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  • Writer's pictureDarcy Morehouse

The Great Leaf Debate

I am head over heels in love with fall in the Adirondacks. The colors, the smells, the cider donuts! It's just magic. Honestly though? I've got about 2 more weeks of the magic-feeling before I start secretly resenting the cold, the dark, and the yard full of leaves. I get real grumpy until about mid-May.

Those of us who grew up with mean parents (I am one now) had the unfortunate and backbreaking job of hand raking every single leaf that fell in the yard. I don't know why, it's just something that you did every fall, like soccer, and remembering that you hate school. Leaf cleanup is a lot easier these days, thanks to a good leaf blower and teenagers of my own that I can order around like the evil stepmother that I am. It's still a chore though, and like any chore, I'm always thinking of ways to get out of it.

So the question is: Do I really need to remove the leaves from my yard??

There are a lot of great arguments on both sides of the debate (unlike the dumpster fire some of us watched the other night). For example, fallen leaves can be really beneficial for the little ecosystems in our yards, they can help regulate the soil temperature and improve water retention. They are also full of nutrients and organic matter.

On the other hand, leaving a layer of leaves on the lawn is like really bad for your grass. And we love grass. Like a lot. Like more than a friend. As well as being good for the beneficial critters, leaves are good for the harmful ones too. They also create the perfect environment for disease, fungus, and rot. They smother the grass, block the sun, and deprive the roots of oxygen. Fall is a time when your grass should be strengthening it's root system and getting ready for the long, dark, depressing, dreadful, never-ending, upstate winter. Yeah, real grumpy.

Leaf removal can be bad for the environment, but also, so can leaving them there. So. Like. What do we do?

So I guess the better question is: How can I protect my lawn while still being kind to the earth??

Yes, we live here, but we're not the only ones. As much as we love and take pride in our yard, we try to always be mindful of the impact that we have on the earth and the other creatures who live here too. With that in mind, here are some easy options for leaf control that are good for the grass and good for the environment.

1. Mulch the Leaves. If there is a light layer of leaves in your yard, you can literally just mow over them. There are special mulching blades you can use, or you can just set your mower blades to the highest setting (which you should be doing anyway!). Mowing will shred the leaves and break them down small enough to let light and oxygen through, and the leaves will decompose and add the nutrients and organic matter back into the soil. Any time we can get all natural fertilizer, without using additional expensive products, we're all for it. A good rule of thumb is if the leaves cover less than 50% of the ground, then they're safe to mulch. Any more than that, and it's time to get rid of them!

2. Blow Them Into the Woods. If you're one of the many people up here who live near a patch of woods, you can really just blow the leaves right into them! It's harmless, and helps create and sustain those little habitats we talked about. In fact, it's better, because those habitats are farther away from your house and garden. Just make sure there is no trash from your yard that gets blown with the leaves. You know, like 3 dozen deflated soccer balls and every single freeze pop wrapper from an entire summer.

3. Compost. Leaves are great to mix into a compost pile. While they may not decompose nicely all by themselves, when mixed with food waste, chicken poop, etc... they can turn into an awesome compost for your garden.

4. Add to Your Garden. Speaking of gardens, leaves can also be used to cover your beds for the winter. Be sure to mulch any large leaves first, then cover the beds with up to 2" of leaf mulch. The extra layer of organic matter will break down and feed the soil, as well as help to insulate the roots of perennials. If you have vegetable beds, you can mix the leaves in with the soil a little bit, and maybe add a little compost or organic fertilizer. After sitting all winter, you'll have some really gorgeous rich soil for next year's garden, without spending a dime.

5. Bag Them Up. The last resort is to bag the leaves up and leave them for a roadside pickup, if your neighborhood offers it. As much as we hate to see the leaves go to waste, or even worse, end up in a landfill, sometimes this is the only option for getting rid of them. So make sure to use compost bags which break down (Allen & Palmer always has them), and not the black plastic bags.

We would love to hear what you do with your leaves in the fall? Have you used them in your garden? Send us any tips or tricks you have for dealing with leaves, or any questions you may have!


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