We all love the beauty of the changing leaves. What’s less enjoyable is managing them once they fall off the trees. Here are some ways to stay green when dealing with autumn leaves.
1. Use them as mulch
Perhaps the easiest approach to dealing with fallen leaves is also the greenest. Leaving leaves on the ground is a great source of nutrients for lawns, said Cassandra Ford, of the city of Lawrence’s Waste Reduction and Recycling Division. Of course, some work has to be done.
Left alone, the leaves form a sort of wet blanket and keep other important nutrients from getting through. However, running a lawn mower over the leaves a couple of times chops them up into small pieces, turning them into valuable mulch.
For grass with a thick blanket of leaves, set the mower on the highest setting, Ford said.
Jennifer Smith, horticulture agent for Kansas State University Research and Extension-Douglas County, also recommends mowing over leaves as the best approach.
“You’re returning organic matter to the soil. And we know that organic matter is good for all plants. It saves on fertilizer and water for next year,” Smith said.
2. Use them as compost
For some lawns, turning the leaves into mulch just isn’t doable. Lawns that are home to large, mature trees, such as those in Old West Lawrence, just have too many leaves to mow. And, sometimes the leaves are too small or too thick to be broken into mulch.
When that’s the case, the next best option is composting the leaves. But trust us, composting leaves isn’t as hard as it sounds. In fact it can be as easy as building a big pile of leaves in the corner of the lawn and leaving them there until spring. Of course, putting them in an enclosure helps keep the leaves from blowing away.
“You’ll have compost by the time you’ll need it in the spring,” Ford said. “The leaves break down pretty easily.”
3. Send them to the city’s compost pile
For those that prefer not to see a pile of leaves all winter, send them to the city’s composting facility. The leaves can be placed in an empty trash can, a cart that costs $2 a month to rent from the city (call 832-3032) or a yard waste paper bag. The bags can be purchased from the city (call 832-3030), almost any hardware store or many grocery stores. At the city, you receive a 10-pack of 30-gallon bags for $5.
No plastic bags, even those labeled as biodegradable, will be accepted.
The city of Lawrence picks up yard waste every Monday morning from March through mid-December, except on holidays.
4. Don’t burn them
Perhaps the least environmentally friendly thing is to burn the leaves. For starters, it wastes high-quality nutrients.“It’s basically like burning fertilizer,” Smith said.
But it is also bad for air quality, even in small amounts. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, burning of leaves creates particulate matter and hydrocarbons, which contain a number of toxic, irritant, and cancer-causing compounds. The smoke also contains carbon monoxide.
And, you can’t burn leaves inside the city of Lawrence unless you have a permit from the fire department.
Other major environmental no-no’s include sending the leaves to the landfill or pushing them into the street where they can be swept into the city’s storm drains and streams. That can lead to an increased risk in localized flooding and can add pollutants to our waterways.