Once the beautiful gold and red leaves have turned brown and start cluttering up your lawn, the temptation is strong to clean them up before they get covered in snow. But you may want to rethink how you want to handle your leaves for your pre-winter yard prep this year to get the most out of your garden come spring.
(Brag your love of gardening with the Organic Life 2018 Wall Calendar, featuring gorgeous photographs, cooking tips and recipes, plus how to eat more—and waste less—of what's in season.)
While you think you're just cleaning up your own home, you're in fact also destroying the homes of many species of wildlife. According to the National Wildlife Federation, your fallen leaves can protect or feed creatures, from salamanders, chipmunks, and box turtles to toads, shrews, earthworms, and butterfly pupae. These critters play important roles in the ecosystem of your garden.
Plus, there's no back-breaking labor for you, so that's a big bonus. King 5 News explains why you shouldn't bother raking this year.
If you feel like you're really getting the stink eye from your neighbors for your "messy" lawn, and so decide to rake up your leaves, don't ditch them or you'll be throwing away valuable compost for your garden and cluttering up landfills.
If you're not set up to compost them yourself, the National Wildlife Federation recommends bringing them to a municipal recycling center. Check with your local center first about its preferences, but consider avoiding plastic bags and instead using bags that can decompose (such as un-dyed paper or specially designed plastic), or see if you can bring your leaves over in reusable plastic bags or garbage cans and dump it straight onto the center's compost pile. If you're a backyard chicken keeper, add leaves to your coop's bedding. Your chickens will be entertained by scratching through the leaves, and they will turn the leaves into fantastic compost in the process.
Not only do they enrich your soil, but you can also use these fallen leaves to protect your garden from weeds. "There are two cardinal rules for using organic mulches to combat weeds," says Debora L. Martin, author of Rodale's Basic Organic Gardening. "First, be sure to lay the mulch down on soil that is already weeded, and second, lay down a thick enough layer to discourage new weeds from coming up through it." This can range from anywhere from 2 inches in the shade to up to 6 inches in full sun.
If you're really stuck for how to get rid of your leaves, do not—repeat: do not—burn them. Burning leaves is not just a fire hazard; it also releases pollutants including particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons, into the air.
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