Leave it Be? Weighing Your Fall Clean-up Options

For many homeowners, fall ushers in one unavoidable dilemma: What should I do with the leaves in my yard?

The answer depends on many factors, including: 

Your community - Do you live in an area that offers curbside leaf collection services? Or, are you governed by a Homeowners’ Association that stipulates fall clean-up requirements? 

Personal preferences - Do you take pride in keeping your yard neat and tidy? Or, would you rather compromise on appearances and create an environmentally-friendly oasis?

Your neighbors - Will leaves from your yard impact the family next door, or vice versa?

All these considerations, plus others, make fall leaf clean-up a surprisingly complicated chore for homeowners.

Reasons To Keep Your Leaves

If you have some leeway in deciding if your leaves will stay or go, consider these reasons for letting them hang around.

1. Leaves in Landfills

According to the most recent Environmental Protection Agency estimates (2015), U.S. municipalities collect over 34.7 million tons of leaves, brush, and grass clippings each year. Over two-thirds of those yard trimmings (21.3 million tons) are composted. The remainder is sent to landfills, along with solid waste.

Environmental experts say that leaves in landfills take up valuable space and contribute to the production of the greenhouse gas methane when the leaves decompose along with other organic materials.

2. Free Fertilizer and Mulch

Leaves that decompose in your yard can add valuable nutrients to your soil, lawn, and plantings. The leaves will break down faster if they’re chopped into smaller pieces, using a lawn mower’s mulching feature, for example.

Larger leaves left in perennial borders and garden beds can act as a weed deterrent and help protect plants and bulbs from extreme winter freezes.

3. Bugs, Butterflies, and Birds

Many beneficial insects rely on leaf litter as a safe hiding spot for laying their eggs. If you remove the leaves, you may, for example, see fewer butterflies in your yard next summer. 

Since birds rely on insect larvae to feed themselves and their babies in the spring, so you may also negatively affect the local bird population.

Clean-up Options

Leaf clean-up doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Options include:

Use a mulching lawnmower to break down significant accumulations of leaves on your grass. You may need to repeat the process. 

Rake your leaves into your beds and borders, then wait until spring to clean them up.

Add leaves to a compost pile, either raking by hand or using your lawnmower’s bagging attachment.

Of course, hand-powered tools are a more environmentally-friendly choice than gas-powered equipment, so you may prefer to use a rake instead of a lawnmower or leaf blower.

Neighborly Considerations

Perhaps you’re convinced that it’s time to postpone or stop removing your leaves. But what if your neighbor puts a lot of time and effort into keeping their yard leaf-free?

Fall weather often includes strong, windy days, rapidly relocating leaves from one yard to the next. 

If you’ve mulched your leaves, they’ll probably sit tight. However, if you’ve collected larger leaves in spots amidst your plantings, try lightly watering them into these spaces. They’ll be less likely to take flight.