Ban leaf blowers.

Ban them now.

Ban them forever.

And, yes, I know there’s a registry of companies that don’t use leaf blowers, but what’s the point if not everyone uses it?

Other towns have banned leaf blowers. Why can’t, or won’t, a self-proclaimed “environmentally-conscious” Princeton?

End the hypocrisy; ban leaf blowers.

Michael D. Diesso
Harrison Street


Dear neighbors,

I am not sure if you know this information, so I wanted to reach out to you.Would you please ask your landscapers to limit or cease their use of leaf blowers? Leaf blowers use extremely inefficient two-stroke engines, which cause deafening noise and carcinogenic air pollution in our neighborhoods.Leaf blowers do more to speed up climate change than even cars.Using a two-stroke leaf blower for a half hour emits the hydrocarbon equivalent of driving a pickup truck for 3,900 miles.Leaf blowers can harm the health of your family and neighbors. The ozone and fine particulate matter they emit are well-known contributors to asthma, heart attack, stroke, cancer, and other serious health conditions, including possibly childhood autism.Leaf-blower noise is deafening — literally. Prolonged exposure can cause permanent hearing loss.Leaf blowers blast ozone, pesticides, mold, and animal feces into your yard and our neighborhood.Leaf blowers harm the workers who use them because workers suffer long-term noise exposure and inhale the most pollutants.Leaf blowers remove the materials that birds need for nesting and foraging. With bird and insect numbers plummeting, we need to do whatever is possible to make our yards more hospitable to them.What are alternatives? You can ask your landscaper not to use leaf blowers. For your flower gardens, “leave the leaves” so that you won’t have to buy mulch or fertilizer. For your lawn, using rakes will take a few minutes longer, but will be healthier for your family, your neighbors, the workers, and the environment.


America’s Killer Lawns

Printed in The New York Times May 18, 2020

Untitled design (36)

Homeowners use up 10 times more pesticide per acre than farmers do. But we can change what we do in our own yards.

NASHVILLE — One day last fall, deep in the middle of a devastating drought, I was walking the dog when a van bearing the logo of a mosquito-control company blew past me and parked in front of a neighbor’s house. The whole vehicle stank of chemicals, even going 40 miles an hour.

The man who emerged from the truck donned a massive backpack carrying a tank full of insecticide and proceeded to spray every bush and plant in the yard. Then he got in his truck, drove two doors down, and sprayed that yard, too, before continuing his route all around the block.

Here’s the most heartbreaking thing about the whole episode: He was spraying for mosquitoes that didn’t even exist: Last year’s extreme drought ended mosquito-breeding season long before the first freeze. Nevertheless, the mosquito vans arrived every three weeks, right on schedule, drenching the yards with poison for no reason but the schedule itself.

And spraying for mosquitoes isn’t the half of it, as any walk through the lawn-care department of a big-box store will attest. People want the outdoors to work like an extension of their homes — fashionable, tidy, predictable. Above all, comfortable. So weedy yards filled with tiny wildflowers get bulldozed end to end and replaced with sod cared for by homeowners spraying from a bottle marked “backyard bug control” or by lawn services that leave behind tiny signs warning, “Lawn care application; keep off the grass.”

If only songbirds could read.

Most people don’t seem to know that in this context “application” and “control” are simply euphemisms for “poison.” A friend once mentioned to me that she’d love to put up a nest box for bluebirds, and I offered to help her choose a good box and a safe spot for it in her yard, explaining that she would also need to tell her yard service to stop spraying. “I had no idea those guys were spraying,” she said.

To enjoy a lush green lawn or to sit on your patio without being eaten alive by mosquitoes doesn’t seem like too much to ask unless you actually know that insecticides designed to kill mosquitoes will also kill every other kind of insect: earthworms and caterpillars, spiders and mites, honeybees and butterflies, native bees and lightning bugs. Unless you actually know that herbicides also kill insects when they ingest the poisoned plants.

The global insect die-off is so precipitous that, if the trend continues, there will be no insects left a hundred years from now. That’s a problem for more than the bugs themselves: Insects are responsible for pollinating roughly 75 percent of all flowering plants, including one-third of the human world’s food supply.

They form the basis of much of the animal world’s food supply, as well. When we poison the bugs and the weeds, we are also poisoning the turtles and tree frogs, the bats and screech owls, the songbirds and skinks.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” Francisco Sánchez-Bayo of the University of Sydney, Australia, told The Guardian last year.

