As the beautiful fall leaves turn brown and drop onto the lawns below, many of us find an instinctual urge to rake them up into a large, neat pile. But what if I told you that you could create a better lawn and more habitat for wildlife with less work?
It has been an agelong practice to rake the leaves from your yard and dispose of them elsewhere. According to the National Audubon Society, 8 million tons of fallen leaves end up in our landfills each year. Not only are those leaves confined in plastic bags that won’t readily decompose, but this green yard waste is taking up space in our landfills. Up to 18-50 percent of landfill waste is comprised of yard waste (EPA). Many of us rake our yards to create an overall cleaner look and to protect the grass from dying. While partially true, this myth has been the culprit of eradicating critical nutrients from our yards for decades. Leaving leaves on the ground as mulch can be an effective method of supporting healthy soils and a healthy yard. It is true that leaving an excessive amount of leaves on your lawn throughout the winter can smother the areas below; however, this can be easily avoided with a few alternative methods to dealing with your fallen leaves.
One of the ways to approach the leaves in your yard is to simply let them be. When leaves fall in the forest, no one is there to pick them up. And that’s a good thing! Fallen leaves provide up to 80% of the nutrients that the surrounding trees receive. This leaf layer also regulates the moisture and temperature levels that the trees need. The most effective way of getting the most benefit out of them is to leave them alone. Not only do leaves provide natural fertilizer, but they are also good habitat for birds throughout the winter. Wintering insects will live in these leaf piles and provide a crucial food source and shelter for native birds.
Another option is to mulch the leaves on your lawn into smaller pieces. This way your lawn is getting all the benefits from the leaves, but you’re ensuring that sunlight can still get through to the grass below. Mulching fall leaves can be done with a regular lawnmower, or with special mulching attachments. Mulching your leaves will allow for the protection of soils and prevention of weed growth. Mowing regularly will also ensure less visible debris on your yard if that is a concern with neighbors. If you would rather not leave the chopped-up pieces scattered throughout your yard, use the leaves as mulch for your garden instead!
Creating a home compost pile is another option for fallen leaves. By scooping leaves into a designated pile or bin, you can keep your yard clean and let the leaves decompose naturally. This pile can then be a place to dispose of future coffee grounds, uneaten fruit, eggshells, and other kitchen wastes. Keep in mind that compost piles should be turned at least once every week. If you’re certain you don’t want the leaves, check with neighbors, friends, or local nature centers before disposing of them into a landfill. Burning them is also not an ideal disposal method, as these debris fires can quickly grow out of control and be hard to suppress.
Challenge yourself this fall to leave the leaves and get into new practices that can better benefit your yard and the great diversity of species that may thrive there.
What do you do with the leaves in your yard?