Leaf fall can start early here in Texas— and it can last long into the winter. Regularly raking up and bagging can be a daunting task, but it’s the price of summer shade and beautiful foliage. Or is it?
Would it surprise you to learn that at least 20 percent of the solid waste generated by Texans comes from grass clippings, tree leaves, and other landscape wastes?* And that of that waste about half is made up of tree leaves? This means that about 10% of the garbage that is sitting in landfills is made up of leaves!
This might not mean anything to you until you yet. But consider this, every time you bag up leaves and lawn clippings for curbside garbage collection, all of that waste goes to the landfill where it takes up valuable space. This can increase your taxes and service fees. Now we’ve got your attention!
It’s Not Just About Landfills and Taxes
By bagging up leaves and sending them away, you are actually robbing yourself of a free natural resource. Leaves are perfect for use as organic matter that provides nutrients for use in your landscape. Nature knows what it’s doing.
One acre of forest trees shed as much as two tons each fall. In natural settings, organic wastes form a natural carpet over the soil.
This carper helps to conserve moisture, modify temperatures, and prevent soil erosion and crusting. Fungi, bacteria, and other organisms decompose the leaves, which supplies plants with a natural, slow-release form of nutrients.
You can take advantage of this same concept in your landscape. Five reasons why you should put the rake down and let the leaves lie.
1. Bagged Leaves and Yard Waste Take up Space in Landfills
As we’ve already mentioned, bagged yard waste makes up about 20% of the waste in Texas landfills and an average of 13% nationwide. But not only do leaves take up space, when combined with other organic waste they can decompose and create methane. This potent greenhouse gas contributes to climate change.
2. A Healthier Lawn for Less Money
Nature is smart. It knows what it is doing. There is a reason that leaves fall and sits on the ground in natural settings. Not only do they cover uproot systems, preserve soil moisture, and suppress weeds and other plants, but when they break down, they return essential nutrients to the soil.
Different species perform different roles as they break down—some are great at reducing weed germination while others provide specific minerals to the soil like nitrogen. This means less money spent by you for fertilizer.
3. Support Your Ecosystem
According to the National Wildlife Federation, “The leaf layer is its mini-ecosystem!”. And this ecosystem supports the larger ecosystem that is your yard, which eventually supports an even larger ecosystem, the planet.
Leaves are a natural habitat for caterpillars, butterflies, salamanders, chipmunks, box turtles, toads, shrews, earthworms, and other little critters who lay eggs in the leaves and feed on and under the leaf layer. Don’t kill or chase off beneficial insects by raking or blowing leaves!
4. The Pros and Cons of Leaf Blowers
Leaf blowers are an important tool used to maintain landscapes, but they are not always necessary for every landscape. Leaf blowers cause noise pollution and use fossil fuels. If you are concerned with those two issues, then skipping the leaf blowing and leaving the leaves is an option.
5. You Can Use the Time Raking for Something Else
The amount of time you spend raking will depend on the size of your yard and the number of deciduous trees in it. Regardless of whether it takes you an hour or ten hours to get all the leaves raked up, wouldn’t you prefer to be doing something else?
At This Point Maybe You Are Asking One of These Questions
Okay. So if I’m not going to rake up the leaves, what should I do with them? I hear you, but my HOA requires that leaves be removed, so what now? I want to contribute, but I live in a high-risk wildlife area and leaves are a fire hazard, what can I do? Here are eight suggestions on how to use and manage leaves.
1. Manage Leaves With Your Mower
You can mow a light covering and then leave the shredded leaves on the lawn. Although this technique is most effective when using a mulching mower, a regular mower can produce good results as well. If you have few trees or are experiencing a light leaf drop, this technique may be the most efficient and simplest way to manage leaf fall.
2. Compost Your Leaves
Leaves are carbon-rich and perfect for composting. With a little nitrogen added to the mix, compost can be a great nutrient-dense addition for the soil in your garden.
3. Use Them as Mulch
No need to spend extra on mulch when you already have so much lying around your yard in the form of leaves! Leaves are easy to collect and apply. They maintain the soil’s moisture and temperature and can prevent weeds, soil erosion, and soil compaction.
4. Save Leaves for the Spring
Get thrifty and think ahead! Bag up the leaves and store them until spring. By thinking ahead, you’ll already have plenty of organic matter on hand to use for compost, mulch, or in the garden.
5. Use the Leaves for Leaf Mold
Leave a pile of leaves to decompose produces a soil amendment called leaf mold. Leaf mold increases moisture retention in the soil and can be used as mulch or tilled into the soil. Leaves left to decompose on their own will take 6-12 months to break down. Unlike composting, you don’t add any other ingredients to the pile.
5. Donate the Leaves
You may have so many leaves clogging up your landscape that you can’t imagine wanting anyone to pile more on, but some people don’t have access to fallen leaves who would be happy to have them to use for mulch, compost or leaf mold. Some of these people might live in your neighborhood or be a part of urban community gardens or schools with learning classrooms.
6. Create a Shelter for the Critters
Making a brush shelter is a great project if you have kids or want to attract wildlife to your yard. You could keep it small by leaving a pile of leaves to decompose (perfect for leaf mold too!) Or you could build brush shelters for animals about the size of a rabbit.
To Build One of a Brush Shelter:
- Start with a bed of leaves.
- Place logs or large branches on top.
- Make a dome with tree limbs. To do this, you will decrease the branch size as it gets higher.
- Fill up the inside of the dome for added shelter. This will also allow the branches to shelter the insects.
It’s amazing to see the variety of wildlife the shelter can attract. Don’t get discouraged if small animals like chipmunks run away with leaves to use for their nest!
7. Use Leaves for Art Projects
Remember all those projects you did as a kid using found objects? The variety of colors and shapes makes them perfect for making fall collages, leaf prints, and table centerpieces. There are a variety of ways that you can use leaves to decorate your home. Get creative!
Caveat: You’ll probably still need to do some raking
If you have very little leaf fall in your yard, you could let your leaves hang out right where they are. But if you have a larger yard you want to mulch or compost or create leaf mold piles, you’ll still need to do some raking.
This is where suggestion eight comes in!
8. Use the Leaves for Exercise
We know that all that raking can be a bummer, but keep this in mind: raking and bagging can burn an average of 350 – 450 calories per hour. And you can make raking fun by making a big leaf pile and jumping in! Your kids and dogs can join in the fun too!
Contact Us Now
We hope this article has inspired you to find new ways to manage your yard! We know that every yard is different, and some present challenges.
If you have a challenging landscape, our experts at Complete Landsculpture have the knowledge and know-how required to help you evaluate what the best course of action is for your specific leaf fall. We offer complete solutions to keep your landscape vibrant and healthy. Contact us today!