Raking, blowing, or otherwise removing fallen leaves from your landscape can feel like a never ending task this time of year. Instead of spending your fall weekends chasing after the leaves, consider doing the environmentally friendly thing and let them stay where they fall! The decomposing leaves add nutrients to your garden as well as providing food, shelter and nesting material for all manner of wildlife including birds, butterflies, turtles and the insects that many creatures rely on.
This is not to say that you should leave a thick layer that could smother your lawn (although replacing lawn with more native plants and meadow is a great alternative!) so if you must remove them from certain areas consider using your mulching mower (without the bag) to finely shred them into the lawn to decompose and provide nutrients for the grass. You can also collect them to add to your compost pile. Both of these alternatives still deprive the critters of much-needed habitat so consider moving them to your natural areas under trees, using them for mulch around your plantings and create a brush pile to serve as shelter for critters.
Bagging your leaves to go to a landfill is one of the most environmentally damaging things you can do with them. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, leaves and other yard debris account for more than 13 percent of the nation’s solid waste—a whopping 33 million tons a year. Without enough oxygen to decompose, this organic matter releases the greenhouse gas methane, says Joe Lamp’l, author of The Green Gardener’s Guide. In fact, solid-waste landfills are the largest U.S. source of man-made methane—and that’s aside from the carbon dioxide generated by gas-powered blowers and trucks used in leaf disposal. Check with your township to see if their leaf collection program uses them to create compost or mulch that can then be returned to you for a great soil amendment.
Maybe best of all, leaving the leaves leaves you more time to enjoy the glorious weather and colors of fall!