When autumn brings a nip to the air, we used to smell burning leaves all over our Southern neighborhood. Times change, though, and with the twenty-first century came a new drive to sequester carbon and reduce pollution. That meant that leaves that homeowners once burned now got composted. Still, sometimes a fire can do a garden good. Before you burn, you should consider what you’re burning and whether you’re doing good for your garden and the environment.
First, burning anything can release pollution into the environment. Second, burning material like leaves can increase the pH in your soil. I consider those issues in light of what burning can accomplish. With regard to environmental damage, every once in a while using fire to reduce garden pests is actually a good idea. It means you can keep pesticides out of your garden and the environment, so I consider a periodic burning a good thing–just not something you should choose lightly. Second, my soil tends to be a little acidic to begin with; adding leaf ash to the garden lets me amend the soil without resorting to chemicals. If you’re not sure if your garden would benefit from burning, check your soil pH. If it’s on the acidic side, burning may help.
Now that you’ve decided to burn, let’s talk about how to do it safely. I put a layer of dry leaves, collected from the yard, almost a foot deep in the area of the garden I wanted to burn. I spread them out fairly evenly and then, on a day with virtually no wind, lit a match to the edge. I made sure that the perimeter around the area I was burning was clear of dry material, and I kept a garden hose ready in case the flames should escape to another area of the garden. Within a matter of minutes, the leaves had all burned, and I had a fresh, weedless area in which to plant anew.