Lawn chemicals are not, by themselves, the cause of the insect apocalypse, of course. Heat waves can render male insects sterile; loss of habitat can cause precipitous population declines; agricultural pesticides kill land insects and, by way of runoff into the nation’s waterways, aquatic insects, as well.

As individuals, we can help to slow such trends, but we don’t have the power to reverse them. Changing the way we think about our own yards is the only thing we have complete control over. And since homeowners use up 10 times more pesticide per acre than farmers do, changing the way we think about our yards can make a huge difference to our fellow creatures.

Get For You, a personalized daily digest with more stories like this.

It can make a huge difference to our own health, too: As the Garden Club of America notes in its Great Healthy Yard Project, synthetic pesticides are endocrine disrupters linked to an array of human health problems, including autism, A.D.H.D., diabetes and cancer. So many people have invested so completely in the chemical control of the outdoors that every subdivision in this country might as well be declared a Superfund site.

Changing our relationship to our yards is simple: Just don’t spray. Let the tiny wildflowers take root within the grass. Use an oscillating fan to keep the mosquitoes away. Tug the weeds out of the flower bed with your own hands and feel the benefit of a natural antidepressant at the same time. Trust the natural world to perform its own insect control, and watch the songbirds and the tree frogs and the box turtles and the friendly garter snakes return to their homes among us.

Because butterflies and bluebirds don’t respect property lines, our best hope is to make this simple change a community effort. For 25 years, my husband and I have been trying to create a wildlife sanctuary of this half-acre lot, planting native flowers for the bees and the butterflies, leaving the garden messy as a safe place for overwintering insects.

Despite our best efforts, our yard is being visibly changed anyway. Fewer birds. Fewer insects. Fewer everything. Half an acre, it turns out, is not enough to sustain wildlife unless the other half-acre lots are nature-friendly, too.

It’s spring now, and nearly every day I get a flier in the mail advertising a yard service or a mosquito-control company. I will never poison this yard, but I save the fliers anyway, as a reminder of what we’re up against. I keep them next to an eastern swallowtail butterfly that my 91-year-old father-in-law found dead on the sidewalk. He saved it for me because he knows how many flowers I’ve planted over the years to feed the pollinators.

I keep that poor dead butterfly, even though it breaks my heart, because I know what it cost my father-in-law to bring it to me. How he had to lock the brakes on his walker, hold onto one of the handles and stoop on arthritic knees to get to the ground. How gently he had to pick up the butterfly to keep from crumbling its wings into powder. How carefully he set it in the basket of the walker to protect it.

The Worst Urban Environmental Problem Of Our Time: Leaf Blowers. Extreme Pollution. Extreme noise.


Don’t underestimate the pollution caused by these machines.  Leaf blowers produce 300x more hydrocarbons (carcinogenic gas) than a car.  Cars have sophisticated filters like catalytic converters which greatly improve their hydrocarbon output. According to California’s Air Resources Board (CARB), there are 16 million small engines producing 50 MILLION TONS of smog-forming pollutants in just one area of California alone!

Ms. Baker,

Please google “leaf blower bans” to learn about the many states and cities that are ending the extreme noise and air pollution caused by leaf blowers and landscaping crews.

Gas Leaf Blowers have been banned or restricted in more than 350 municipalities across 31 states the landscaping industry has adjusted with more environmentally friendly practices using brooms, rakes, and electric blowers. Where these bans are in place, landscaping companies are still in business and prices haven’t gone up.

Don’t underestimate the pollution caused by these machines.  Leaf blowers produce 300x more hydrocarbons (carcinogenic gas) than a car.  Cars have sophisticated filters like catalytic converters which greatly improve their hydrocarbon output. According to California’s Air Resources Board (CARB), there are 16 million small engines producing 50 MILLION TONS of smog-forming pollutants and in one area of California alone.

Many people don’t realize how toxic conventional landscaping practices are for our health and the environment. Noisy, polluting leaf blowers are destroying the quality of life in our neighborhoods. When I arrive home from work to the revving and blaring of these engines, I wonder what happened to my once peaceful neighborhood. The #1 thing most homebuyers want is a quiet neighborhood. By demanding an overly manicured landscape, we’re destroying the soundscape and that’s going to lower the value of our homes.

