Just ‘Leaf’ it be!

Leaves Don't go into Storm DrainsTis the season for brightly colored corn cobs, sweaters, hot apple cider and leaves. Lots of leaves. We all know that leaves come from the trees in our forests, along the streets, and in our back yard. But where do the leaves go? If humans did nothing, the leaves would pile up on a forest floor creating an insulating carpet that protects the ground (including the plants and animals that live there) for the winter. In the spring, the leaves soak up extra water and decay slowly, enriching the ground with nutrients. However, most people rake, blow, mow or in some way move leaves from their lawns into piles, often inviting children at heart to play in the piles. Some people use these leaves to fertilize and cover their garden. Many people bag them up and let their city take them away (never to be seen again). Often, huge piles of leaves are stowed along the side of road, near storm drains. When this happens, leaves can go down the drain, into the nearest stream exposing the ecosystem to an overload of nutrients. While some leaves are essential food for the tiniest creatures forming the base of the food web, too many, all at once, carrying lots of other nutrients and debris along with them, are just too much of a good thing. Sometimes, these large piles of leaves block the storm drains completely. If this happens before a rain storm, the rainwater is blocked and can end up flooding the street, nearby backyards and even potentially basements.

So what can you do? You could “just leaf it be”! Try leaving the leaves on your lawn just once. Maybe just a section of your yard with not too many leaves. The leaves will release nutrients back into your grass, reducing the need for you to fertilize your grass in the spring. It also provides a great way to block weeds, which always seem to be the first to grow in the spring. Or rake them up and use them in flower beds, gardens, a compost pile, wherever the leaves can be a benefit. Many cities post dates when they will collect yard waste. Check your local paper, the city website or ask around for the pickup date. In the meantime, here are a few tips.

– The day before (not weeks before) the scheduled pickup date, gather all the leaves to the curb. This way, your leaves are not sitting on the curb for long periods of time with more possibility of getting blown into a storm drain or blown into the street, where they can become an overload to the system.

– When you do pile your leaves, do not pile them in the street, put them on your easement.

– Some cities recommend putting the leaving into a bag, which contains them much better than an open pile. However, the bag is not biodegradable while the leaves are. Check your city’s instructions for their recommendations.

– If you do live near a ditch or stream, naturally leaves will end up there, which is fine. But do not put the piles and piles of leaves into it. This is like adding slow releasing fertilizer into the stream.

– When you do pile your leaves, please make sure to keep access to fire hydrants, mail boxes and to driveways clear.

While you are enjoying fall, please remember to take care of your leaves properly. If you have questions about the best way to care for your yard, there are many resources online or by asking a Soil and Water District or an environmental group, like PCS, near you. That way, we can all enjoy the beauty and joy that fall brings.