On the ½ acre of land that our house sits on, we have ten large trees (three evergreens and seven deciduous) with an additional three deciduous trees that we share with our neighbor. As you can imagine, our yard quickly can become overrun with fall leaves, and usually does by mid-October. Historically, my husband has spent minimally 2-hours an evening throughout the season to get fall leaves down to the street for the two pickups done by the City of Fort Wayne. Inevitably, after the second pick up, we will still have multiple piles that I have to look up to see the top of, and I am 5’5! Not only do the beautiful fall leaves dropping into our yard drive my husband crazy, but they have the potential to impact water quality in our rivers.
Whenever I mention that leaves can cause stormwater pollution, I always am met with a bit of resistance.
- Leaves are natural. How could they possibly be polluting stormwater?
- I can’t leave them; they will kill my grass!
- I prioritize motorcycle and biking safety; they can cause slick driving conditions!
But did you know:
I am going to challenge you to think about a non-urban space, one that has no concrete and no human inference. What happens to fall leaves? They fall near the tree and stay there to decompose. Rainwater in those areas filters down into the ground, and both the rainwater and the decomposing organic matter (such as leaves) recharge the soil.
In an urban space, this picture-perfect cycle does not get a chance to work the way nature intended. Instead, rainwater hits hard surfaces and is piped away to rivers from all over. As for fall leaves, they rarely have the chance to decompose naturally. So how can we keep stormwater from becoming polluted, our grass from dying, and keep roadways safe from slick driving conditions? Simple adjustments in our behavior allow us to manage all of these goals!
Leave the Leaves!
As stated previously, leaves can help your lawn by improving soil health and water retention. To help leaves decompose quicker, mulch the leaves with a lawnmower. A lot of local birds and other wildlife depend on fall leaf litter to survive the winter. By leaving the leaves on the ground, you are helping to facilitate life throughout the colder months.
I am very passionate about composting. In graduate school, I was introduced to composting, where I help on my university’s farm. I was instantly swept away by the possibilities of limiting my waste output. Since then, I have created two vermicomposting (worm) bins in my home, and an aerobic (non-worm) composting bin that sits outside. Leaves are rich in carbon, making them a great choice for “brown” materials for compost bins. Harvested compost is the perfect fertilizer for gardens in the spring. I personally only like to add leaf clippings to my aerobic pile; because I prefer not to introduce critters into my vermicomposting bin-but that is a very personal choice!
Avoid piling leaves on the street!
While driving around in the Fall, it is a common to see leaves lining the street. This is one of the worst habits for leaf removal in regards to water quality. When it rains, the leaves piled on streets are likely to get washed away into storm drains, which will cause localized flooding. Additionally, when leaves are placed on a hard surface, organic matter has only one place to go- our waterways.
Instead of piling them on the street, stack them in the grass alongside the road in between your sidewalk and the street. The night before your scheduled pickup put leaves in the street, or leave them in the grass!
by Jacquelyn Buck