What Can You Do With Autumn Leaves?

As autumn arrives, one of the world’s most beautiful and infuriating natural features arrives: leaves falling from the trees. Autumn leaves look beautiful attached to trees, but many homeowners find fallen leaves to be an eyesore that covers their gardens or gets in the way.

Many people take to bagging up the leaves for landfill or even burning leaves to get rid of them.

If you don’t like the look of leaves on the ground, there are other ways of dealing with autumn leaves that don’t harm the environment. Leaves can be turned into mulch or compost without much more effort than raking and burning them, or you can even rake them into a corner of your garden to provide a habitat for wildlife and insects!

What is the most environmentally friendly way to get rid of autumn leaves?

There are many ways to get rid of autumn leaves, but a lot of people opt for the less environmentally friendly ways of getting rid of them. Raking up leaves and putting them in bags isn’t helping the environment or your time management! Even worse is burning the leaves.

Some of the most environmentally friendly ways of getting rid of autumn leaves include:

  • Mowing them into mulch
  • Composting
  • Leaving them to decompose

If you really want to get rid of your autumn leaves, you can rake them up and stuff them into bags, but make sure to send them to a place that will compost the leaves for you.

But why wouldn’t you want to send your leaves off to be disposed of by someone else?

The transportation emissions associated with collecting and disposing of leaves aren’t worth the effort you put into collecting and bagging the leaves. You’d probably contribute fewer carbon emissions by using a gasoline-powered lawn mower to clean them up.

Many leaf collectors will also just burn the leaves or send them to landfill. In fact, of 35.2 million tons of yard trimmings (including leaves) generated in 2017, over 8 thousand tons were sent to landfills, according to the EPA. An additional 2 thousand tons were combusted, generating some energy recovery.

The autumn leaves sent to landfills just take up space that could be used by non-biodegradable waste. Leaves also break down into methane, so will trap more methane in landfills.

It’s much better for the environment to keep the autumn leaves in your garden or compost them. Not only will it save you money but it will also help the environment recycle nutrients into the soil.

Like grass clippings, leaves are a free and natural fertilizer you can leave on the ground to preserve soil moisture, suppress weeds, and break down to return essential nutrients to the plants in your garden.

Leaf litter can also benefit the local ecosystem by providing a habitat for butterflies and moths. Other insects that live in the leaf litter are essential for birds to feed on.

While some people view fallen leaves as unsightly, it’s important to view leaves as part of the natural cycle of life. By shedding their leaves, trees can provide themselves with nutrients until spring by allowing the leaves to turn into mulch at their roots, and the autumn leaves can support and grow the local ecosystem over winter.

What is the best way to dispose of dry autumn leaves?

If you want to dispose of dry autumn leaves without collecting them, running over the leaves with a lawn mower mulching blade will enable the leaves to break down as quickly as possible. You can then move the mulch around as needed.

However, to dispose of dry leaves and keep them hidden away, adding autumn leaves to your compost heap or bin is ideal. This will allow the leaves to break down and you can use the compost as needed in your garden.

Do dead autumn leaves release CO2?

Dead leaves do release CO2 back into the atmosphere as the leaves decay.

According to MIT, the natural decay of organic carbon contributes over 90% of the annual carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere and oceans. Leaves decay at different rates depending on the local climate, soil, microbes, and the type of leaf.

A garden full of leaf litter won’t make a drastic difference to how much carbon dioxide is released. Remember that leaves decaying is a natural process and carbon is meant to be released back into the environment like this. You can’t stop trees shedding – and we shouldn’t want to!

Do rotting leaves give off methane?

Not only do decaying leaves release carbon dioxide, they also produce methane. This is also a natural process that cannot be stopped, but the amount of methane produced is still less than what would be generated by burning wood.

Can leaves be composted?

Leaves can be composted easily, either after shredding them or just adding them to the bottom of your compost heap.

For best results, breaking up the leaves with a mower or by hand will help the leaves decompose quickly. Make sure to add nitrogen sources, like grass clippings, to balance out the carbon from the leaves.

Be careful of diseased leaves that might spread pathogens across your compost, which will infect the plants once you use it. Brown or black spots with a yellow outline usually suggest that bacteria has diseased the leaves.

Will a pile of leaves decompose?

Because leaves are completely natural, a pile of leaves will decompose naturally over time, but this is slower than if you turned it into mulch or added it to your compost pile.

