As leaves begin to fall, you may be reaching for your rake or leaf blower, but leaves play an important role in the environment. They are a valuable resource to wildlife, are an excellent mulch, and provide nutrients to the soil as they break down. But if they are bagged and thrown away, they end up in landfills where they do more harm than good.
According to the EPA, yard debris accounts for 13% of the nation’s solid waste in landfills. That equates to 33 million tons a year. In a landfill environment, organic material, like leaves, lack sufficient oxygen to safely break down, producing methane; a greenhouse gas 25 times worse than CO2. When leaves are raked, bagged, and thrown out, this ultimately becomes their fate.
Leaves are also an important resource for a variety of wildlife. Turtles and toads, birds, mammals, and invertebrates all rely on leaf litter for food, shelter, and nesting material. When leaves are sent to a landfill, not only do they produce methane and take up already scarce space, but a valuable resource for wildlife is removed as well.
Instead, leaves can be used as a natural mulch that suppresses weeds, holds in moisture, and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down. These added nutrients will feed your lawn and other plants as well as the microbes in the soil that plants depend on.
Tips for using leaves:
- If the leaves on your lawn are sparse, they can safely be left where they are to break down.
- If leaves are piled up or are too thick, they can smother grass. To prevent this, run a lawn mower over the leaves to chop them up. This will prevent any harm to grass and allow the leaves to break down faster. Once chopped, the leaves can stay where they are.
- If you have an overabundance of leaves or do not want them on your lawn, you can rake them into a garden or flower bed, or around trees. These can be either whole or shredded.
- Leaves also make a great addition to compost, adding vital organic matter.
A leafless lawn may be appealing to some, but leaves provide many benefits to wildlife, soil health, plants, and therefore us. So please consider leaving your leaves this fall!