I am driving back and forth to school, and I see large bags all over the roadway that are filled with leaves. I asked my 10-year old daughter if she knew why people should rake and bag leaves, and her simple reply was, “Your lawn looks better.” Her answer is exactly why most people rake the leaves out of their yards. People remove leaves from their lawns because they view it as a cleaner look with better curb appeal. But what you need to know is that fall leaves can impact not only a healthy lawn or garden but also the environment.
I totally understand why people want to rake leaves and clean up the yard, but what you do with the leaves is something you should consider. Instead of bundling up the leaves in a large bag and placing it street-side, consider using them for their nutrients. When the leaves are picked up by the public works department, they are hauled off to the landfill where the piles of debris undergo anaerobic decomposition due to the lack of oxygen. This results in the release of methane into our environment and contributes to climate change. According to the EPA Website (epa.gov), “In 2017, landfills received about 8.7 million tons of yard trimmings, which comprised 6.2 percent of all MSW (municipal solid waste) landfilled.” Moreover, when homeowners use blowers some leaves can end up in the watershed. This vegetative material then decomposes in the water generating nutrients that can also cause excess amounts of nitrogen, contributing to conditions favorable for toxic algae blooms.
Leaves are a natural fertilizer, weed barrier, and wildlife sanctuary and can easily be used as a mulch product. Instead of bagging or blowing the material, gather the leaves and place them around your bushes, plants, and trees. This will help recycle the natural fertilizer to the benefit of the plant. Due to the availability of oxygen in composting, the leaves will decompose without producing much, if any, methane and continually feed plants with healthy nutrients throughout the winter. And for the caterpillars or other creatures that rely upon vegetative debris for winter survival, you provide the perfect sanctuary for the winter. So, next time you consider bagging and removing your leaves, sure – bag them, but recycle them. Your plants, environment and even the caterpillars will benefit!