It can take between 6 to 12 months for leaves to naturally decompose into compost because of the lack of nitrogen.

Can you bury leaves in the soil?

Burying leaves in the soil will help break down the leaves, but you have to be careful not to bury too much in one place. If too many leaves are buried, nitrogen levels in the soil will be disturbed as too much carbon enters the ground at once.

You can bury leaves in flower bed soil as well. Make sure to bury the leaves at least 2 spades down so the leaves can break down without blocking the roots of new plants.

However, you shouldn’t bury leaves in vegetable beds in case of disease and pathogens hidden in the leaves.

Are dry leaves biodegradable?

All natural leaves are biodegradable. While wet leaves will decompose quicker, dry leaves are still biodegradable and will decompose with time.

Leaving dry leaves in your garden will allow wildlife, especially insects, to flock to your garden and make a habitat there. Leaf litter can support many types of wildlife, from the tiniest critters up to the top of the food chain.

Are dry leaves good for compost?

Dry leaves are great for composting. By making sure to thoroughly mix the leaves in your compost heap, you can encourage the leaves to break up and decompose more quickly.

Always make sure to balance the carbon levels of the leaves to nitrogen levels. One of the best nitrogen sources of waste is vegetable scraps. Kitchen waste can balance out your compost to retain a 50/50 mix of carbon and nitrogen or the ideal ratio of 30:1 carbon-to-nitrogen.

Can wet leaves be composted?

Leaves can be composted whether they’re wet or dry, but it’s important to make sure that you’re not adding too much water into your compost pile. Moist leaves are fine, but if the leaves are soaking wet then you should wait for them to dry or just leave them on the ground.

Wet leaves will decompose into mulch on their own while wet, so consider letting them decompose naturally where they land.

A compost pile that has too much moisture will result in odors, flies, and potentially disease spreading throughout the compost. Adding wet leaves without balancing them out with dry material could cause your compost pile to clump together and slow the composting process.

Will leaves decompose over winter?

Leaves will decompose naturally over winter whether you rake them into piles, add them to your compost pile, or leave them on the ground.

While leaves might not form compost alone by the end of winter, most leaves will break down and return nutrients into the soil. Even leaves that don’t break down quickly due to very low temperatures will benefit the environment by providing shelter and food for wildlife and plants alike.

Why is composting better than burning leaves?

Composting leaves is better than burning leaves because it benefits the environment without endangering it.

Burning leaves is associated with:

  • The release of carbon monoxide
  • Air pollution
  • Breathing difficulties and other health hazards
  • Endangerment and suffocation of wildlife
  • Soil depletion
  • Water pollution
  • Wildfires

Burning leaves is also banned in many areas due to the risk of starting wildfires. Even if you collect leaves into bins to burn them, you can still risk causing a wildfire or harm to wildlife.

The health hazards caused by burning leaves include the release of carbon monoxide, respiratory problems due to leaf smoke, and the risk of lung cancer due to the presence of benzo(a)pyrene.

Is it bad for the environment to burn leaves?

Burning leaves is bad for the environment because it endangers wildlife and causes air pollution. Humans can withstand higher levels of carbon monoxide, smoke inhalation, and exposure to particulates in the air than small mammals. Even the heat of the fire can kill small wildlife.

Air pollution from leaf smoke not only includes odorless carbon monoxide but also contains chemicals like hydrocarbons, particulates, nitrogen oxide, and even ammonia.

If burning autumn leaves is hazardous to our health, what can it do to wildlife who have a smaller lung capacity and are often more sensitive to chemicals?

Burning leaves can release mold, soot, and allergens into the environment, spreading contaminants and diseases further than the garden that the leaves were in.

Ash and debris pollute nearby water sources and waterways while burning autumn leaves on the ground contributes to soil depletion and erosion. By burning the ground, nutrients are also burned, dropping the quality of the soil instead of returning nutrients into the soil.

Does burning autumn leaves contribute to global warming?

Emissions from burning leaves and other garden waste release between 2 to 30 times more particulate matter than log burning in fireplaces.

Burning leaves not only contributes to global warming by releasing more carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide into the air but it also contributes to air pollution. Air pollution can cause more global warming by trapping heat within the atmosphere.

Particulate matter released when burning leaves contributes to global warming both by increasing air pollution and attaching to other chemicals.

Find out more about which plants should not be composted, how to start a compost heap, what gases compost releases, Does Hay or Straw Decompose, and other compost-related topics on our website!

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