When homeowners unrealistically demand that every leaf and twig are removed off their lawns, the result is a leaf blower battle-ground in the neighborhood. Landscapers claim this equipment is faster but they blast away at deafening levels for hours-on-end all day long. Meanwhile, the rest of us can’t work from home, we can’t open windows, we can’t relax in our garden, we can’t use our screened-in porch, and we can’t enjoy a healthy walk. You would think law-abiding, tax-paying citizens would have the right to peace on their own property. Leaf blowers are a public nuisance that substantially interferes with the enjoyment and use of one’s own private property — a basic right.

Leaf blower crews now operate year-round blowing dust on the hottest summer Code Red days and ruining the most beautiful fall days. They show up while the homeowner who hired them is at work. Those of us who work from home are left to endure it. The landscaping company wants to keep a year-round contract even though there is very little to do most months of the year. They seem to want their crews to look busy by making a ton of noise to prove they showed up. Meanwhile, they’re spewing toxic pollution into our air for no reason! There are no leaves to blow for 9 months of the year, but they blast away at 200 mph whipping up hazardous particles and contaminants at ground speeds greater than a Category 5 hurricane. (The Husqvarna company claims its Leaf Blower model 580BTS pumps out an airspeed of 206.2 MPH) Epidemiological studies have long recognized these particles cause damage to respiratory systems. What’s in this dust and particulate matter? A myriad of unpleasant things such as dried animal droppings, spores, fungi, pollen, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, brake-lining dust, tire-residue, and heavy metals.

We’ve banned tiny cigarettes in parks and other outdoor areas because we know how toxic second-hand smoke is, but leaf blower ‘second-hand smoke’ is a thousand times worse and I see them blowing away on every park, campus and green space in town. Gas leaf blower exhaust contains many of the same carcinogens found in second-hand cigarette smoke such as Benzene, 1-3 Butadiene, Toluene, and Formaldehyde and these pollutants are discharged into our neighborhood yards and parks in concentrated form. These are known carcinogens recognized by the World Health Organization.

The rest of us pay too high a price for someone else’s perceived “convenience” and the desire for unrealistic, hyper-clean lawns by an overly-loud, overly- polluting machine..

Don’t believe the unfortunate myth that landscaping is a great job for the working man. On the contrary, the landscaping industry takes advantage of our most vulnerable workers. Immigrant laborers carry these machines on their backs for up to 12 hours a day. Given the 115-decibel noise level, their hearing will be damaged. Only the very best ear protection available would shield them and usually, they wear none. They also breathe the toxic exhaust fumes which may lead to COPD or lung cancer. (Read about one worker here:

Another huge disadvantage is the injury done to our bird populations. Studies show birds display PTSD-like symptoms due to the constant din of overly-loud human activity. These birds are unable to successfully raise their young and are driven from their nests. With our yards sounding like industrial zones, will birds be able to successfully raise the next generation? (Study about birds and noise:

This is NOT a small problem.  Let’s fix it.

LINK to CARB information.

Here’s information about leaf blower emissions testing:

Thank you,

Leslie Nelson Inman


Study on leaf blower emissions.


California information on small gardening engine pollution. LINK:

Study about Atlanta and Ozone:

Atlanta’s Air Quality F for Ozone — Ozone is smog that exacerbates asthma. The report broke down measurements of high ozone days by county. Metro Atlanta, Fulton earned an “F” grade. LINK:

Georgias’s children’s asthma information 2016:

Landscaping workers suffer ill health. LINK:

Leslie Nelson Inman

Pollinator Friendly Yards  on Facebook

Defend Your Pollinator Garden: Here’s How I Easily Reported Pesticide Drift From My Neighbor’s Mosquito Spraying Company

Atlanta GA: I filed a complaint against my neighbor’s mosquito spraying company and the company received a formal warning letter from the Dept. Of Agriculture. Drift was detected on my property. Action will be taken against the company if more complaints are received. The more complaints we file against these mosquito spraying companies, the more power we have over our own property and pollinator gardens. My yard is an Audubon Sanctuary as well.

It was a very simple process:
1. I googled “Georgia Department of Agriculture Pesticides”.
2. I called “Pesticide Complaints and Enforcement”. I lodged a formal complaint over the phone. It took 5 minutes.
3. They sent someone out to take my testimony and samples of my plants back to their lab.
4. Drift of Talstar/Bifenthrin was detected on my plants.

5. A warning letter was sent to the company.